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Quebec grants funding extension to asbestos mine

The government of Quebec has extended a funding deadline for a company that wants to re-open one of the province's controversial asbestos mines.

Balcorp Ltd., a Montreal-based firm, had been given until August 15 to raise $25 million in outside investment in order to qualify for up to $58 million in provincial loan guarantees. Now, the CBC reported on Monday, the deadline for securing the investment has been extended to October 1.

Balcorp Ltd. owns the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos, Quebec, and hopes to combine so far elusive private funding with government loan guarantees to extend operations at the mine for another 25 years. Critics say this move by Quebec means another two and a half decades of Canada producing the lethal mineral for export to Third World countries.

Both the Quebec government and the Harper Conservatives insist that Quebec asbestos can be used safely, but critics argue that the third world markets into which Canadian asbestos is sold do not offer a work environment that will supply the safety equipment and procedures needed for its allegedly safe use.

Canada's continued exports of asbestos have been condemned by many public health organizations including the Canadian Medical Association. The Canadian Labour Congress has also called for an end to Canadian asbestos mining and exports, as well as for government support for what it calls a "just transition" to less harmful work for Canada's handful of remaining asbestos miners.

CLC president Ken Georgetti told The Tyee earlier this summer that the Conservative Party's loudly trumpeted support for Quebec's asbestos mines is "the crassest form of politics."

Georgetti was responding in June to the activity of the Canadian delegation to a United Nations conference discussing the Rotterdam Convention on international trade in toxic substances. Once again this year the Canadian government played a key role (as it has several times before) in preventing the UN body from adding the form of asbestos mined in Quebec to a list that would require a warning about its health impacts be issued to any customer importing the lung-lacerating substance.

Canada's role in keeping its chrysotile asbestos off the Rotterdam Convention warning list was widely condemned at the time, with more than a thousand of the world's most eminent epidemiologists issuing an angry statement voicing "extreme disapproval of the Government of Canada's position."

Meanwhile, the federal Conservatives have threatened legal action against the widow of a Quebec man who died from asbestos exposure. Michaela Keyserlingk, of Labelle, Quebec, maintains a website devoted to campaigning against Canadian mining and export of asbestos.

She recently received a communication from Conservative Party executive director Don Hilton threatening legal action unless she removed the party logo and the slogan "Canada is the only western country that still exports deadly asbestos!" from her website. The Tory threat was condemned by Sarnia mayor Mike Bradley, who called the tactics "shameful.

Tom Sandborn covers health policy and labour beats for the Tyee. He welcomes feedback and story tips at

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