Friday, August 28, 2009

Asbestos: better late than never, Iggy

At last, at long last, the Liberal leader-in-waiting has apparently taken a stand on something. Waffling on the issue for months, he is, at least this week, opposed to exporting asbestos:

I know how important asbestos is to the region around Thetford Mines and I’m aware of the hardship involved, but the science is telling us that its is dangerous and we have to follow the science. I don’t think we should be exporting dangerous substances.

I've blogged about his flips and his flops on the issue before. One day (March 28 this year) he was forthrightly opposed to exports; four days later (April 1) he was merely in favour of informing foreign countries on the receiving end of this toxic material of the health risks involved. On May 3, when I asked him the question directly, he uttered a series of disjointed talking points from which anyone on any side of the issue could take heart.

At that time, too, he stated that science should drive the issue. But he also claimed that there was "substantial disagreement" in the scientific community about the dangers of chrysotile asbestos, reminding me of the denialists who assert that there is "substantial disagreement" about global warming. He also seemed unaware that, thanks to an Access to Information request, a long-suppressed Health Canada report on the dangers of chrysotile had been released weeks earlier by the Harper government, following deliberate misrepresentations about its contents.

(Once again, incidentally, that report has vanished into the official memory hole. It is no longer available on-line from Health Canada--in fact it doesn't even come up on a search of the site. But the Internet being what it is, the report and its summary may be viewed here.)

Asbestos, of course, is pure poison. The unvarnished truth is that exporting hundreds of thousands of tons of it every year to the Third World, where health and safety standards and enforcement are lax, kills people. At stake here at home are a handful of part-time jobs in Quebec and some votes for which the Conservatives continue to troll. Not really a difficult moral choice to make, and it's backed by hard science, the Canadian Medical Association, even a couple of breakaway Tories--yet even on that, Iggy has taken his sweet time deciding where to stand.

But the Liberal calculus has always been based upon power rather than principle. Evidently the backroomers have completed their various sondages and discovered that, on balance, all factors considered, at this point in time, weather permitting, opposing asbestos exports will not cause over-all harm to the party's prospects in an election. And now that the numbers have been crunched, principle may be safely invoked and a public stand recorded.

Long-time human rights activist Kathleen Ruff thinks this is "very gutsy" of Ignatieff. I respectfully disagree.

The leader-in-waiting has, in fact, taken a not-so-risky position on a proven carcinogen--while backing off on a Fall election, as I and many others had predicted. But is this his final word?

[H/t a certain blogger :)]

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