After operating for 130 years, the Lac d’Amiante du Canada mine (LAC) at Thetford Mines, Quebec, closed down in October 2011, due to a landslide caused by its mining operations. Two months later, LAB Chrysotile Inc., the company that operated the LAC mine, filed for bankruptcy. This was the last operating asbestos mine in Quebec, since the other Quebec asbestos mine, the open pit Jeffrey mine at Asbestos, had virtually ceased operating two years ago and had only operated part-year prior to that, due to the depletion of its asbestos deposit.
A Committee to Re-launch the LAC Mine was set up, with the participation of the mayor of Thetford Mines, other regional politicians, the Chamber of Commerce and the local Steelworkers Union. The Committee has held meetings over the past year.
On Tuesday, October 16, the president of LAB Chrysotile, Simon Dupéré, announced that, in light of recent decisions by the Quebec and Canadian governments, Lab Chrysotile was indefinitely suspending its plans to recommence asbestos mining. In an article published in a Thetford Mines on-line publication, entitled Relance de la mine Lac d’Amiante : Simon Dupéré jette l’éponge (Relaunch of the Lac D’Amiante mine: Simon Dupéré throws in the towel), Dupéré stated that in light of the recent decisions by the Quebec and Canadian governments to stop supporting the asbestos industry, it would be impossible to attract foreign investors.
The mayor of Thetford Mines, Luc Berthold, said this decision was very sad news, but that he was not surprised, as with the climate created by the Quebec government, he did not see how it would be possible to convince foreign investors to invest tens of millions of dollars in a project to re-start asbestos mining at Thetford Mines.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday October 16, the Quebec minister for Industrial Policy, Élaine Zakaïb, was scheduled to meet with the mayor of Asbestos, Hugues Grimard, and other regional representatives. Prior to the meeting, Zakaïb stated at a press conference that she hopes to set up a committee that will oversee efforts to diversify the economy of the Asbestos area. She said that the area could use the unused $50 million part of the $58 million loan, given by the previous Charest government to re-open Jeffrey mine, as well as the $50 million that the Canadian government has promised to provide to help diversify the economy of the asbestos-mining region.
The $58 million loan has been cancelled, said Zakaïb. It is a thing of the past and it will not be restored. She said that the new Parti Québécois government understood very well that this is very heartbreaking for the people of Asbestos. This is their history, she said, and it is understandable that people are saddened by what is happening. But now, said Zakaïb, we want to look to the future and work with the local people. It is up to the people of Asbestos to decide what kind of economy they want to develop. No-one knows better than the local population what is good for them, Zakaïb said. I am here to listen, to know what people have to say. We will try to look to the future and see how we can develop this area, Zakaïb stated.
The fact that the $58 million loan had been cancelled was announced by Bernard Coulombe on October 10. Coulombe told media that, as a consequence, he was shutting down the Jeffrey mine. He said that he would be removing his heavy machinery and would let the mine be flooded. On October 11, the Quebec government confirmed that the loan had been cancelled.
The new Quebec government is moving ahead on a number of urgent issues, such as closing down the Gentilly-2 nuclear power plant and cancelling the loan to the asbestos investors. The government is to be congratulated for following up in such a prompt manner on both these commitments. The government is also to be commended for reaching out to the people of Asbestos in order to work with them to diversify their economy. The town of Thetford Mines has, over the past decade and more, made impressive progress in diversifying its economy. The situation at the town of Asbestos is much more challenging. For efforts to diversify the economy to be successful, it will be essential to involve the local population, as Minister Zakaïb is reaching out to do.
Much work remains to be done in order to succeed in effectively diversifying the economy with initiatives to replace asbestos mining, as well as to assist asbestos victims in Quebec, protect people from asbestos already placed in buildings and infrastructure, pass legislation banning the mining, use, export and import of asbestos or asbestos-containing products. But the steps that have just been taken are important victories: the cancellation of the loan to Jeffrey mine, the shutting down by the asbestos industrialists of their plans to re-open the Jeffrey asbestos mine and the LAC asbestos mine, and the announcement by Minister Zakaïb that the Quebec government will work with the people of the asbestos mining region to develop alternative economic initiatives.
For the past year, no asbestos mining has taken place in Quebec, but asbestos industrialists were pursuing plans to re-open both the Jeffrey mine and the LAC mine. The industrialists have now admitted defeat and at both mines, plans to re-open have now been abandoned.
Kathleen Ruff, founder, RightOnCanada.ca