Some call it an outright political maneuver while others refer to it as a national embarrassment. Others were simply stunned. But when push comes to shove, most Canadians agree that Quebec Premier Jean Charest’s decision to provide a $58 million loan to re-open the Jeffrey Asbestos Mine is a travesty.
Yv Bonnier Viger, head of Quebec’s association of public-health specialists, told the Globe and Mail newspaper that Charest has “good reason to be embarrassed.”
“He is relaunching the exploitation of an extremely dangerous material that will cause the suffering and death of thousands of people in poor countries, at only marginal benefit to a desperate community.” Viger represents the outrage displayed by the majority of the province’s public health professionals, despite the fact that Charest and other officials claim that the day the mine re-opens will be a great day for the people of Quebec. Clearly, not everyone in the province agrees.
Admittedly, it has been difficult to find investors that would help in getting asbestos mining restarted in the town that bears the name of the mineral, said mine president Bernard Coulombe. “It was not easy to convince partners to work with us,” Coulombe said, noting that this newest windfall would most likely keep the Jeffrey Mine going for the next 20 years or so.
Local Liberal member of the legislature, Yvon Vallières, whose father was a 40-year miner, insists that the decision was “well thought out and responsible”. In regards to exports, a major concern of the international community, Vallieres says that project officials will be required to ensure proper handling by purchasers (often Third World countries), and adds, “I’m confident Quebec will become a world leader in the handling of chrysotile.”
According to World Health Organization statistics, about 100,000 individuals die each year of mesothelioma, asbestos-caused cancer. Sadly, Quebec has one of the highest rates of mesothelioma worldwide, no doubt caused by its stake in the asbestos mining industry and the province’s long-time use of the mineral in thousands of products. At the height of the industry, more than 6,000 Quebecois were employed at the Jeffrey Mine. The re-opening will provide jobs for only 400-500 individuals.
But while those 500 may rejoice, it remains a sad time for those who are consumed by the damages caused by asbestos exposure, many believe.
“It’s really beyond me, I really can’t understand how the government could make such a decision,” said Paul Lapierre of the Canadian Cancer Society. His opinion is echoed worldwide by other cancer-fighting groups, environmentalists, and the medical community in general.