BC Pesticide Issue Update May 2013

12.02.01.Pesticide Debate200Pesticide Issue Update – May, 2013
By Jerry Rousseau

The pesticide issue was heating up once again in BC as we approached the provincial election.  Media and pollsters certainly had people believing the NDP would become our new government which for sportsturf and golf course managers, was sure to mean swiftly introduced, restrictive pesticide use legislation.  Cause for worry, it wasn’t clear where sportsturf would stand as the NDP’s previously introduced bills flip-flopped between full and partial provincial bans.

With a Liberal majority government voted in on May 14th, I’m sure there was a collective sigh of relief amongst turf industry personnel in BC.  As we were well aware, the Liberal dominated Special Committee on Cosmetic Pesticides came to a ‘no ban’ conclusion in May of 2012 and with the Liberals in power for another four years, we would assume this should stand, right?

There is some room to breathe however it’s unlikely it will be business as usual.  In total, there were 17 pesticide use recommendations included in the report centered on furthering public education, restricting un-trained consumer access to commercial grade products, enhancing point-of-sale regulations, re-instituting government tracking of sales, increasing compliance and enforcement, enhanced professional certification, expanding safe disposal programs and an overall theme of promoting improved and regulated IPM programs. 

According to the report, “The Committee believes these recommendations will protect British Columbians from unnecessary exposure to pesticides, will provide improved education, will lead to safer use by unlicensed applicators, and will encourage the overall reduction of pesticide use while providing individuals, businesses and industries with access to the tools necessary to enhance their personal green spaces, and control pests and invasive species.” 

Changes Coming

The first sign of change came on February 20th via the ‘Pesticide regulations to reflect public input’ information bulletin released by the BC Ministry of Environment.   The document outlined how public comments, concern and recommendations were driving proposed amendments to the Integrated Pest Management Act.  The bulletin stated:

 “Government has taken both the committee’s report and public input seriously and this will be reflected in the regulations which will be developed to take a more formal approach.   The Special Committee recognized Integrated Pest Management (IPM) as a responsible approach to the use of pesticides. However, the proposed amendments go one step further to ensure pesticides are used responsibly by trained individuals by expanding existing requirements for licensing to include those applying pesticides to private landscaped areas.”

The notification also listed the following key considerations:

• Pesticides should be used by licensed people with knowledge and training.
• Allowing the Minister of Environment the ability to identify specific exemptions from the licensing requirement, including prescribing lists of pesticides which can be used by uncertified individuals. These lists would be similar to exempted lists in other provinces and will likely include pesticides with naturally occurring active ingredients.

According to the MOE, government plans to take the necessary time needed to develop the supporting regulations and will consult with industry to work out the fine details.  The model is intended to achieve the objectives of reducing unnecessary pesticide use in the most cost effective manner. 

The bulletin also notes that those not affected by the amendments include the agriculture industry, forestry industry, golf courses, and land used for industrial purposes. Municipalities and First Nations with law-making authority will also be able to opt out of the licensing requirements if they so choose.

More relief for many WCTA members and all BCGSA members however the golf industry was one of the few industries singled out in the Special Committee report with the following recommendation:

16. Ask the golf industry to develop a province-wide certification process, or to modify an existing one, that will ensure a high standard of pesticide use by all golf courses in BC, including the use of IPM principles.

A quick look back:

At this point, it’s important to take a quick look at the past.  On February 2, 2010, the WCTA members adopted the following policy statement on IPM:

The WCTA, in its efforts to represent all of its members and to promote the highest level of Integrated Pest Management and environmentally sustainable practices, is open to all points of view that support peer reviewed, factual scientific research in support of education, innovations and practical knowledge related to the care and management of Turfgrass.’

The newly created statement allowed the association to extend its mandate of Research, Education and Discussion to engage and help lead pesticide issue advocacy for the professional sportsturf management industry which it has been doing since that time both on its own and later, through the Allied Golf Association of BC (AGA-BC). 

Where do we go from here?

Presently, new rules as outlined in the February bulletin, need to be developed and implemented by MOE and we will need to be at the table representing all sectors of our membership with input and feedback to ensure compliance doesn’t become overly burdensome to our operations whilst remaining effective to the goals government is trying to achieve.

Besides ensuring implementation is effective and not cost prohibitive, there are other reasons to keep our foot on the advocacy pedal.  Government expects pesticide use improvements as per the Special Committee Recommendations and there are, of course, organizations who will continue to oppose pesticide use such as the Canadian Cancer Society and the Suzuki Foundation.  And as a reminder, the NDP remain the official opposition with 33 of 85 seats in the legislature. 

In addition, we have been told by the Liberals they would not challenge municipal government’s ability to enact local pesticide by-laws which approximately 40 BC communities have done in one form or another.  Albeit a close vote, the Union of British Columbia Municipalities has taken an anti-pesticide position and pressure on local government to enact pesticide bans continues to mount.  With our resources consumed at the provincial lobbying level, there has been very little work toward advocacy at the, pardon the pun, grassroots level. 

Since early April 2013

With a strong existing communication network, the BCGSA and WCTA were able to setup a series of meetings throughout April and early May with local golf course superintendents, the purpose of which was to raise awareness, create a more formal understanding of the current challenges, determine how we collectively as a group should work together to press the government for informed decision making and to stimulate action with regard to the pesticide issue.  General messages that came from golf course superintendents included:

• AGA-BC needs to spearhead pesticide issue advocacy at the provincial level
• Summary of talking points are needed from AGA for individual golf courses to take on advocacy efforts
• Local superintendents are willing to work on the pesticide issue (with local government) but want guidance and resources from AGA
• Superintendents want to know what action AGA-BC is planning
• Superintendents strongly suggest the golf industry engages a professional lobbyist

Prior to the election, the BC Golf Superintendents Association and the WCTA, based on feedback from the regional superintendent meetings, began soliciting funds from regional superintendent chapters for the purpose of hiring a government relations firm to help advocate this issue. 

On May 1st, the BCGSA Northern Chapter became the first group to contribute to the fund in the amount of $3000.  The provincial board of the BCGSA put forward $5000 the next day, the Interior BCGSA $7000 a week later and on May 10th, the WCTA Board committed $20,000.  All  contributions were put forward at regularly scheduled meetings and we await meetings of the other BCGSA chapters for decisions on their respective contributions to the fund.  The Canadian Golf Superintendents Association is also being solicited for financial support of this initiative.

At the most recent AGA-BC meeting held May 21st, the BCGSA and WCTA presented the fund to the golf industry consortium and encouraged all AGA-BC member organizations to communicate the importance of funding golf industry advocacy efforts to their respective memberships.

Work toward engaging a professional lobbyist has begun by establishing specific advocacy tasks including:

• Continue building relationships with all MLA’s, Ministers and the Premier to ensure our position is maintained
• Help organize events for industry representatives to meet with provincial politicians
• Ensure we are ‘plugged in’ with the consultation on establishment and implementation of new pesticide use regulations
• Maintain our current resource material, ie. briefing document sent to Special Committee and modify/create additional resources as needed to assist local personnel in their lobby efforts, ie Summary of Talking Points, Calls to Action
• To help liaise with special interest groups such as the Canadian Cancer Society
• To communicate our position to the UBCM and municipal governments throughout the province

Current AGA-BC President Trevor Smith stated, “Lobbying is just as much about building relationships as it is presenting our case and we would benefit by building and maintaining relationships with all MLA’s including new Liberals and the official opposition.”

From a turf industry perspective, we should have our information not only in the hands of every provincial MLA, but every municipal government in the province as well explaining our position, rationale and economic, social and environmental benefits of the turf industry.   

Accomplishing this is much easier said than done however, as it requires mobilizing an entire industry made up of a variety of sectors.  A professional lobby firm will go a long way toward making this happen and help prepare us for other issues that may arise.  It is encouraging to see the different groups coming together to establish a significant financial resource and is a milestone achievement without precedent in this province.