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OTTAWA and MONTREAL — Canada is ending its much-maligned practice of defending asbestos mining on the world stage, a reversal of a stand that made it a pariah in some international circles.
The Harper government, which until Friday unflinchingly defended Canada’s right to export the cancer-causing mineral from Quebec, is blaming the incoming Parti Québécois regime for its change of heart.
Premier-designate Pauline Marois’s party,which will soon take office in Quebec, pledged during the provincial election campaign to cancel a government loan guarantee designed to resurrect the big Jeffrey asbestos mine in Asbestos, Que. It would have been the only mine operating in an otherwise moribund industry.
“The decision to close down the industry has already been taken by Mrs. Marois,” Industry Minister Christian Paradis said on Friday. He said Canada will no longer block international efforts to add chrysotile asbestos to a United Nations treaty called the Rotterdam Convention, a global list of hazardous substances. Being on the list places restrictions on trade of the mineral.
“It would be illogical for Canada to oppose the inclusion of chrysotile [to] the Rotterdam Convention when Quebec, the only province that produces chrysotile, will prohibit its exploitation,” Mr. Paradis said.
He announced Ottawa will offer up to $50-million to help towns dependent on the industry diversify their economies.
Mr. Paradis, the Tories’ political lieutenant for Quebec, made the announcement on Friday in Thetford Mines, Que., his political hometown and once a big force in the asbestos industry.
Bernard Coulombe, a top executive at the Jeffrey mine, suggested the Harper government has made a U-turn on asbestos to help secure a free-trade agreement with the European Union. Negotiators will meet in Ottawa Sept. 17 to 21.
Mr. Coulombe said he believed France was putting pressure on Canada to drop its objection to listing asbestos as Europe and Canada negotiate the trade deal.
Canada has come under public attack from EU politicians for its asbestos exports. Last year, members of the European Union Parliament released a statement condemning Canada for mining oil sands, hunting seals and exporting chrysotile.
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