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Stevie Harper is Simply Choosing his Battles Regarding About Face on Asbestos

When I first read Jymn’s post last night regarding the Harpercons’ about face on asbestos, my first thought was that wow! La Marois, our newly premier elect does have power despite her thready minority.   Yep, ol’ Chrissie Paradis, the “ethical” MP for the only riding that had once produced asbestos, had announced that it would no longer support asbestos and even no longer prevent the deadly substance to be added to Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention.  This, in response to La Marois confirming an election promise that she would cancel the 58M$ loan to put the Jeffrey Mine on life support.

Boys ‘n’ girls, it looks like asbestos will officially die a well deserved death. However, before we start cheering, there may be a few problems with this. No, not in votes.  The PQ would have them in the National Assembly.  In the all leaders’ televised debate, it was ol’ Franky Legault who sprung to action when he confronted La Marois on this issue.  If Legault has one redeeming quality, it is in his stance against the asbestos industry. He had said that a potential CAQ government would ban the production and export of the deadly substance.  There is no reason to believe that CAQ would oppose La Marois’s cancelling the funding in the National Assembly. Together, along with the 2 Quebec Solidaire MNAs, they would have more than enough votes to pass this.  Even the Liberals, who just swore in Jean-Marc Fournier, MNA for St-Laurent and outgoing  justice minister, as their interim leader, will likely be too busy with preparing for what promises to be a short leadership race as well as dodging bullets from whatever comes out of the Charbonneau Inquiry when it resumes come Monday to worry about the asbestos mine. The Liberals, at the very least, would likely simply not show up for work on voting day.  Even if they all showed up to vote against the PQ’s loan cancellation, it would only be symbolic.  I seriously doubt there will be much debate in the National Assembly. No, La Marois’s problem, I fear, is that she may not be legally able to extracate us from this loan.  Our lovely out-going premier may well have signed on this and the contract may be binding. It appears that the head honchos over at the beleaguered Jeffrey Mine are still feverishly preparing to open shop.

“Look, we have an agreement with the government, work is continuing, and we have no further comment,” Guy Versailles [Jeffrey Mine mouthpiece]  said.

Nonetheless, it looks like the PQ will, at least, attempt to follow through with the cancellation. They have to, now, given the number of  parties who will be watching to make sure of this.

Now, as for the Harpercons, well,  Ol’ Chrissie goes to his riding to hold a press conference yesterday afternoon.

“It would be illogical for Canada to oppose the inclusion of chrysotile [to] the Rotterdam Convention when Quebec, the only province that produces chrysotile, will prohibit its exploitation,” Mr. Paradis said.

Yep, that would put the Harpercons in an awkward position if they continued blocking asbestos from being added to the Rotterdam Convention, now wouldn’t it?  Hell, we already looked hypocritical enough while many Canadian buildings, including parliament and the Primeminister’s home are being renovated to remove the deadly substance and at the same time, being gung-ho about exporting this, claiming that asbestos is “safe”.   It looked even more strange after the only pro-asbestos lobby group, The Chrysotile Institute, shut its’ doors. It would look even more awkward if  one little region in la belle province were no longer producing the mine as well the new Quebec government banning its’ production.

Oh yeah, let’s note that Chrissie is kicking and screaming over this.

“First off I’d like to remind you that Pauline Marois, the premier-designate of Quebec, has clearly stated her intention to forbid chrysotile exploitation in Quebec,” Paradis said in his opening remarks.

“Obviously that decision will have a negative impact on the prosperity of our regions …

“In the meantime hundreds of workers in our region are without jobs, are living in uncertainty and hoping the mine will reopen…. Madame Marois has clearly made her decision. So our government has made a decision that it’s now time to look after our communities, workers and families.”

Also, we must take note that ol’ Chrissie gave this press conference in typical Harpercon fashion–holding it on a Friday afternoon when not too many folks are looking.  This didn’t go unnoticed on NDP MP Pat Martin, who had been staunchly fighting Canada’s pro-asbestos stance for many years now.

NDP MP Pat Martin, who has been fighting to ban asbestos mining since he was first elected in 1997, said Canada’s about-face is the right thing to do, but called the announcement “a missed opportunity on the minister’s part. He would have got great credit had he said simply, ‘You know what, asbestos kills and we’re no longer going to prop up and support this deadly industry.’ Instead, he’s blaming Marois for killing these jobs,” Martin, a former miner, said.

“It’s a cowardly way out of it and to do it on a Friday afternoon says that they’re not entirely comfortable with their position.”

No, indeed they’re not. Not when they use La Marois as an excuse to do it.  Everybody knows that the Harpercons would’ve continued opposing the addition of Asbestos to the Rotterdam convention and continued defending it feverishly, despite how hypocritical and silly they look, had the Liberals maintained power or if La Marois had decided to continue supporting the industry.
Ol’ Chrissie has also announced 50M$ to help the region develop new jobs. La Marois has also promised to use that 58M$ to do the same.  My question is, what the hell took so damned long? I mean, due to the steady decline of the asbestos industry around the Thetford Mines area, many have already been living in uncertainty and unemployment.  Many had even left the region in the hopes of finding work elsewhere.  I don’t just blame governments for this. The people of the region are just as responsible.  I mean, couldn’t they see the writing on the wall as more and more countries had banned the importation of asbestos?  As they saw their industry dying off, why did no one in the area try to come up with new industries that would boost the economy of the region?

Does La Marois have any power over the Harpercons?  That was my initial reaction as mentioned above, but I after more reading on the subject, I no longer believe this is the case.  The Harpercons are simply throwing La Marois a bone early at the newly elected PQ.  They are picking and choosing their battles.  With only one seat potentially at stake for the feds in a newly gerrymandered electoral map, they figured it was no longer worth it to keep feverishly defending asbestos.  There are no more pro-asbestos lobby groups. With all the battles on the Harpercons’ agenda for when the House of Commons resumes this week, this battle is simply no longer worth their time and energy.

As for La Marois, perhaps she’s noticed what many had missed all along, that most Quebecers do not support government funding into asbestos and that they believe it should be banned (unless, of course, you live in that small portion of the federal riding of Megantic-L’Erable and provincial riding of Richmond).  Case in point, the Liberal candidate, Karine Vallieres, daughter of outgoing MNA for the area, Yvon Vallieres, only won her seat by 269 votes ahead of the Parti-Quebecois.  If the voters of Richmond were only focussed on the Jeffrey Mine, the PQ should have been much further behind in vote count.

Let’s also remember that the Bloc Quebecois also held a pro-asbestos stance and despite that, the NDP who had always campaigned against asbestos production and its’ exportation, took Quebec by storm in last year’s federal election. In fact, Maria Mourani, the Bloc MP for Ahuntsic, believed the reason for the loss of the party was its’ pro-asbestos stance. Perhaps the Bloc’s fall to the NDP was partly responsible for her decision to cancel the loan to the Jeffrey Mine.

Boys ‘n’ girls, let’s not only cross our fingers that La Marois can extricate us from this loan guarantee but also, let’s make damned sure that a ban on asbestos production happens.

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