Parti Québécois Scuttles Plans to Re-open Asbestos Mines

Jamie Kneen Communications and Outreach Coordinator responsible for: strategic research, social media, and public engagement; our Africa program, environmental assessment, and uranium mining.

At last a government has shown real leadership and commitment to health justice by ending support for asbestos mining in Quebec.

Shortly after being elected, the new Parti Québécois government led by Pauline Marois cancelled the $58-million loan to restart operations at the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos that was promised by the previous Liberal government. Without this massive government handout the mine has been unable to finance the expansion needed to re-open. The shift in Quebec’s policy also sunk the hopes of some that the Lac d’Amiante du Canada Mine in Thetford would reopen. The policy shift also rippled across to Ottawa where the feds misleadingly stated that Quebec had banned asbestos mining, and the federal government therefore had to concede to ending its opposition to chrysotile asbestos being listed as a hazardous substance under the Rotterdam Convention.

After years of persistence, health and social justice activists can claim an important victory. In the last few years there has been a growing awareness about the implications of exporting asbestos to developing countries. Reports like Kathleen Ruff’s Exporting Harm and media coverage – from CBC’s the National to the Jon Stewart Show – pointed out the striking contradictions of promoting exports abroad when use here in Canada is extremely limited. With doctors speaking out in Quebec, space finally opened to break from the long-standing attachment to the mines, which have a storied history in the Quebec labour movement. Adding to the pressure was strong international condemnation including rebukes from the Australian government and asbestos victims’ groups around the world.

MiningWatch has worked with the Ban Asbestos Canada Coalition and encouraged the Coalition Quebec Meilleure Mine to include ending asbestos mining and exports as part of the coalition’s platform. We congratulate all the groups and individuals who have worked on this issue.

While opposing asbestos mining, MiningWatch has always called for a just transition and mine remediation strategy for the communities where the mines are located; unfortunately, these have not been forthcoming. As the mines have been closed or on partial operation for a number of years, and the communities have already diversified their economic base, the immediate economic impact on the region may not be as severe as asbestos promoters claim. How and when the massive pits and tailings piles will be dealt with is another question.