May 9, 2002
Green Pencil:
Straying from the path of science

By Gavin Dawson, Technical Manager, Greenspace Services Ltd.

Unlike many other professions, landscape management is bounded by science yet driven by imagination. Our imagination shows us the goal, but science gives us the path. Healthy, vibrant, green spaces, however different in design, content or theme, is always the goal. The drive to achieve this goal may vary in philosophy or method, but it must follow the same science. Pest management, and the use of pest control products, is no exception. A landscape manager must consider many factors in the selection and use of pesticides. Sound science and common sense, but never politics should guide these decisions - that is to say politics that are not based on either of the former principles.

     To say politics does not, or should not, play a role in pesticides in Canada would be woefully inaccurate. Regulate, as defined in any dictionary, means to rule, control, or govern. Certainly Canada boasts one of the most stringent pesticide regulatory systems in the world. An analysis of the costs and test data required to have a pest control product approved by Health Canada and bring it to market is one indication. A comparison of the products available to the Canadian urban landscape manager, to those of his/her American colleague, is another. Provincial regulations across the country stipulate the rules around the sale, transportation, handling, storage and use of pesticides. The pesticide label itself is a legal document written by the manufacturer and approved by Health Canada. Any professional practitioner in our industry would agree that such a system is required. These regulations work because they are predicated on sound science and written to complement each other.

     Regulations that do not meet these criteria are thankfully not common place in Canada, but they do exist. The Supreme Court of Canada will be hearing an appeal that brings to the forefront the issue of municipal pesticide regulation. The Association des Services en Horticulture Ornementale du Quebec (ASHOQ) is having an appeal heard by our highest court. The pending case deals specifically with the town of Hudson, Quebec. Hudson is one of several Quebec municipalities that bans the use of lawn and tree care pesticides by homeowners and professionals on private property. This type of municipal by-law regulation, contrary to what some may think, is relatively uncommon in Canada. In fact, it is almost exclusive to Quebec, and even in Quebec the majority of them are limited to municipalities around Montreal. Outside of Quebec, municipal policies and programs strictly deal with municipal property. Hudson was actually the first municipality to ban pesticides, other Quebec municipalities followed with various themes on regulations.

     ASHOQ is asking the Court to render a judgement on the question of whether a municipality can, through a by-law, forbid an activity legally authorized by Federal and Provincial law. Their argument is based on the Hudson ban and the discriminatory effect this by-law has when, in fact, pesticides remain on sale in local stores for homeowners to purchase and use. ASHOQ has brought this issue to the Supreme Court after unsuccessful proceedings through Municipal Court, Superior Court and the Court of Appeals. ASHOQ represents horticultural companies in Quebec, many of whom have been operating under contradicting, unrealistic and impractical municipal by-laws regulating pesticide use. Some landscape service companies must deal with several different and contrasting municipal regulations within one service area.

     Often these regulations have little to do with agronomy and most even preclude basic IPM and plant health care strategies. Regulations that affix calendar dates and times of day to pesticide use are a form of pesticide ban, and they certainly do nothing to augment judicious pesticide use. Other regulations that rely on an off-site municipal official to issue a pesticide application permit for a specific site can not meet the goal of IPM either, regardless of how much expertise the official may have. Many municipalities across Canada might agree that they do not have the expertise or the required infrastructure in place to regulate homeowner or professional pesticide use.

     The result of such regulations will invariably lead to a destabilization of pesticide use. Their use, handling, storage and transportation would be forced from the trained professional applicator and into the hands of the untrained, often ill equipped homeowner. To suggest that the Canadian homeowner's desire for a healthy, well-maintained, urban landscape is going to wane is foolish. To that end, to suggest that the homeowner, when faced with a destructive pest problem, will not demand the use of a federally and provincially approved pesticide product is exceedingly foolish. Viable and economical alternatives for homeowners or professionals, simply do not yet exist for the vast array of problems our urban landscapes face. If they did, municipal pesticide regulation would not be an issue.

     Pests and environmental stresses affecting the urban landscape recognize no boundaries, political or otherwise. Municipal pesticide by-laws will create a patchwork of contrasting regulations, which will only serve to undermine existing federal and provincial efforts to maintain harmonious standards for pesticide use. If prudent pesticide use and the health of our urban environment is the goal, municipal pesticide regulation is certainly not the path. The issue of pesticide regulation must be left in the hands of the provincial and federal governments, which can nurture a competitive, predictable and science based pesticide regulatory system.