On Saturday, Nov. 3 in a community hall in Tobique First Nation, 50 people gathered to discuss how to stop the spraying of glyphosate on the New Brunswick forest. Citizens of Tobique and other Indigenous and rural communities in the province are deeply concerned about the poisonous herbicide and its effects on the forest, waters, animals, people and all their relations.
On Oct. 17, after the recent provincial election, the lobby group Stop Spraying in New Brunswick (SSNB) organized a meeting to discuss a draft regulation prepared by SSNB. Attended by political representatives, it was the first meeting that brought together all parties in the legislature to discuss banning glyphosate.
The meeting in Tobique was the first gathering open to the public on this topic since the election. The community co-organized the event with the Green Party and invited David Coon, Leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick and MLA for Fredericton South, and Charles Thériault, filmmaker and former Green Party candidate for Restigouche West, to share information about the spraying and to listen to the community’s views. What the guests heard clearly is that spraying glyphosate on forests clashes with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) because it is not being done with free, prior and informed consent.
Charles Thériault is known for his online video series, “Is the Forest Really Ours?” that is critical of forestry management in the province. After moving to Kedgwick, he discovered what a mess the forestry industry was in. “In Quebec, they build the mills to fit the forests. In New Brunswick, they build the forests to fit the mills,” he explained. The forest industry has dictated the government’s forestry plan that allows industry to clearcut large tracks of Acadian forest and replant with spruce or pine. The land wants to grow back as mixed wood forest, so it must be sprayed with herbicide to ensure only spruce and pine survive.
“Since 1982, industry has been converting our forest into something else – tree farms,” said David Coon. Industry has designed the tree farms to maximize the use of the energy from the sun so that it is not “wasted” on species other than planted spruce and jack pine trees. The herbicide is required to kill the other species in the Acadian forest ecosystem that could slow the growth of the trees in the tree farms. “The politics of it is that if we stop spraying, there will be less softwood to cut, and the mills will be less financially viable.” Coon believes that the Liberals and Conservatives will not stop spraying because the forest industry will not accept it.
The clearcuts also have negative effects on the deer population, which eat the hardwood browse killed off by the herbicide, and on flood control. “When they clearcut 300 acres at once, there is nothing to hold on to the snow in the spring and so it has an effect on snow melt and flood control,” said Thériault, adding that since the 2018 flood for the first time people are talking about the impact of clearcuts.
After listening to the presentations by Coon and Thériault, Alma Brooks, Wolastoq Clan grandmother exclaimed: “We’ve been telling you all that for the last 75 years!” She asked who is negotiating with the provincial government on behalf of Indigenous women, off-reserve people and traditional councils – all of whom are being left out of the decision-making. “We have Indigenous rights,” she said, “and I wouldn’t eat a moose or collect medicines now with all the poison out there.” Brooks said that the government needs to be following the UNDRIP and its guidance on free, prior and informed consent.
Terry Ann Sappier, Indigeneity and environmental activist and co-organizer of the meeting, said that: “those trees are Wolastoq. This is our land and it’s sick and getting sicker.” She said that the government needs to consult with Indigenous peoples before the licenses to spray are issued, not afterwards. “The spraying issue isn’t about our economy, it’s about our lives.”
Echoing her comments, Gail Paul, President of the Indigenous Women’s Association of the Maliseet and Mi’kmaq Territory, said: “The Earth is our first mother. We have to remove the idea of colonization from our territory.” Paul said the next step for the Green Party is to clarify its relationship with the traditional leadership of Indigenous peoples, including the table of Grandmothers and the Grand Council. “We need to understand what this relationship is,” Paul explained.
Her point was taken up by meeting participant Mike Paul who stated that the entire system of governance in the province needs re-thinking. “Canada is treating the UNDRIP as legal fiction,” he said, adding that currently consultation processes were being carried out as a deliberate tactic to divide Indigenous peoples. “When are we going to have the real consultation?” he asked. Paul challenged Coon to use UNDRIP as the framework for a new Crown Lands and Forests Act.
The Green Party included UNDRIP in its election platform, which stated that it would: “Recognize and govern according to the Peace and Friendship treaties and in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).”
Ron Tremblay, Chief of the Wolastoq Grand Council was recently profiled by the NB Media Co-op in a story and video that explains that the Wolastoq people never surrendered their territory. At the Tobique meeting he said that for the last three years he has been contacting the provincial government about the lack of consultation with the Wolastoq Grand Council but the response from the government is that they only recognize the leadership of the elected (Indian Act) chiefs.
“The Treaties were signed prior to Confederation with the traditional chiefs, and they need to be consulted,” Tremblay explained, adding: “It’s up to the Green Party to show leadership here. Consultation processes take time. We need to re-think the whole political structure.”
After the event, Russ Letica of Madawaska First Nation stated to the NB Media Co-op that based on his experience, he truly believes that consultation does not work. “What would work is implementing the UNDRIP,” he said. Letica recalled an all-candidates meeting prior to the recent election at which he asked how the parties can move forward to work with Indigenous peoples. Based on the responses from candidates, Letica believes that: “the Green Party is the only one ready to sit at the table with us and move forward.”
His view of the Green Party is similar to that of Madawaska First Nation Chief Patricia Bernard who released a survey of provincial political parties before the election. The Chief’s speaking notes in a media release on Sept. 10, 2018, state: “The Green party in their response committed to amend the Crown’s Land and Forest Acts to replace forestry corporations with a publicly accountable Forest Stewardship Commission as a manager of the public forest.”
Bernard added that the Green Party clarified: “The Commission would enter into co-management agreements with First Nations, consult with the public, oversee the allocation of wood to mills, and provide forest dependent communities with community forest licences for local economic activity while ensuring that the ecological features of the Acadian Forest are maintained.” In her speaking notes, Chief Bernard stated: “We see this as a tangible initiative on an issue that has been very controversial and oppressive of our rights. WOW.”
The new provincial legislature includes three Green MLAs and three People’s Alliance MLAs. Both parties had election platform commitments to end the spraying of glyphosates on public lands. The Liberal Throne speech on October 23 included a promise to “introduce a motion to direct a legislative committee to consider recommending a phased-in ban of the use of herbicides, such as glyphosate, with the scope of the ban to be based on objective evidence.”
On October 24, Coon tabled a motion in the Legislature calling on the government to stop spraying the herbicide glyphosate. In response, the premier Brian Gallant stated that when Health Canada bans the chemical, the government will do that. The Liberal government fell on November 2 after they lost a vote of confidence in the Legislature.
At the Tobique meeting, Coon stated that he would table his motion to stop the spraying of glyphosate again after the Legislature reconvenes under the new Progressive Conservative government. The leader of the PC party, soon to be the premier, is Blaine Higgs. Prior to becoming a politician, Higgs spent his entire career – more than 30 years – with Irving Oil. The People’s Alliance leader Kris Austin has stated his party will support the PC government for at least 18 months on any confidence votes.
Although the People’s Alliance included the promise to: “Cease herbicide (glyphosate) spraying on Crown lands,” in their election platform, after the election, on October 18, Austin was interviewed on Rogers TV and hinted that stop spraying was not his top priority. When asked on camera how quickly he was going to push stop spraying, Austin stated: “There is a reality that we are in a minority situation so it is one of those things where you have to pick your battles, and you have to say if, you know, we may want to take it to a ten, but in a minority situation you might only get to a six. But at least you are not a zero anymore.”
New Brunswick uses more glyphosates in forestry than any other province. Quebec banned the use of glyphosate in its Crown forest in 2001. Dozens of other jurisdictions across Canada, in the US, Europe and around the world have outright or partial bans of the toxic chemical.
In late October, a judge in California upheld a jury ruling that glyphosate causes cancer. The jury ordered Monsanto, a company that manufactures glyphosate, to pay $289 million to a former school groundskeeper whose exposure to the chemical was found to have caused his cancer. (In an appeal, the judge reduced the jury award for damages to $39 million).
Susan O’Donnell is on the NB Media Co-op Editorial Board and a researcher with the RAVEN (Rural Action and Voices for the Environment) project at the University of New Brunswick. She is a member of the Green Party of New Brunswick.