Asbestos’s last, lonely champion

Quoted from

Asbestos’s last, lonely champion

By Susan Riley, Ottawa Citizen June 24, 2011 11:35 AM

I still remember the shock and dismay I felt walking through the ByWard Market in 2005, when I noticed newspaper headlines announcing that Chuck Strahl had been diagnosed with a deadly form of asbestos-related cancer.

Not only was Strahl fit and strong (fortunately, he still is), he was a well-liked Reform, then Conservative, MP and, subsequently, a successful cabinet minister in a number of posts. He decided not to run in the last election – his son Mark took over his B.C. seat on May 2 – and has returned to Chilliwack, his cancer apparently in remission.

This memory makes Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s adamant support for Quebec’s asbestos industry in recent weeks seem even more confounding and cold. After all, within his own cabinet he had sobering evidence of the cost of unprotected exposure to asbestos.

Strahl was exposed to the carcinogen as a young man operating huge logging vehicles with asbestos-clad brakes in the B.C. interior. In those days, he recounts, wearing protective gear was considered insufficiently macho and the dangers of breathing in asbestos fibre not as well known.

Decades later he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer that usually kills its victims within a few years – a shocking prognosis for a regular jogger and non-smoker. With the help of his family and strong Christian faith, however, Strahl beat the odds and played an active role in cabinet until his retirement.

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