Local group pans provincial proposal on pesticide policies

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KAGAWONG – Environmental groups, including a group on Manitoulin Island, say the provincial government is proposing to weaken Ontario’s restrictions on a class of agricultural pesticides that some scientific studies blame for large declines in the populations of bees and other insects.

The coalition, which includes Environmental Defence and the Ontario Beekeepers Federation, say they feel proposed rule changes for such pesticides as neonicitinoids will make the chemicals easier for farmers to use, while making it more difficult for the government to track their use.

The provincial government, along with farmer organizations and pesticide manufacturers all support the changes, noting they would reduce unnecessary paperwork along with duplication by leaving most pesticide regulations to Ottawa.

Paul Darlaston of Kagawong noted that the ministry is proposing amendments to the regulations administering the Pesticides Act. The Ministry published the following: “Proposal summary: We are proposing amendments to O.Reg. 63/09: General made under the Pesticides Act to reduce complexity and modernize pesticide management in Ontario while ensuring protection of human health and the environment. This proposal is related to proposed amendments to the Pesticides Act. This consultation closes at 11:59 pm on December 12.”

“I read that and my first reaction was ‘reducing complexity and modernize pesticide management?’ Sounds to me a lot like the reduction of red tape of these current Conservatives and the Mike Harris government before them. The second reaction I had was ‘is the minister trying to create another Walkerton?’ That tragedy was directly linked to reduction of oversight,” said Mr. Darlaston. “We have only had a short time to review the proposed regulations, but so far we have found nothing which addresses our two asks. In fact, quite the reverse.”

“In summary, this smacks of classic ‘reduction of red tape’ dear to the hearts of the Mike Harris and Doug Ford ideology, and instantly makes one word come to mind: Walkerton,” said Mr. Darlaston. “They use the word protection a couple of times here, but back in the summary of functions they are responsible for pesticides comes last and if you examine the pesticides page, it is a long list on how to get a permit or how to spray a golf course or how to use cosmetic pesticides one your garden.”

“So, why is this group of Manitoulin concerned citizens so agitated right now? Regular readers of Island newspapers will be aware of a two year long campaign on Manitoulin to have the Minister of the Environment restrict use of pesticides for vegetation management along rights of way by Ontario utilities, MTO and MNRF. We also asked the minister to restore to municipalities the authority to control spraying within their jurisdictions which was taken away in 2009,” continued Mr. Darlaston. He explained, “two years ago, there was a spontaneous reaction in Island communities when we heard that Hydro One was planning to spray potent herbicides on their rights-of-way on Manitoulin. More than 30 people packed Billings Township’s council meeting to support a delegation. What was frustrating was that, even though councils were supporting us, they really had no power over pesticides use, that was summarily taken away from them by the province when it enacted the Cosmetics Pesticides Act in 2009. So we decided, supported by advice from MPP Michael Mantha, to raise a petition and get signatures to ask the minister of the day to restrict use by these utilities and give back power to municipalities to govern use of pesticides within their jurisdictions. Our initial petition got approximately 700 supporters, and a later one by Petra Wall in Central Manitoulin got at least 500 more. But all we got back from the minister was a letter quoting the existing Pesticides Act at us.”

Mr. Darlaston noted Mr. Mantha presented the petitions to the Ontario Legislature and the minister. “We even got a letter of acknowledgement from the Minister.”

“In parallel, we had approached individual municipalities and, even though their authority had been taken away, they issued statements opposing this type of use of pesticides. We have also approached the Manitoulin Municipal Association (MMA) but thus far, have not been scheduled on their agenda,” continued Mr. Darlaston. “As we did our due diligence to make sure we had answers for all the questions that members of councils might ask us, it became more and more clear that, in the big scheme of things, our original ask was small potatoes.” 

Over the last two years, more and more evidence became public that showed that pesticides like glyphosate did not break down to non-toxic by-products as claimed by the manufacturers and that glyphosate in particular was a carcinogen. The active components remain in the soil long after the few hours that Bayer/Monsanto claimed. Other jurisdictions were phasing out glyphosates, but Health Canada seemed to be dragging its feet. Neonicotinoids, which are insecticides typically sprayed on corn and canola, were being connected with the extreme drop-off in insect populations, especially honey bees, that are the pollinators for all plants. Some nations that are consumers of these seeds are refusing to accept corn and canola that have been treated with neo-nicotinoids.”

Under the proposed legislative and regulatory changes, farmers would still have to take a course, but they could then fill out a form declaring that their farm faces just one of several risk factors for pests. And they would have to apply for permission to use them only once, not every year. The proposals would also scrap rules that require seed vendors to keep copies of farmers pest-risk assessments and report annual sales data. Government data show a 38 percent reduction in acres planted with treated corn and soy seeds since 2014.

The provincial pesticide classification council would be scrapped and the regulations would be harmonized with the federal government’s, and the province would follow the federal government’s decision on neonicitinoids, for example.
“Our local group will be submitting a response to the proposed regulation changes,” said Mr. Darlaston. “We hope other Islanders continue to support these efforts. We welcome input from folks who have experience with existing pesticides use. There is a group on Facebook: Petition-To Change Ontario’s Pesticide Act, where you can post your experiences. With the support of the editors, we plan to post our draft response (in the Island papers) prior to December 12.”