Meeting on glyphosate ban brings all legislature parties together for the first time

Written by Susan O'Donnell on October 18, 2018

Stop Spraying NB organized a discussion with representatives from four political parties on a motion to ban glyphosate in forestry operations on Oct. 17, 2018. Photo by Susan O’Donnell.

A ban on spraying glyphosate on public lands is likely one step closer following a meeting organized by Stop Spraying in New Brunswick (SSNB) on October 17 in Fredericton. A Progressive Conservative (PC) MLA noted the meeting was the first time all the parties in the Legislature were together in a room to discuss a proposal to ban the toxic chemical.

Across rural New Brunswick, many people are strongly opposed to spraying glyphosate on forested lands because of the impact on human health and animals as well as the broader forest ecosystem. Despite numerous petitions presented to the Legislature over the years, Liberal and PC governments have refused to end the practice. At the meeting, neither of these parties committed firmly to stop spraying but clearly they were open to talking about it. What will change politically in the new legislature is more MLAs from the Green Party and new People’s Alliance MLAs, all committed to stop spraying glyphosate on public and forested lands.

SSNB Chair Caroline Lubbe-D’arcy hosted the meeting in a boardroom at the Crowne Plaza hotel attended by six MLAs from the four parties, two other invited participants, and representatives from several interest groups. Meeting chair Chris Collins, the former MLA and speaker of the legislature, facilitated a discussion that focused on a draft regulation proposed by SSNB.

The SSNB regulation contains four main points, including that the Province will no longer compensate companies for the application of glyphosate or similar herbicides in forestry management, and that the Province will issue no licences for the application of glyphosate or similar herbicides on public lands including Crown lands, public right of ways, watersheds and other public properties.

Michelle Conroy was one of the two new People’s Alliance MLAs at the meeting. Her party’s election platform included the objective to: “Cease herbicide (glyphosate) spraying on crown lands.” Conroy said she was broadly in favour of the proposed SSNB motion although their caucus would need to study the specific language in more detail. Rick DeSaulniers (People’s Alliance MLA) noted that he was raised in a forested area and added that his party would in principle support a motion to ban glyphosate.

David Coon (Green Party MLA) was the only party leader at the meeting. He agreed in principle with the proposed SSNB regulation, adding that it would require further clarification. The Green Party election platform included the objective to: “Immediately end the spraying of herbicides (glyphosate) on forest lands and under powerlines, given the risks the chemical poses to natural ecosystems and wildlife.”

In December 2016, Coon proposed legislation to amend the Crown Lands and Forests Act to replace clearcutting and glyphosate spraying with a forest management plan based on ecological sustainability, fairness for private woodlot owners and independent sawmill operators, and acknowledgment of Aboriginal rights. At the October meeting, Coon recalled that in 2016, no other MLA would support his proposed bill, preventing its debate. “Next time I won’t have that problem,” Coon said, referencing that two Green Party MLAs will join him in the new legislature.

Andrew Harvey, Liberal MLA and acting Minister of Environment and Local Government, stated that he needed more information about several aspects of the proposed SSNB regulation, including why private lands were excluded. Until these and other questions were looked at in further detail, his party could not make a firm commitment to end the spraying. In any case, Harvey cautioned that “you can’t change a system overnight” and it would take time to phase in any changes to the current system.

Ross Wetmore and Mike Holland, both PC MLAs, said they would take the SSNB proposal back to their caucus for further study. Wetmore said a proposal to stop spraying was one piece in their proposed plan to revise the Crown Lands and Forests Act. To move further on it, they would need to have other groups at the table to hear more opinions.

One of those other groups the PC party wants to hear from is likely the Forest Products Association, an industry lobby group represented at the meeting by Mike Legere. He made several interventions and objected to the perspective that a ban is necessary. He questioned the science that glyphosate is harmful, saying “the evidence isn’t there.” Legere also challenged SSNB’s Lubbe-D’Arcy’s definition of the “precautionary principle.”

SSNB invited expert Rod Cumberland to speak at the meeting. Cumberland, a deer biologist who worked 15 years for the province’s Department of Natural Resources, is an expert on the impact of glyphosate spraying on the deer population. He challenged Legere’s statements and said the science is clear that spraying glyphosate reduces the deer population. The herbicide kills the hardwood browse that forms a large part of the deer population diet. According to Cumberland, one acre of hardwood browse provides enough food for one deer for a year, and the current spraying program removes the food for about 30,000 deer per year. The spraying generally occurs on newly planted land which has the richest soil, providing the best environment for the deer population.

Recently, the NB Media Co-op published an article about a new study detailing how Monsanto, a company that manufactures glyphosate-based products, “used deceit and manipulation to have the chemical herbicide declared safe.” The scientific review found that Monsanto engaged in many unethical research practices, including “ghost writing” scientific articles, interfering in reporting test data by a scientific journal, and preparing presentations for supposedly “independent” scientists.

SSNB also invited Charles Thériault to the meeting. Thériault lives near Kedgwick in rural northwestern New Brunswick, an area heavily dependent on the forests for its economy and community livelihood. Thériault described the impact of glyphosate spraying on his community and the determination of his community to end it. The previous evening Theriault had given a keynote talk, “Is our Forest Really Ours?” at Saint Thomas University to an audience of nearly 100 people. In the recent provincial election, Thériault earned 31% of the vote as a Green Party candidate in his riding of Restigouche West. He is known for his video series on forestry management in New Brunswick critical of JD Irving.

For David Coon, the meeting was one step further in his multi-year quest to have the herbicide banned from provincial forests. Before he became a politician, Coon headed the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, the organization that wrote a petition that eventually gathered more than 30,000 signatures in hard copy. Coon and Conservative MLA Jake Stewart signed the petition at a rally outside the legislature in December 2016. That petition was the largest of many submitted to the legislature over the last decade. Petitions became an important organizing tool that in 2015 launched the Facebook group, Stop Spraying in New Brunswick (SSNB) that currently has 13,893 members.

The spraying of glyphosate is widely opposed across rural New Brunswick. Over the past few years, SSNB has made presentations and organized public meetings and protests in many villages and towns across the province. In addition, groups allied to SSNB have organized events in areas particularly affected by spraying, such as the EcoVie group in the Mount Carleton region. Last year, a public protest shut down a presentation on forest spraying by JD Irving to the Petticodiac Village Council. Young people are also informed and expressing their opposition to spraying, as illustrated by the student Earth Day exhibition in Richibucto earlier this year.

Some groups opposed to spraying have been intimidated from going public. In August 2017, the President of the Miramichi Headwaters Salmon Federation stated that he was warned by chief biologist of JD Irving that the Federation would face reprisals if it went public with their opposition to spraying at a meeting organized by SSNB.

New Brunswick uses more glyphosates in forestry than any other province. A report by the Chief Medical Officer of Health in New Brunswick found that 40% of the forest land cut in 2014 was sprayed with glyphosate, compared to 28% in Ontario and 11% in Nova Scotia. In 2001, Quebec banned herbicides in their Crown forest. Dozens of other jurisdictions across Canada, in the US, Europe and around the world have outright or partial bans of the toxic chemical although as yet no one country has banned it entirely.

Following the Fredericton meeting, SSNB Chair Lubbe-D’Arcy noted that the event demonstrated that the parties can work together on this key issue facing New Brunswick: “I feel that this was a very important first step. SSNB’s board members know that we need participation of the larger parties to obtain our goal, so we need to have all the parties involved in discussions around this important issue.” She indicated that SSNB wants to see a stop spraying bill passed as one of the first pieces of legislation in the new legislature.

Susan O’Donnell is on the NB Media Co-op Editorial Board and a researcher on the RAVEN (Rural Action and Voices for the Environment) project at the University of New Brunswick.

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