Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Grit leader accused of lying about asbestos

Critics say he's denying his anti-export statement

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OTTAWA -- An anti-asbestos lobbyist called Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff a liar Thursday for denying he ever said Canada should stop exporting asbestos.

Last weekend, while touring Vancouver Island, Ignatieff was asked about his position on asbestos, and he said he favoured banning Canada's exports.

"I'm probably walking right off the cliff into some unexpected public policy bog of which I'm unaware, but if asbestos is bad for Parliamentarians in the Parliament of Canada, it just has to be bad for everybody else," he said. "Our export of this dangerous product overseas has got to stop,"

But in a scrum with reporters on Wednesday, Ignatieff was asked about his comments and he didn't mention a ban. "We have had 60 years of experience with this product. What I said in answer to a question is that we have an obligation to international agreements to the countries that we export to, to make them aware of the risks. That is all I said."

Kathleen Ruff, senior adviser on human rights for the Ottawa-based think-tank Rideau Institute, said Ignatieff's denial is untrue.

"I knew he would be under pressure to retract what he said but that's an out and out lie," Ruff said,

The Rideau Institute supports a full ban on exports, as does the Canadian Cancer Society.

Michael O'Shaughnessy, spokesman for Ignatieff said Thursday that Ignatieff was offering more context to the point he made in B.C.

"That we've long known about the risks of asbestos and we have a duty to warn countries that we export to about these risks and work to end any practices that put public health at risk, at home or abroad."

Canada is one of the world's largest producers of asbestos and 90 per cent of it is exported, mostly to developing nations where it is used in cement products.

There is only one asbestos mine left in Canada -- in Quebec.

Winnipeg NDP MP Pat Martin has accused both the Liberal and now Conservative governments of being afraid to tackle the asbestos issue for fear of upsetting Quebec.

He said Ignatieff tempering his comments is a sign his Quebec wing got to him. "This is a pattern. He's going around the country saying anything to anybody," Martin said

After Ignatieff's comments, the Chrysotile Institute issued a statement claiming the Liberals have always supported the institute.

When inhaled, asbestos fibres can cause fatal cancers and lung disease.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 3, 2009 A16

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