Asbestos hypocrisy sticking to PM – by Tim Harper (Toronto Star – June 29, 2011)

The Toronto Star, which has the largest broadsheet circulation in Canada,  has an enormous impact on Canada’s federal and provincial politics as well as shaping public opinion.

It takes a special kind of resilience to get knocked down, get up, dust yourself off and declare that you are winning. But that was Kathleen Ruff’s position, communicated forcefully and frenetically, from the West Coast on Tuesday. Ruff continues her battle over Canadian asbestos exports, even as Prime Minister Stephen Harper again confounds the world.

Last week, in Geneva, Harper’s government refused to put chrysotile asbestos on a United Nations list of hazardous exports. It was the third time Canada has stepped in to prevent placing asbestos on a list of exports that would have to include warnings of health hazards to recipient countries.

Those countries could then refuse the asbestos imports if they believed they were unable to handle the product safely on their soil. The cost of protecting Quebec mining jobs has been high.

We are alone in the world, an international pariah.

The Canadian position on asbestos exports has been condemned by virtually every health advocacy, environmental, medical and labour organization in this country.

We have been ridiculed, scorned, shamed, accused of hypocrisy — even called merchants of death.

We have been pilloried in the world’s most prominent medical journals.

Protesters have brought their concerns from Asia to Quebec, and our embassies have been picketed by those who say we are exporting death.

Prominent journalists — including the Star’s Jennifer Wells and the CBC’s Mellissa Fung — have travelled to India to chronicle in detail the toxic export from Quebec.

The World Health Organization says as many as 107,000 people die each year from asbestos-related illness.

The Harper cabinet has hidden, shrugged and delivered zombie-like message track answers on the matter, ducking behind the word chrysotile.

Harper has defiantly maintained that chrysotile, one of the fibres comprising asbestos, is much less dangerous than the other asbestos fibre, which Canada does not export.

Still, this stubborn resistance to common sense and scientific evidence remains a mystery.

This time, the Canadian position is sparking a much louder backlash in this country.

“Harper has been outed from the asbestos closet,” says Ruff, a senior human rights adviser to the Rideau Institute.

“For years, he only spoke of how much he loved and adored asbestos when he was in that riding. As long as an issue remains hidden, you’re dead. But now it is out there.”

Indeed, Ruff says the asbestos export question is one of democracy.

If Harper cannot be budged from his position, she maintains, Canadians are nothing but serfs in a dysfunctional democracy.

Questions in the House of Commons are now coming from NDP members from Quebec.

Last week, NDP MP Romeo Saganash reminded Industry Minister Christian Paradis that asbestos is being removed from MPs’ offices and asked whether he would prefer to have the allegedly less carcinogenic chrysotile installed in his office.

“Or would he rather continue to export his hypocrisy to Third World countries?” Saganash asked.

Paradis repeated the government line that Canada has been promoting the safe and controlled use of chrysotile for 30 years.

The pummelling Canada has faced abroad is all in the aid of no more than 500 asbestos mining jobs left in Quebec.

The industry is dying.

But if a private consortium can raise enough money, the provincial government will provide funding to expand the Jeffrey mine in Asbestos, Que., moving it from open pit to underground and exporting asbestos to India for potentially another half-century.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Toronto Star website:–tim-harper-asbestos-hypocrisy-sticking-to-pm