In spite of a global publicity drive against the move, provincial officials in Quebec seem ready to okay a multi-million-dollar loan guarantee that would reenergize the province’s asbestos mining industry. The loan package, totaled at over US$50 million, would finance a project to add more mining tunnels at the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos, Quebec. The project has been stalled for the last eight years due to a budget crisis.
The mine expansion is expected to start as soon as the mine’s unionized workers, a workforce of about three hundred and fifty, approve a new five-year labor contract. The provincial cabinet must also approve the measure. Quebec Premier Jean Charest is expected to sign off on the loan. Premier Charest has been a long-time backer of the province’s asbestos industry and made several overseas visits to countries that import asbestos to strengthen trade ties.
Premier Charest has also stood in the face of opposition from various activist groups, worker safety organizations and political leaders who have protested against the continued mining and use of the toxic material. He said that his government has promoted the “safe use of asbestos” and that the established ties between asbestos exposure and respiratory disease are severely overstated.
Hugues Grimard, mayor of Asbestos, has corroborated stories that the provincial government will guarantee the loan to the town and the mine if union mineworkers sign off on the contract. The pact includes a clause where workers put one-tenth of their pay toward a fund to cover a portion of the loan in case the mine fails. If the mine shows a profit after the five years, the miners will receive a refund on their contributions. The fund is expected to total around US$10 million over the five-year term of the contract.
Mr. Grimard said that he was “confident” that the union would approve the clause and sign the contract, pending negotiations on other issues such as retirement plans and time limits. He also said that union rank-and-file will “realize the importance” of the mine expansion in the province’s efforts to stimulate job growth in a depressed industry during an economic downturn. He stated that the loan would be an important step “for the whole region”.
Anti-asbestos groups in the country have voiced their opposition to the industry and Quebec’s continued support of it. Kathleen Ruff, a spokesperson for the independent advocacy group The Rideau Institute, said that the revival of the province’s asbestos industry would increase death rates, both domestically and abroad, from exposure to the hazardous mineral dust. She quoted a report that estimated a death toll of more than two million from asbestos-related diseases by 2030. “(T)hese deaths will increase”, she said, if the plan to expand the mines is approved.
Even some of those most closely related to the industry have sought to distance themselves from the word “asbestos”. Jean-Philippe Bachand, Mr. Grimard’s predecessor as town mayor, suggested changing the town’s name to “Trois-Lacs” (“Three Lakes”) in 2006. Bernard Coloumbe, the primary shareholder in the Jeffrey Mine firm and the main beneficiary of the loan package, changed the name of his industry advocacy group from the Asbestos Institute to the Chrysotile Institute.
Source: Montral Gazette