To fog or not to fog? Winnipeg mayoral candidates weigh in on malathion use

Which of Winnipeg's mayoral hopefuls would allow mosquito fogging with malathion if they are elected? Find out where some of the candidates stand on the issue.

Candidates' positions on mosquito control are varied

Which of Winnipeg's mayoral hopefuls would allow mosquito fogging with malathion if they are elected? Find out where some of the candidates stand on the issue. 2:11

Which of Winnipeg's mayoral hopefuls would allow mosquito fogging with malathion if they are elected?

CBC News has asked all seven candidates if they would continue to use the common but controversial chemical insecticide to control the city's adult mosquito population.

The positions of six candidates who spoke to the CBC's Jill Coubrough on Tuesday and Wednesday were just as varied as the opinions citizens have on malathion.

Below are responses from, in alphabetical order: Brian Bowman, Michel Fillion, Robert-Falcon Ouellette, Gord Steeves, Michael Vogiatzakis and Judy Wasylycia-Leis.

CBC News is waiting to hear back from Paula Havixbeck.

Brian Bowman 

Position: In favour of using malathion when mosquito counts are high.

"I've actually been on both sides of the debate. I used to register for the buffer zones myself, and since having kids and certainly with the risk of West Nile, I don't register for the buffer zone any more," Bowman said in an interview.

Brian Bowman says he currently believes mosquito fogging is appropriate, especially when counts are high. (CBC)
"My preference would be to increase the use of natural tools for combating mosquitoes, including dragonflies and larvicide and other more natural products," he added.

"But at the end of of the day, when the counts are high, make no mistake about it — I'll support the current practice of having malathion, as well as leveraging the buffer zones as a reasonable balance between the different views on what is a very polarizing issue."

Bowman said numerous stakeholders, including the public, would need to be involved in a discussion on whether to reduce buffer zones.

"This is a perfect example of where our proposed office of public engagement could [be] a tool in helping Winnipeggers have that discussion about whether the current model is appropriate or not," he said.

"But right now, I mean, the position that I have — and I think it's supported by majority of Winnipeggers — is that spraying is appropriate, certainly when the counts are high," he added.

What he would do if elected:

  • Follow the city's existing framework, including the use of malathion.
  • Increase the use of natural tools in combating mosquitoes, such as dragonflies.
  • Maintain buffer zones, but look at reducing them with public input.
  • Have an ongoing discussion of what Winnipeggers would like to see.

Michel Fillion

Position: Neutral; would ask the public to vote.

"I don't think it's my stance that is important, it's the citizens’ decision," he said Wednesday.

Fillion said he sees the pros and cons of both sides in the debate.

"The city gets heck if they do spray and the city gets heck if they don't spray so on that issue … I would call a small referendum," he said.

Fillion said he would have each area of the city vote: "It would be a neighbourhood decision to have the whole neighbourhood done or not."

As well, he said he would look at natural alternatives to assist with malathion application.

"The natural way of getting rid of mosquitoes is always the best."

What he would do if elected:

  • Have each area of Winnipeg vote for/against fogging.
  • Look at natural alternatives to malathion.

Robert-Falcon Ouellette 

Position: In favour of using malathion sparingly.

"This is a product that's banned in France in 2008. This is a controlled substance in the European Union," Ouellette said of malathion.

Robert-Falcon Ouellette says he would not do away with fogging altogether, but he wants the insecticide to be used sparingly. (CBC)
"Fogging is a crisis mode, crisis thinking," he added. "I think there's things that we could be doing to ensure that we don't need to in the first place."

Ouellette said if elected as mayor, "I'd be ensuring that I have a scientist who's actually heading up the department who understands both health care of my fellow citizens [and] the environment, and knows how to use various things that are going around the world, scientific processes."

As an example, he points to research in England in which mosquitoes are being genetically modified so they would reproduce 95 per cent male offspring. The males are not bloodsuckers, only the females.

Ouellette said he would not do away with fogging because there are times when it's needed. He said it should only be used in targeted areas where traps reach a certain threshold.

"Obviously, I understand citizens of Winnipeg want to be outside." he said.

"It should be used sparingly, it should be used in a way which is thoughtful, in a way which produces better health outcomes for the city of Winnipeg."

What he would do if elected:

  • Look at a more comprehensive breeding program for dragonflies.
  • Employ scientists to work towards a long-term plan.
  • Fog only in areas where mosquito counts reach a certain threshold; no blanket policies.
  • Increase notification times for fogging to at least one week in advance, so citizens can plan ahead.
  • Contact all citizens at home or on their cellphones to notify them of upcoming fogging in their neighbourhoods.
  • Better maintain buffer zones.

Gord Steeves

Position: In favour of using malathion when trap counts are high.

"I wish we didn't have to use it, but I am OK with using malathion to fog. I think most people are," Steeves said.

"We suffer through long winters, I think, and the idea that mosquitoes are prevalent in the numbers that they are in the summertime, I think it's a use that's warranted."

Gord Steeves says he knows the use of malathion in mosquito fogging concerns people, but the city has looked at the insecticide extensively. (CBC)
​Steeves said he knows the use of malathion for mosquito fogging concerns people sometimes, but the city has looked at the insecticide extensively.

"Malathion has been around for a very, very long time, and you don't want to be reckless with it, but it actually has been proven to be useful and not harmful in the way some people have portrayed it to be. It's also pretty cost-effective and, used in the right concentrations, it's completely safe," he said.

He said he is prepared to look at alternatives, but he is not confident there is something on the market that is as effective.

Steeves said if elected, he would like to look at aerial fogging if it's a cost-effective option.

What he would do if elected:

  • Maintain the use of malathion along with other current practices.
  • Universal applications across the city, while still respecting buffer zones.
  • Quicker applications.
  • Reduction of buffer zones.
  • Look at airborne applications.

Michael Vogiatzakis

Position: Against using malathion.

Vogiatzakis said he believes malathion is fairly dangerous and should not be sprayed in the air.

Michael Vogiatzakis says there are natural alternatives to malathion in the market, and those should be studied. (CBC)
"If I was elected, I would definitely take a look at banning it. I would definitely look at the natural products, and look at the healthy product, and a product that's good for all of us, and I think that's what's important," he said.

"I would 100 per cent look for a product that was environmentally friendly; a product that wouldn't cause cancer; a product that would be safe; and a product that would be people-friendly, where we wouldn't have to set up zones where people wouldn't want that product sprayed."

Vogiatzakis said there are products out there that are natural.

"If the mayor and the city would do their research, they would realize there is other products out there, and I think we need to look at other places in this world and see how they're dealing with mosquito problems, and there is another way," he said.

"I think city council would be behind [me] if they knew the facts."

Vogiatzakis said if a natural alternative could not be found, he would not stop using malathion, as he knows the mosquito population needs to be properly managed.

What he would do if elected:

  • Look at banning malathion.
  • Use a natural product as a substitute for malathion.
  • Look at other cities and countries for ideas on new mosquito control solutions.
  • Spraying earlier.

Judy Wasylycia-Leis

Position: In favour of using malathion for now.

In an email sent late Tuesday, Wasylycia-Leis said, "I am open to science-based alternatives that are safe, affordable and effective."

Judy Wasylycia-Leis says malathion 'should be used as one of the tools for reducing the mosquito population so Winnipeggers can get outside and enjoy our short summers.' (CBC)
She added, "For now, malathion should be used as one of the tools for reducing the mosquito population so Winnipeggers can get outside and enjoy our short summers."

On the issue of buffer zones, Wasylycia-Leis said, "I am not going to make a promise on reducing buffer zones I can't keep.

"The city asked about reducing buffer zones as late as 2011 and were told by environmental experts from the province that they can't be substantially reduced because of federal rules on the use of malathion."


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