The Canadian Press Last Updated: Wednesday, October 13, 2010 | 10:45 AM ET
Consortium made an offer to buy the cash-strapped Jeffrey Mine in the town of Asbestos.
A consortium from India has made an offer to buy one of Canada’s last remaining asbestos mines and extend its life.
The group made a bid last Thursday to purchase the cash-strapped Jeffrey Mine in the Quebec town of Asbestos.
Jeffrey president Bernard Coulombe confirmed Tuesday that he received a pitch, but would not say how much the consortium has put on the table.
“We’re looking at (the offer) very seriously, and we have one week to respond,” Coulombe said in an interview.
“The offer is serious, because it was officially presented with a guaranteed deposit,” he said.
The 131-year-old Jeffrey mine is one of only two sites in Canada that still extracts the controversial mineral, blamed for causing serious health issues, including cancer.
90,000 deaths a year: WHO
The World Health Organization says asbestos-related diseases cause 90,000 deaths annually around the world.
The Canadian asbestos industry has been heavily criticized for exporting the mineral to developing countries where few, if any, safety measures are followed to limit exposure.
India is one of Canada’s biggest asbestos customers.
Supporters of the industry, and its Quebec variety known as chrysotile, argue that it’s safe to use as long as it’s handled properly. Historically, it has been used for cement roofing, vehicle brake linings, and pipe insulation.
Coulombe said the deal would give Jeffrey the necessary funds to complete a new underground section of the mine, extending its life for another 25 years.
Hundreds of jobs
Breathing new life into the mine would also create hundreds of direct and indirect jobs in the area.
The news is promising for the local mine workers’ union, which has also received a copy of the offer.
“I’m optimistic,” said union president Normand St-Hilaire, who represents between 600 to 800 workers.
St-Hilaire said the union will meet Sunday, when details of the proposal will be presented to its members.
Even if the offer is accepted, however, there are no guarantees it would revive Jeffrey, which is currently under bankruptcy protection.
The Quebec government has yet to decide whether to guarantee a critical $58-million bank loan the company says it needs to restart operations.
Still, the deal would meet one of several conditions the province wants Jeffrey to meet in exchange for its support to secure the financing.
Economic Development Minister Clement Gignac said the mine must find new partners to invest $15 million, which is the balance of the $73-million total needed to reopen the project.
The government also said the mine’s customers must agree to adhere to Quebec standards on the safe handling of asbestos.
Gignac also wants an independent firm to ensure the company will be profitable before he backs the loan.
Coulombe’s announcement Tuesday comes after he accused federal Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff of scaring off a would-be investor from China.
Conservative government supports asbestos industry
He said last summer that he had the investor lined up and willing to inject $40 million, but it backed off after Ignatieff commented on the industry.
Ignatieff has called for a ban on exports of asbestos. His office immediately expressed skepticism over Coulombe’s claim that the Liberal leader’s remarks might have torpedoed the deal.
The Conservative government has repeatedly voiced its support for the industry.
In recent months, Canada’s asbestos sector has also become the target of a growing international campaign.
Health professionals and anti-asbestos activists from around the world have spoken out against Canadian exports.