Opposition day at the New Brunswick Legislature on Dec. 12 unexpectedly produced a passionate debate with Green Party MLA Kevin Arseneau (Kent North) asking the Progressive Conservative (PC) government and Liberal opposition if they were regulators to protect New Brunswickers or spokespeople for the forest industry that wants to continue to spray poison on public lands.
The debate came after the Liberal party official opposition introduced a motion to urge the government of New Brunswick to “refer the issue of glyphosate spraying to a legislative committee in order to hold public hearings, engage stakeholders, invite submissions, and make recommendations to government within six months.”
In response, Green Party leader David Coon (Fredericton South) questioned the need for further investigation to ban a known poison. Coon introduced an amendment to the Liberal motion, to strike out the resolution clause and substitute: “to ban the spraying of glyphosate and other herbicide over our Crown forest and under our power lines.”
When the Liberals responded negatively to Coon’s amendment, saying it would be harmful to the forest industry, Kevin Arseneau then criticized the official opposition for having done nothing on this issue during their many years in power. Arseneau noted that the province of Quebec years ago banned the practice of spraying poison on their forests but in New Brunswick the forest industry has captured successive governments, preventing them from doing the same. He said every PC and Liberal MLA he has spoken to about the dangers of glyphosate has said: “yes, but industry tells us…”
Arseneau said that industry will always tell regulators to not change something that benefits them, because their only interest is making money. “An industry is only there to make a profit, end of story.” On the other hand, “we are legislators, and it’s our responsibility to regulate the use of products that are dangerous for the people of New Brunswick.”
Crown lands in New Brunswick are public, unceded traditional Indigenous territory. The Wolastoq Grand Council is also opposed to spraying glyphosate on Crown lands. At a public consultation in Tobique First Nation in November 2018, Indigenous representatives spoke against the practice, stating 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.
In introducing his amendment, Coon pointed out that spraying glyphosate has many known consequences to both human and ecological health. He mentioned that numerous lawsuits have been filed about the human health impacts of glyphosate and its commercial product RoundUp, including 18,000 in the US as well as a number in Canada. Coon is an expert on the environmental impacts of poison. Before starting his political career, Coon was “the face and voice of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick and the environmental movement in the province of New Brunswick for almost three decades.”
Green Party MLA Megan Mitton (Memramcook-Tantramar) also spoke in favour of the amendment. But the Green Party amendment to ban glyphosate spraying was defeated in a vote. Only the three Green Party and three People’s Alliance party members voted for it, with all the PC government and Liberal official opposition members voting against. After a further amendment by the PC government, the original motion passed as a watered-down version with no action promised on glyphosate.
Currently in the NB Legislature only one bill is on the table to end the spraying of glyphosate on Crown lands: The Green Party’s Bill 7: An Act to Amend the Crown Lands and Forests Act, introduced on November 20. Given the limited time for third party business in the Legislature, it will likely be April before it can be brought forward for Second Reading.
In addition, the People’s Alliance Party (PANB) tabled a related motion earlier this week. However in contrast to the Green Party’s Bill 7 that could change legislation, the PANB motion is a non-binding request to “urge the Government of New Brunswick to prohibit the spraying of glyphosate-based herbicides on Crown land.” It is unclear if PANB will move its glyphosate motion forward when it has the opportunity to do so in 2020, given the lack of support by the PC government and official opposition for banning glyphosate. PANB has also tabled four other non-binding motions on unrelated issues.
Spraying glyphosate on Crown (public) lands and under power lines has generated more public opposition than any other environmental issue in New Brunswick. More than 34,000 people have signed a petition opposing the practice. The groups Stop Spraying in New Brunswick and Eco-Vie have engaged citizens and lobbied elected officials at the provincial, municipal and federal levels. Newly-elected Green Party MP Jenica Atwin (Fredericton) has stated she is developing a private member bill aimed at stopping the practice.
Susan O’Donnell is a member of the NB Media Co-op editorial board and lead researcher on the RAVEN project at the University of New Brunswick.