Kathleen Ruff, RightOnCanada.ca
Dramatic developments regarding closure of the Jeffrey asbestos mine
In October 2012, the newly elected Parti Québécois government of Quebec announced that it was cancelling the $58 million loan that the previous Liberal government of Jean Charest had given to the owners of the Jeffrey mine for the purpose of opening an underground mine that would export millions of tons of asbestos overseas, particularly to Asia, for years to come.
The Parti Québécois was a minority government. In April 2014, seeking a majority, it called an early election. It was defeated and the Liberal Party of Quebec, under a new leader, Philippe Couillard, regained power.
In August, it was learned that the Parti Québécois (PQ) had never, in fact, officially cancelled the $58 million loan. The necessary decree to cancel the loan had not been passed and the loan was still available. The current Minister of the Economy, Innovation and Exports, Jacques Daoust, accused the former PQ government of negligence. Daoust announced that his government has now signed the decree to cancel the loan.
Thus, the Liberal government, which just two years earlier gave the loan, cancelled the loan.
This is a dramatic reversal of policy by the Liberal Party of Quebec, which has always been a strong supporter of the asbestos industry. Just four years ago, every political party in the Quebec National Assembly, in fact, supported the mining and export of asbestos. So strong was the taboo against challenging the asbestos industry that asbestos victims and their families did not speak up publicly and no asbestos victims group existed in Quebec.
Today, not a single political party in Quebec supports the asbestos industry. First, Québec Solidaire in August 2010 called for an end to the mining and export of asbestos. Two years later, in August 2012, both the Parti Québécois and the Coalition Avenir Québec ended their support for the asbestos industry. And now the Liberal Party of Quebec has reversed its position. It is a stunning political turn-around in a very short period of time and shows that the monopoly of political power and influence by the asbestos mining companies, which, in Quebec, they exercised for over a century, can be defeated.
Asbestos traders seek compensation for “lost profits”
It is still not known how much Quebec taxpayers will be made to pay for the closure of the Jeffrey mine. When the Parti Québécois cancelled the loan in 2012, the owners of the mine asked for significant compensation, including “loss of possible profits”. Negotiations are still underway. The Minister of the Economy, Jacques Daoust, states that there is a confidential verbal agreement and that the Jeffrey mine owners have had to moderate their expectations. “I am a rather tough negotiator,” said Daoust, a former banker, and stated that he was not impressed by the argument of supposed loss of future profits. “Between what a business can ask for and what it obtains, there can be a considerable gap,” stated Daoust, “and in this case, the gap is considerable.”
An important element of the negotiations with the company was the requirement by the Quebec government that the owners of Jeffrey mine must relinquish all mineral rights as a preliminary condition. This has been done and eliminates the danger of the present or future owners of the mine site deciding to re-start asbestos mining.
A plan for the complete restoration of the mine site has been submitted to the Ministry of Natural Resources and other Quebec government ministries and to the town of Asbestos. “In two years the Jeffrey mine site will be completely decontaminated and ready to receive new industries,” said Bernard Coulombe. “Since we relinquished our mining rights, we needed to develop a plan to destroy or eliminate anything we no longer needed, and to restore the site, by ensuring that any dangerous product was removed, following state of the art rules.”
The previous PQ government promised to give $50 million over 5 years towards diversification of the region. The present government is expected to follow up with this much-needed support.
Who are the owners of the Jeffrey mine who are seeking compensation?
Until 2012, Jeffrey Mine Inc. was owned by four residents of the town of Asbestos. Bernard Coulombe, an engineer who has worked at the mine for many years, was President of the company and ran the mine. In 2012, Baljit S. Chadha, a Montreal businessman who had exported asbestos from the Jeffrey mine to India for many years, and Uran Kleosakul, a Thai businessman and asbestos industrialist, invested in Jeffrey Mine Inc. with the intention of opening an almost-complete underground mine to tap into new asbestos deposits and make profits from exporting vast amounts of asbestos to Asia.
Today, two companies jointly own Jeffrey Mine Inc. – Mineral Fibre (MF) Inc. and Ulan Global Marketing Co. Limited, a company that sells asbestos-cement roofing tiles, especially in Thailand and owned by Thai businessman, Uran Kleosakul. The major shareholder of Mineral Fibre (MF) Inc. is Chadha Companies Trust. The second shareholder is Fibre Forte Québec Inc., a company owned by Coulombe.
The directors of Jeffrey Mine Inc. are Bernard Coulombe, President; Baljit S. Chadha, Chair of the Board of Directors; Uran Kleosakul of Thailand and Andres Blazquez of Kenya.
It thus seems that half of any compensation paid by the Quebec government would go to an overseas company owned by a leading Thai businessman, Uran Kleosakul, that most of the remaining compensation would go to Baljit Chadha’s company and what is left would go to Bernard Coulombe’s company. It is not known what role Andres Bazquez from Kenya is playing.
Instead of using public funds to provide compensation to asbestos investors, the Quebec government should give the funds to asbestos victims and their families, both in Quebec and overseas.