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What happened to Justin Trudeau’s promise to ban asbestos?

Sometimes public-policy choices involve weighing contradictory evidence and competing objectives. Careful consideration is needed to make the right decision.

This is not one of those times.

More than 50 countries currently ban asbestos, a mineral fibre that is a known carcinogen – and which Canada once produced and exported in vast quantities. The dangers associated with asbestos exposure, which has been studied for decades and remains scarily prevalent, are beyond dispute.

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Public health authorities around the world, including in Canada, long ago concluded that the once-popular fire retardant and insulation material is unsafe.

The health effects of asbestos exposure can take decades to reveal themselves fully and when they do they are usually horrific and fatal. Our country has one of the highest incidences of mesothelioma, an aggressive form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, on the planet.

For decades, asbestos boosters claimed that a ban would provoke devastating regional economic consequences. But in truth the industry has, for all intents and purposes, ceased to exist. Quebec's last remaining asbestos mines halted production five years ago.

Canada still imports about $10-million worth of asbestos annually, mostly in the form of brake pads and industrial pipes. Far more is spent each year ridding the country's homes, schools, hospitals and office buildings of the stuff.

The science is indisputable, there is no economic case to be made in favour of the domestic industry, and the Trudeau government has promised to "work toward" a ban.

Yet word comes from Ottawa that the asbestos question is being referred for a "government-wide" review that may or may not be spearheaded by the federal Science Minister (it is not clear who has the lead on the file).

No sensible person can argue against making decisions based on the best available scientific evidence. The trouble here is the data are not ambiguous. This feels like foot-dragging – and for no good purpose.

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The government is staring at an empty net goal with its promised asbestos ban. It should stop skating and just shoot already.

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