New Brunswick

Environmental activists give N.B. government failing grade for inaction on herbicide spraying

A group of environmental activists have given the New Brunswick government a failing grade for not implementing recommendations a legislative standing committee made last year around reducing the use of herbicides in the province.

Province gets F for not implementing recommendations made by committee last November

Caroline Lubbe-D'Arcy, chair of Stop Spraying New Brunswick, says the group has given the provincial government a failing grade for not taking action against the use of glyphosate during the last legislative session. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

A group of environmental activists has given the New Brunswick government a failing grade for its inaction on the use of herbicides on Crown land.

Stop Spraying New Brunswick released its annual report card on Friday rating the efforts by each party to stop or reduce the use of herbicides — namely glyphosate — during the 2021-22 legislative session.

Premier Blaine Higgs's Progressive Conservative government received an F in the report card, particularly for not acting on any recommendations presented last November by a legislative committee that examined the issue, said Caroline Lubbe-D'Arcy, chair of Stop Spraying New Brunswick.

Lubbe-D'Arcy suggested the lack of action was especially remarkable because Enviroment Minister Gary Crossman and Natural Resources Minister Mike Holland both sit on the committee.

"We basically have had no word from the government of New Brunswick about these recommendations that were submitted on Nov. 2 of last year by the committee, even though the Ministers of Environment and Natural Resources are  on the committee and they all unanimously voted for those recommendations."

Last November, the legislative standing committee on climate change and environmental stewardship issued a report making 20 recommendations for the government to limit the use of herbicide spraying.

The recommendations included doubling the spraying setback from dwellings to one kilometre, requiring spraying setbacks of 100 metres from protected areas, water and wetlands, and banning pesticide spraying outright in protected watersheds, and for N.B. Power to phase out the use of herbicides altogether.

Glyphosate, a type of herbicide, is used in the forestry industry in New Brunswick, and is commonly sprayed by plane. (CBC)

The report came after public hearings on pesticide and herbicide use in New Brunswick.

The presentations to the committee and the resulting report focused almost exclusively on the controversial herbicide glyphosate.

"We were, of course, thinking if they filed this report on Nov. 2, and they've got the two ministers in the committee agreeing that these are great ideas, we definitely hoped very much that these would be implemented before this spray season," Lubbe-D'Arcy said.

"And at least the low-hanging fruit of N.B. Power, because it says clearly in one of the recommendations that N.B. Power needs to cease their spray program right away."

Glyphosate, used mainly by the forestry and agriculture sectors to control weeds and other vegetation, has been the subject of several lawsuits that allege it is a health risk

Health Canada has stood by the scientific evidence it used to approve the continued use of glyphosate in weed killers, and said it has been found unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans.

New Brunswick's forest vegetation management program lets forestry companies spray herbicides in select parts of the province every year.

Lubbe-D'Arcy said the spraying typically starts in early August and goes until October.

In an email to CBC News, provincial spokesperson Vicky Lutes said the recommendations are "complex," adding that some are underway in implementation while others are still being reviewed to understand their impacts.

Lutes said the government will be responding to the standing committee in the coming months. 

The province's forest vegetation management program allows for select areas of land to be sprayed with herbicides such as glyphosate for forestry management. The map shows an area near Juniper, N.B., with yellow blotches signifying areas subject to spraying. (Government of New Brunswick)

Marc Belliveau, a spokesperson for N.B. Power, said in an email that the Crown utility no longer uses glyphosate in its vegetation program but will still use other herbicides.

According to information on the company's website, it has received approval from the Department of Environment to apply herbicide products on approximately 1,000 hectares of transmission rights-of-way over the summer.

D+ for Liberals, B+ for Greens

The province's two other political parties with seats in the legislature scored better than the governing Progressive Conservatives.

The Liberal party was given a D+ because its members offered "lip service" to the cause of ending herbicide spraying in the province during the 2020 election, but haven't done much to push it forward since, Lubbe-D'Arcy said.

The Green Party, led by veteran environmental advocate David Coon, meanwhile received a B+ score.

While Coon has for years pushed for an end to herbicide spraying in New Brunswick, his party hasn't made any "action inside the legislature towards a ban," Lubbe-D'Arcy said.

"But he did submit a supplemental recommendation to the standing committee report to show that his commitment is to a much stronger action on spraying than what the committee right now has come up with, and he also has clearly showed support for a ban on spraying...  so that's why we gave them a B plus."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aidan Cox

Journalist

Aidan Cox is a journalist for the CBC based in Fredericton. He can be reached at aidan.cox@cbc.ca and followed on Twitter @Aidan4jrn.

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