Canadian Labour Congress Caves In to Asbestos Interests

From the many stories we have posted on this part of, our regular readers are well aware that Canada’s asbestos industry is very powerful, despite the fact that most Canadians outside of Quebec (where the asbestos industry is located) want to see their government join the rest of the world in banning the substance for good.
The fact that Canada–so progressive in other ways–chooses to support and encourage the manufacture, marketing, and sale of a substance proven to be a potentially deadly health hazard is a source of embarrassment to Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC).

In October of 2007, Georgetti was present at a meeting of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, where he said, “[Asbestos] should have been banned years ago and I’m ashamed we export asbestos to Third World countries.” This statement was followed by a promise that at its next meeting, CLC members would call for a total asbestos ban.

Apparently, the asbestos issue called for more discussion; all that happened at the CLC that took place last month was a promise to “debate the issue again soon,” according to CBC News.

What happened?

Michel Arsenault, who presides over the Quebec Federation of Labor, pressured the CLC not to call for the ban, pending the results of a study now being carried out by Canada’s National Health system. In a media interview, Arsenault said:

“There’s no more health danger working in an asbestos mine than working in a steel mill or working on a street corner in Toronto, for Christ’s sake… it’s a very dangerous animal, but now we know how to work with it in a safe way.”

Quebec’s asbestos industry employs 700 workers, all of whom are fiercely loyal to the companies that issue their paychecks. Ninety-seven percent of that asbestos is sold to developing nations–primarily India, Pakistan, and Indonesia, where rates of asbestos disease are high.

Meanwhile, mesothelioma rates in Quebec are higher than anywhere else on the planet.

Georgetti understands that even if the Canadian government would listen, there would be no immediate and total ban on asbestos. He is calling on Ottawa to provide financial support for the workers who would be displaced once the asbestos mines were closed down.

“If they did that, the decision for our council would be very easy,” Georgetti acknowledged.