Manitoba pesticide ban debate reignites

Manitoba's lawn care companies are joining the Tories in airing their grievances over a proposed cosmetic pesticide ban.

Landscape Manitoba sends out mailers encouraging opposition to cosmetic pesticide ban

The Manitoba government is looking at banning the sale and/or use of cosmetic lawn pesticides to kill weeds, like dandelions, as well as bugs and other pests. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

Manitoba's lawn care companies are joining the Tories in airing their grievances over a proposed cosmetic pesticide ban, just as the province is set to decide on the matter.

Conservation Minister Gord Mackintosh said a decision on a long-discussed pesticide ban in the province is imminent.

"We have to move now in the next few weeks to announce publicly what we plan to do," Mackintosh said Tuesday.

"There certainly is a range of options available to help reduce synthetic chemical pesticide exposure, particularly in children."

However, pesticide lobbyists are hoping those plans won't include an outright ban on cosmetic pesticides for lawns.

Landscape Manitoba, a group of members in the landscaping or pesticide industry, recently sent out postcards addressed to Premier Greg Selinger.

The group wants Manitobans to fill out the postcards and send them to the premier to "tell Selinger you want a choice, not a ban."

"People of Manitoba take great pride in maintaining their properties and want to look after them," said Dave Hinton, a spokesperson for the group and the owner of weed-control company Weed Man.

"We want the tools available to do so."

Public feedback sought

The Manitoba government sought public feedback on a proposed pesticide ban in 2012.

Shortly after the public input was requested, Cosmetic Pesticide Ban Manitoba provided a petition with more than 1,000 signed letters calling for a ban.

Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister urged the province in January to reconsider banning the pesticides, saying a ban could have far-reaching consequences, especially for the province's agriculture industry.

However, provincial officials have continually stressed the pesticide ban would only apply to lawns and not farm lands.

Mackintosh said similar bans in other jurisdictions have prompted the development of "bio-pesticides," and those products are what his department is looking at now.

"We want it to be based on science. We want to make sure that it's not a question as to whether to spray or not to spray, but what's in the spray," he said.

"So we're familiarizing ourselves with the replacement products to ensure that they're effective and available."

Hinton said regardless, it's not the province's place to ban the products.

"The tools that the Manitoba government is thinking about restricting are Health Canada federally approved products that we use to take care of pest problems in our landscapes," said Hinton.

Hinton said the ban is politically motivated, and Health Canada's expertise should be paramount in the decision.

"Health Canada is the expert. They make sure that all the products are safe for use, and they continue registration on these products," said Hinton.

"Manitoba simply does not have the expertise or the resources to make these judgments."

Pesticide industry desperate, says environmentalist

Josh Brandon of the Green Action Centre says the postcard campaign seems desperate.

"It shows a little bit of desperation on the part of the pesticide industry," said Brandon.

"They've seen that the majority of Manitobans in a number of polls now want to see a phase out of toxic chemicals from their lawns."

He said Landscape Manitoba is backed by Crop Life Canada, a lobby group made up of big names like Monsanto and Dow Chemicals.

Brandon said he thinks the companies are worried about how a proposed ban would affect their bottom line.

"The fact that this massive campaign now is being backstopped by some of the largest chemical companies in the world suggests that they're concerned about that and how it's going to affect their profits," he said.

A number of other provinces have introduced varying degrees of restriction on the sale and use of cosmetic pesticides, including Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.

With files from the CBC's Leslie McLaren