A recently retired Conservative cabinet minister is calling on Canada to help put chrysotile asbestos on a global list of potentially hazardous products, despite the federal government's continued promotion of the mineral's "safe and controlled" use.

Chuck Strahl told CBC's Power & Politics War Room podcast  on Monday it's time to put the controversial substance on a United Nations convention treaty known as the Rotterdam Convention, which would allow importing countries to refuse the material if they didn't know how to properly handle it.

Strahl has a type of lung cancer likely caused by being exposed to asbestos through his work in the logging industry before he was an MP. His comments came as officials from around the world gathered on Monday in Geneva, Switzerland, to update the 2006 convention.


Chuck Strahl, who retired from politics ahead of last month's federal election, held several portfolio's in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet. Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press

Canadian officials have so far not said whether they will support a recommendation to put chrysotile asbestos in the Annex III list of chemicals banned or restricted due to health and environmental risks.

"We should just list it," said Strahl, who earlier outlined his position in an editorial Monday in the Globe and Mail.   

The longtime B.C. MP, who held several high-profile portfolios in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet before his retirement ahead of last month's federal election, added he was reluctant to move to ban something just because he had a "personal history" with it. 

"What isn't right is to ship something to some country and say, 'We won't tell you what's in this. Don't worry about it,' " he said. "The important thing to me is to tell people about the risk. … It is demonstrably bad for you, this stuff."

A spokeswoman for Industry Minister Christian Paradis, whose riding includes Canada's only asbestos mine, refused to say whether Canada would allow the chemical to be added to the Rotterdam Convention.

"Our position at Rotterdam will be the same as our position in Canada, which is that we promote the safe and controlled use of chrysotile," Pascale Boulay said in an email to CBC News on Monday.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered his support for the industry during a campaign-trail stop in Quebec's asbestos-producing region in the last federal election.

But the Opposition NDP wants chrysotile asbestos exports banned, citing recently released documents that they say show the government's own health experts have warned the controversial mineral is unsafe.

Strahl has previously broken ranks with his party on asbestos. In 2006, shortly after he announced his cancer diagnosis, Strahl questioned whether Canada should be spending so much time, energy and money promoting asbestos internationally.

"I always think that's a job for the business, and I'd just as soon the Canadian government didn't spend money to promote a product that some countries are going to question our stand on," Strahl told CBC Radio's The House at the time.