My wife and I used to live a half hour away from the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos, Quebec. My grandmother grew up on a farm just outside Thetford Mines. So asbestos is part of the family history. The problem is that the history of asbestos is fraught with pain, suffering and unnecessary death.
We have known for decades that asbestos, like tobacco, kills. But, like the presidents of the big tobacco companies, Canadian governments -- federal and provincial -- have lived in denial, claiming with Industry Minister Christian Paradis, that asbestos is safe when used "in controlled circumstances."
As Susan Riley writes in today's Ottawa Citizen, the science is incontrovertible. As for Paradis' defence of asbestos,
This claim has been roundly rejected by medical and scientific experts, including Peter Goodhand of the Canadian Cancer Society, who insists "all forms of asbestos, including the chrysotile asbestos mined in Quebec, cause cancer."
And yet this week, at a meeting of the Rotterdam Convention in Switzerland, Canada refused to recognize asbestos as a hazardous substance. Campaigning in Quebec in April, the prime minister promised that, "this government will not put Canadian industry in a position where it is discriminated against in a market where sale is permitted."
Asbestos used to be vital to the economy of the Eastern Townships. But, more than the health hazards of asbestos, the urbanization of Canada led to the economic decline of that region. My grandmother was one of twelve children. Six stayed in Canada and moved west -- to Montreal, Ontario and Saskatchewan. Six boarded a train on the old Grand Trunk Railway and headed south to Portland, Maine, spreading out from there. When the population of the high school where I used to teach declined from 1100 to 300, the four of us -- our two eldest sons were born in Sherbrooke -- headed west. Our third son was born in Ontario.
To this day, I love the Townships. There is no more beautiful place on the planet. But facts are facts. We had to face them and change our trajectory. The Harper government refuses to deal with facts. That is why we are fast becoming an international pariah.