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Marois pledges to cancel $58-million loan to Quebec asbestos mine

Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois speaks to reporters while campaigning at the CEGEP Monday, August 27, 2012 in Sorel, Que.

Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A Parti Québécois government would essentially end the controversial asbestos industry in the province by cancelling a $58-million loan to Canada's last asbestos mine and using the funds to diversify the local economy, said party leader Pauline Marois.

Calling asbestos mining an "industry from another era," Ms. Marois said the loan would not be granted to the Jeffrey Mine under a PQ government and did not exclude adopting special legislation to break any binding contract.

"A contract can be challenged. And if we have to go further we will," Ms. Marois said.

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Before closing the mine, Ms. Marois wants to hold public hearings to determine what kind of assistance would be needed to revive the town of Asbestos, which would lose about 300 well-paid jobs that local authorities have argued are key to the community's economic future.

Public hearings would also examine what a PQ government would do in the event private investors showed interest in investing the necessary funds needed to open the mine. But Ms. Marois said that it would "be difficult" to convince her to allow asbestos mining to continue in the province.

Liberal Leader Jean Charest, who revived the dormant asbestos mine with a major subsidy on the eve of the election campaign, accused his rivals of opportunism for joining the global consensus against the exploitation of the cancer-causing mineral.

Mr. Charest highlighted caucus divisions within the Parti Québécois and Coalition Avenir Québec on the question, and blasted respective party leaders Ms. Marois and François Legault for opportunism because they abandoned the position of supporting the industry when the PQ held government in 2002.

Mr. Charest said support for the mine was in the provincial government's plan for several years and that it was pure coincidence the loan was announced this summer not long before the election.

Mr. Charest was in asbestos country to visit ridings he is desperately trying to keep, including his own in Sherbrooke and another named Richmond, where the government put up a $58-million loan to re-open the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos, Que.

The Jeffrey project will have miners dig underground in what was an open-pit mine to harvest asbestos for use in construction, mainly in developing countries. Asbestos has fallen out of use or been banned outright in much of the developed world because of well-documented risks of deadly lung disease from the dust.

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The World Health Organization says 100,000 people die each year from asbestos-related disease. Quebec has among the world's highest rates of a cancer known as mesothelioma, a legacy of mining and heavy use in all kinds of products through most of the past century.

Both former Liberal and current Conservative federal governments have tried to protect it from international bans, while all of Quebec's political parties have long promoted asbestos mining.

Mr. Charest said the province has already spent $7-million on reopening the mine, and all of the necessary government decrees are in place to release the rest of the money.

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About the Authors
Quebec City political correspondent

Rhéal Séguin is a journalist and political scientist. Born and educated in southern Ontario, he completed his undergraduate degree in political science at York University and a master's degree in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Rhéal has practised journalism since 1978, first with Radio-Canada in radio and television and then with CBC Radio. More

National correspondent

Les Perreaux joined the Montreal bureau of the Globe and Mail in 2008. He previously worked for the Canadian Press covering national and international affairs, including federal and Quebec politics and the war in Afghanistan. More

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