Opinion: Political parties are ignoring the issue of asbestos in homes
By Casey Edge
Tax credits needed for an asbestos problem the government helped create
By Casey Edge
Canadian Contractor is very pleased to welcome Casey Edge as a new guest columnist. Casey is the Executive Director of the Victoria Residential Builders Association (VRBA), an independent organization tackling national, provincial and municipal housing issues on behalf of Canadians. Casey is articulate, passionate and unafraid to speak out on behalf of the residential building industry. We welcome readers to respond and comment to the ideas Casey will be bringing to our attention over the next several months.
Few housing issues have been so widely ignored by Canada’s political parties as asbestos in homes. This is particularly poignant considering the federal government promoted and subsidized the use and installation of asbestos as part of energy efficiency programs.
The sad and conflicted history of asbestos in the home
Let’s review the history. In the 1970’s and 80’s, the federal government’s Canadian Home Insulation Program (CHIP) offered grants for installation of insulation such as Zonolite in consumers’ homes. In 1984, the federal government established The Asbestos Institute to promote the use of asbestos.
Consumers and contractors relied on the government to ensure these products were safe, which in hindsight, was not the case. In fact, today, asbestos is in the process of being removed from building codes.
Asbestos remediation by contractors is highly regulated. Why no oversight for homeowners?
Asbestos can be found in stucco, drywall, roof shingles, window putty, vinyl and linoleum floor tiles, electrical wires, insulation and more. However, safe remediation and removal is required in order not to create new health hazards. Provincial regulators such as WorkSafeBC have established very stringent and expensive regulations for renovations, demolitions, and handling of building materials that may contain asbestos, especially in older homes. These regulations include employee training, hiring consultants, testing materials, and hazardous materials management procedures costing thousands of dollars.
Unfortunately, some consumers may try to avoid these costs by undertaking their own remediation, over which there is little regulation. According to BC’s Ministry of Environment, “The management of waste asbestos, including transportation and disposal, from residential buildings is within the ministry’s jurisdiction, but the decision to remove and the removal process is not.” Government officials are quick to pounce on contractors not abiding by regulatory details, yet there is zero interest in a homeowner exposing his family to asbestos.”
Politicians of all stripes remain silent
We have written to Canada’s elected representatives, Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, and Green Party. None have expressed any interest in helping to mitigate asbestos in home renovations. Perhaps the Green Party might be interested if asbestos was transferred via a pipeline in B.C. rather than sitting in thousands of Canadian homes.
The time is long overdue for the Canadian government to take responsibility and offer a tax credit program to assist with the costs of a health and safety problem which they helped to create and fund. Provincial governments should also take some responsibility to address the significant costs of their regulations.
Unintended consequence without taking responsibility
History has demonstrated again and again that elected officials and bureaucrats must be wary about pushing energy efficiency over health and safety and proven practice in our building code. The unintended consequences Canadians have witnessed and experienced include asbestos, urea formaldehyde and leaky condos. When governments err, they have an obligation to step up and assist Canadian homeowners.
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