Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Pesticide Promise

From small acorns mighty oaks grow. This timeless saying perfectly describes the journey of one small Quebec town that had the remarkable courage to try and make the world a safer place for its children. Tired of seeing its young people die of cancer, the town of 5,400 passed a by-law banning the cosmetic use of pesticides in 1991.

The victory was short lived. The lawn care companies fought back and took the town to court. The case dragged on for a decade. Finally in 2001, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the rights of Hudson - and every other Canadian municipality - to ban the use of pesticides within their borders.

It was as if a dam broke. Municipalities across the country responded by drafting their own pesticide legislation. To date, an estimated 135 municipalities in six provinces have pesticide bylaws, including Canada's three largest cities - Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

And now it's the Province of Ontario's turn. Last fall, the McGuinty Liberals made the establishment of a province-wide pesticide ban part of its re-election platform. On November 20th, following the Liberal victory, the Premier reiterated his government's commitment to introducing a pesticide ban by the spring of 2008 as part of its toxin reduction strategy.

True to his word, last week the government posted, its "Notice of intent to introduce legislation that would ban the cosmetic use of pesticides in Ontario" on the Environmental Bill of Rights in the Environmental Registry.

The proposal, known as EBR Registry Number 010-2248, is open for public comment for a period of 30 days, which commenced on January 18 and concludes on February 17, 2008.

The Environmental Bill of Rights Environmental Registry provides everyone in Ontario with the unique opportunity to comment on environmental legislation. This current posting is looking for feedback on a number of issues related to a ban, including:

Determining the Scope of the Ban

As it stands, the proposed ban would apply to cosmetic uses of pesticides, those intended to improve the appearance of lawns, gardens, parks and schoolyards. Pesticides would be allowed in situations where public health might be endangered, for example as a tool to reduce mosquito populations and the related threat of the West Nile virus. The government wants to know if there are any other situations where pesticides should be allowed.

Restrictions on the Sale of Cosmetic Pesticides

At issue is whether there should be an outright ban on the sale of cosmetic pesticides, or whether certain pesticides should be regulated.


Under the current proposal, pesticides used for agriculture and managed forests would be exempt. These are already subject to strict rules regarding application and storage. Instead, the government wants to know the public's opinion on focusing the proposed ban exclusively on urban residents living in towns and cities.

Exemptions for Golf Courses

This part of the proposal is a particularly sticky one. It was the use of pesticides on Hudson's many area golf courses was that town's primary motivator for introducing its ban. The Ontario government is proposing that golf courses would be exempt from the legislation. Owners would instead be required to develop plans that would limit the environmental impact of pesticides. What the province would like to know is should there be a minimum requirement for these plans and what should they include?


While many municipal jurisdictions have given a fairly long lead time between passage and implementation, it would appear that the McGuinty government is prepared to take a much more aggressive approach. The current proposal would introduce legislation in the spring of 2008 that would be phased-in over the next three years.

Response to the province's commitment to reduce pesticides and other toxins in the environment has been very positive.

"Premier McGuinty's leadership, demonstrated by the commitment to introduce legislation early in 2008 to enable a province-wide ban on the cosmetic use of pesticides, is welcome news," said Janet Kasperski, Chief Executive Officer of the Ontario College of Family Physicians. "We need to choose the health of our children over the odd weed."

What began as a single courageous act 17 years ago has translated into a national movement. As the first province to consider such legislation, Ontario is rapidly moving the agenda forward - a virtually forest of mighty oaks have now grown from that one tiny acorn of an idea.

And now it's your turn. This is an open opportunity for public comment. Let your opinion count.


Commenting on the proposal is as simple as clicking on the EBR website. Search for EBR Registry Number 010-2248. Comments must be addressed to Robert Bilyea, Senior Policy Advisor, Ministry of the Environment.

Additional information is also available by phoning the Standards Development Branch, Ministry of the Environment, at 416-327-5519.


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