During the dark years of the Harper administrations, Canadians became almost inured to the lengths it would go while promoting its neo-liberal agenda. The extolment of free trade, the promotion of tar sands development, the sneering dismissal of all environmental and climate-change concerns were what we came to expect from a government that was committed to servicing the corporate agenda at the expense of the people.
Then came the victory of the Trudeau-led Liberals, and all of us reveled in and breathed deeply of the liberated air that was all about us. But, as time passes, we are seeing that that air is not quite as pure as we had initially hoped.
Promises made are now being temporized. One of the most shameful instances of this is this government's continued importation of asbestos, the deadly mineral whose use the previous government staunchly defended until the last asbestos mines in Quebec closed in 2011.
It would seem amazing that in 2016, our country as yet has refused to ban the product, even though 55 countries, including Australia and Britain, have done so.
Canadian asbestos imports are on the rise. Despite international consensus that the carcinogen should be added to the United Nations’ list of hazardous materials, Canada is among the few countries to oppose the move.The promise of change in the swearing in of the Trudeau government last fall is giving way to a far less attractive reality. Consider, for example, the hopeful rhetoric from earlier this year, when
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada was at last “moving to ban asbestos” because “its impact on workers far outweighs any benefits that it might provide.” This welcome promise prompted fanfare from health advocates and vulnerable workers who know all too well how devastating that impact can be.The reality is looking less rosy:
Asked for an update by the Globe and Mail earlier this month, the Prime Minister’s Office hedged. Ottawa is “reviewing its strategy on asbestos, including a potential ban,” the spokesperson wrote.One need not have a nuanced understanding of the English language to see the difference.
More troubling still, at recent UN meetings the federal government has again expressed doubt that so-called chrysotile asbestos should be covered under the Rotterdam Convention, an international treaty on hazardous materials. Its rationale? “It has not been proven that chrysotile asbestos causes cancer.”Or consider what Gerry Caplan recently wrote about the experience of Katherine Ruff, Canada’s most prominent and knowledgeable advocate for a ban on all asbestos, who says,
“My experience with the current government is worse than what I experienced with the former Harper government.”Repeated attempts by Ruff to get a meeting with Health Minister Jane Philpott or Environment Minister Catherine McKenna have met with no success. According to her, these
add up to a "lack of transparency, lack of democracy and lack of respect...in trying to communicate with the government over the past eight months, which is the opposite to what Prime Minister Trudeau promised."Ruff's fuller consideration of the failure of the 'new' government to act on asbestos can be read in an op-ed she wrote in The Ottawa Citizen.
All of these disquieting signs echo the intransigent Harper cabal that so many of us so earnestly worked to dispose of.
I am growing increasingly pessimistic about the prospects for real change. May the passing of time prove my fears ill-founded.