A proponent of the asbestos industry in Quebec has criticized Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff for not appearing at two towns that depend on the local asbestos mines to sustain their economy. Mr. Ignatieff has long been a critic of the industry and has decried the continued mining and used of asbestos as a health hazard. He also said that Canada should stop its practice of exporting the dangerous mineral fibers to developing countries, where worker safety measures are often lax or non-existent.
Serge Boislard of the Pro-Chrysotile asbestos-lobbying group called Mr. Ignatieff “a hypocrite” and said that he was “afraid to face” the townspeople who would be affected by the mine closure. Mr. Boislard said that he has “no respect” for Mr. Ignatieff due to his apparent unwillingness to visit the towns of Asbestos and Thetford Mines. The two small towns lay less than two hours’ drive from Quebec City, the provincial capital.
Andre Beaumier, a leader within the local branch of the Liberal Party, said that he was discouraged by Mr. Ignatieff’s hesitation to visit the towns. He said that he had corresponded with Mr. Ignatieff and encouraged him to visit Asbestos and Thetford Mines to talk over the issue with local residents. However, Mr. Beaumier told reporters that the leader’s office told him that he did not have the time. Mr. Beaumier went on to say that he believes Mr. Ignatieff has been “poorly advised” on the issues surrounding the mines, but that the party leader may visit the towns later in the summer.
Michel Liboiron, Mr. Ignatieff’s press secretary, said that the party leader’s tour bus did not have time to stop in the small towns due to scheduling conflicts. While Mr. Liboiron would not confirm Mr. Ignatieff’s sentiment that he wants the mines closed, he did say that the party leader feels that “the mines will shut down eventually”. He added that the Liberal Party is “not in power” and does not have the political muscle to take such actions, but that they “are committed” to finding new avenues of employment for the affected townspeople.
More than seven hundred workers in the two towns work in the asbestos mines. Many shop owners and small businesses in these towns depend on the monies brought in by the mines to sustain their own livelihoods. The Quebec provincial government, led by Premier Jean Charest, is considering a $58 million loan guarantee that would finance the expansion of the Jeffrey Mine near Asbestos, Quebec. The mines in the region extract a form of asbestos known as “chrysotile” or “white asbestos”.
Industry groups maintain that chrysotile is the safest form of asbestos. If workers use proper precautions, they argue, the fiber can be handled safely. Groups such as the Chrysotile Institute, also based in Quebec, have been the biggest advocates of the government loan guarantee. In past years, both the federal government in Ottawa and provincial officials in Quebec City have continued to support the industry, despite the track record of health problems related to asbestos exposure.