06/24/2011 11:56 EDT | Updated 08/24/2011 05:12 EDT

Stephen Harper Celebrates St-Jean-Baptiste Day In Asbestos Country

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- OTTAWA - The prime minister is celebrating St-Jean-Baptiste in the heart of the asbestos industry as Canada's delegation to an international summit draws ire by keeping the carcinogen off a hazardous-chemicals list.

Stephen Harper's Conservative government steadfastly refuses to let asbestos be added to a United Nations treaty called the Rotterdam Convention.

Listing asbestos on Annex III of the convention would force exporters such as Canada to warn recipient countries of any health hazards. Those countries could then refuse asbestos imports if they didn't think they could handle the product safely.

Canada has twice before played a lead role in blocking the inclusion of asbestos under the Rotterdam Convention, which operates by consensus, and the country is doing so again at this week's summit.

The earth negotiations bulletin published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development reports other countries are "dumbstruck" by Canada's reasons for blocking the listing.

"Frustrations were addressed openly in the afternoon session of plenary, during which Canada was asked to explain its objection to listing chrysotile asbestos," the observers wrote.

They noted the African delegation stressed to their Canadian counterparts that it costs a lot of money to attend these summits, and so they deserved to hear Canada's rationale for blocking the listing.

Canadian delegates at the Geneva meetings are parroting Conservative talking points, telling participants they have "actively promoted safe and controlled use of the substance domestically and internationally."

That's the same line Industry Minister Christian Paradis has repeated in the House of Commons for days now. It's also the boilerplate response from government departments to any and all questions about asbestos.

The observers reported the European Union "expressed severe disappointment at the outcome, underscored the need to move forward, as opposed to backward."

Back home, Harper and Paradis are attending St-Jean-Baptiste Day celebrations in the industry minister's hometown of Thetford Mines, Que. That's not far from the site of Canada's last active asbestos mine.