Manitoulin groups submit concerns on pesticide changes

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TORONTO – Proposals to streamline the approval process for pesticide use contained in the Better for People, Smarter for Business Act are meeting with mixed reactions, with farm and golf course operators applauding proposed changes and environmental groups sounding some alarms.

The Better for People, Smarter for Business Act is touted by the provincial government as being aimed at reducing red tape and duplication—with both sides agreeing that is a laudable goal—but when it comes to changes to the Pesticides Act aimed at alignment with federal regulations, environmental groups are voicing concerns that critical oversight is decidedly lacking in the federal approach.

 “If the design is to reduce red tape, then it makes sense to do it,” said Paul Darlaston, who submitted a response to the proposed Pesticide Act changes on behalf of the group Manitoulin Island Concerned Citizens on Pesticide Use and Unintended Consequences. But the concerns Mr. Darlaston and his colleagues have are at the forefront of the battle against indiscriminate use of glyphosate-based herbicides by Hydro One and the Ministry of Transportation to suppress growth beneath powerlines on Manitoulin Island. The group has been lobbying for a Manitoulin-wide position on that usage. The group posted their concerns, and proposed changes and requests on what not to change, on the EBR before the November 27 deadline. The post included two key requests.

First that “we have seen previous governments, in good faith, attempt to reduce red tape. That resulted in operators nominally overseen and issued permits by the Ministry of Environment cutting corners, neglecting due diligence and omitting prescribed practices, with the result that residents of a community (Walkerton) being poisoned, and some deaths,” notes the preamble. “We do not wish to see anything like this repeated. Do not reduce reporting requirements on permit applicants. Permit applicants should not only be required to identify pests, vegetation etc. to be eliminated; the product to be used, but also the quantity/concentration/method and timing of application and demonstrate why any repeat applications, from one year to the next, are requested.”

The post goes on to state “It is not clear whether the proposed changes to the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) in parallel with the proposed changes to the Pesticides Act will be applied to offences under the Pesticides Act. This needs to be clarified and indeed confirmed.”

Further, the post posits that “the Pesticides Act, as drafted, follows a complaints driven model. Historically, the Ontario public files a very small number of complaints, which are administered centrally,” wrote Mr. Darlaston, noting that central administration could be overwhelmed should there be a significant increase in public complaints. The group requests that authority to decide which pesticides can be used within a municipality be returned to municipalities.

It is proposed that the Pesticides Act would be amended to remove the Ontario Pesticide Advisory Committee (OPAC). Since OPAC’s main role is to provide advice to support classification, there would no longer be a need for that committee since the provincial application and classification process would now align to the federal specifications.

The general cosmetic pesticides ban in the act will be retained, including existing exceptions, but now a single list of permitted pesticides would replace the current classes. This is required as the federal government’s registration process currently does not restrict the use of pesticides for cosmetic use. This will require amendments to provide an alternate approach for regulating the cosmetic pesticides ban without the need for classification.

Mr. Darlaston voiced concern that the federal government tends to rely too much on industry reports and analysis.

Secondly, the Manitoulin group put forward a series of responses to the regulatory changes. 

The group does want changes to end Ontario’s duplicative application process for the classification of pesticides and align with the federal government’s application process, as all other provinces do; and a change maintaining Ontario’s general regulatory requirements, including licencing and permitting realigned to the federal categories, but no change to the cosmetic pesticide ban and a continuation of restrictions on the sale and use of neonicotinoid (NNI)-treated corn and soybean seeds. “There is evidence that agriculture users of NNI corn and soybean seeds are both doing so as a prophylactic without specific pests being identified,” notes the submission.

Further to neonicotinoids, the group request that the ministry “must require data from NNI users that demonstrate what pests have been identified and why NNI treatment is the only choice available before permits are approved.”

As well, “the ministry must require prospective users to provide independent counts of pollinating insects inventory pre and post use of any NNI treated seed or NNI application. Overwhelming evidence has been developed in other jurisdictions that NNI are non-specific and kill pollinating insects fundamental to development of produce in the vicinity of NNI treated land and/or crops. The group calls for a continued freeze on neonicotinoids until a decision on the matter is issued by Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency.”

The submission points out “the Cosmetics Pesticides Act was a draconian piece of legislation intended to impose a one-size-fits-all solution to a complex set of circumstances created precisely because different municipalities have different needs (urban, rural, southern, northern, agricultural, forestry) require different solutions.”

Therefore, the group calls for section five in the Cosmetic Pesticides Act, which reads “Bylaws inoperative: a municipal bylaw is inoperative if it addresses the use, sale, offer for sale or transfer of a pesticide that may be used for a cosmetic purposes,” to be replaced by “Municipalities may stipulate that use of pesticides within their jurisdictions be limited or banned with the following exceptions and that independent observers approved by the municipality be permitted to observe application of the pesticides.”

The group does call for a change to Regulation 63/09: “At the same time, permit holders must be required to provide notice to local municipalities where spraying is planned—including specifically the type of active ingredients of the pesticide which will be used. The municipality may then depute trained observers to monitor the spraying operation.”