'Crassest Form of Politics': Harper's Asbestos Support

Canada again scuttles international effort to label chrysotile exports toxic.

by Tom Sandborn

"Shameful" and the "crassest form of politics." That's how Canadian Labour Congress president Ken Georgetti described Canada's support for chrysotile asbestos mining and export. Earlier this summer he called on the government to vote with countries wanting warning statements to customers who import the poisonous mineral from Canada.

But late in June Canada threw its weight in the opposite direction. In Geneva at a meeting of the Rotterdam Convention, the Harper government came down surprisingly boldly on the side of asbestos again.

The United Nations-sponsored Rotterdam Convention had been debating whether Quebec's chrysotile asbestos exports ought to be added to a toxics warning list for recipient countries. The Rotterdam Convention is a multi-party treaty about trade in hazardous substances associated with the United Nations Environmental Program.

Canada signed on to the Rotterdam Convention in 2002, but Canadian delegates have helped prevent the treaty group from listing chrysotile asbestos by blocking consensus ever since.

In a move that the pro-asbestos Chrysotile Institute called a "bombshell," the Canadian delegate to the Rotterdam Convention announced it will once again block adding chrysotile asbestos to the toxics warning list.

Until then, Canada sat silent in the debates, reportedly counting on opposition from nations like Vietnam, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan to keep the Canadian product off the UN list.

At the end of the day, Postmedia News reported that Canada, fearing that momentum was building to add asbestos to the list, openly expressed its opposition to UN-mandated warning labels. As a result, nothing will change in how Quebec asbestos is sold into third world markets, where the likelihood of the elaborate safety protocols needed in handling asbestos being followed is almost non existent.

Madhu Dutta, an Indian anti-asbestos campaigner, told Postmedia News from Geneva that "Canada was hiding behind the smokescreen of dissenting voices of smaller exporting countries and a 'non-consensus' excuse, but when it sensed that there might be a consensus and chrysotile will be listed, it broke its sinister silence and said no."

Canada's defiant asbestos industry has the support of not only Prime Minister Harper but also unions in Quebec representing some asbestos workers....


From the Missing Election Issues File: Poverty Reduction

By Seth Klein

It’s odd to see Stephen Harper continuing to crow about his economic management prowess, even while almost 1.5 million Canadians remain unemployed, nearly one in ten people live in poverty, and according to one recent survey one-third of Canadians can’t afford basic expenses.

Yet isn’t dealing with such issues at the heart of what we look for in economic management? 

For their part, the opposition parties have some good poverty reduction commitments and policy measures in their platforms, but they haven’t highlighted these issues in their campaigns. That’s too bad. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ recent polling work with Environics indicated that a substantial majority of Canadians want to see strong federal leadership on poverty reduction, with solid targets and timelines. But if the parties aren’t championing these issues, this desire has no way of finding political expression. And so the issue fails to register on the political radar.

The CCPA’s Alternative Federal Budget (AFB), in contrast, makes poverty reduction one of its central objectives.

The need for a federal plan is clear: In 2008 (the latest year for which we have statistics), the national poverty rate was 9.4% (up from 9.2% in 2007). That’s over three million Canadians, about 600,000 of whom are children (and in First Nations families, one in four children lives in poverty). The 2008 numbers also show the number of elderly people living below the poverty line spiked by 25%, the first major increase in decades....

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Jack Laytom1950-2011

August 20, 2011

Toronto, Ontario

Dear Friends,

Tens of thousands of Canadians have written to me in recent weeks to wish me well. I want to thank each and every one of you for your thoughtful, inspiring and often beautiful notes, cards and gifts. Your spirit and love have lit up my home, my spirit, and my determination.

Unfortunately my treatment has not worked out as I hoped. So I am giving this letter to my partner Olivia to share with you in the circumstance in which I cannot continue.

I recommend that Hull-Aylmer MP Nycole Turmel continue her work as our interim leader until a permanent successor is elected.

I recommend the party hold a leadership vote as early as possible in the New Year, on approximately the same timelines as in 2003, so that our new leader has ample time to reconsolidate our team, renew our party and our program, and move forward towards the next election.

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