Quebec Bailout of Asbestos Mine? 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Plans are proceeding for a bailout of Canada's asbestos industry by the provincial government in Quebec which has announced its intention to provide a $58 million loan so that work could be completed on the development of underground facilities at the Jeffrey Mine. This money is desperately needed as presently accessible deposits at this and the only other remaining asbestos mine in Canada - the Black Lake mine - are virtually exhausted; both mines are operating under bankruptcy protection. As Kathleen Ruff pointed out in an editorial published on June 6, 2010:

“Apart from the moral issue of exporting asbestos disease for profit, taxpayers might want to take note of how two supposedly business-minded political leaders (Prime Minister Harper and Quebec Premier Charest) are risking public funds and Canada's international political capital to resuscitate an industry that is notorious for its record of economic disaster and public health tragedy.”1

The work which was commenced at the Jeffrey Mine some years ago came to a halt when the money ran out. Attempts to raise funds from private investors in Europe and Asia proved fruitless. It looks likely that Premier Charest's government will plug the gap with public money. The public–private partnership which was announced by Quebec's Minister for Economic Development, Innovation and Export, Clement Gignac, last month was the subject of a meeting on May 27 between Bernard Coulombe, the President of the Jeffrey Mine, and political and commercial stakeholders. Other meetings were held last week with the trade unions and community leaders and residents of the asbestos mining communities.

The Quebec government has stipulated two conditions for the finalization of the loan:

  • a five year contract with the trade unions guaranteeing industrial peace;
  • workers and management put 10% of their salary into a trust account for five years; if the mine fails, this fund would provide a $10 million cushion for government investors.

Should these plans proceed, it is anticipated that for the next 25 years 200,000 tonnes of Canadian asbestos would be mined every year. As virtually no asbestos is used in Canada, production would be shipped overseas, most likely to Asia and Africa; regions where controls on the use of asbestos are either totally lacking or, where they do exist, unenforced.

June 8, 2010


1 Ruff K. Deathbed reprieve for killer industry? June 6, 2010.



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