Council delays pesticide bylaw again

Oak Bay isn’t going to get a pesticide in 2010 after all. After some testy debate, Council decided Monday night to table the bylaw, which bans cosmetic pesticide use by the public, after Councillor Ney raised a pair of questions about exempting the municipality and who gets to issue pesticide use permits.

The questions began with Ney wondering why why municipality was exempting itself from the bylaw, choosing to stick with a pesticide-reduction scheme called “integrated pest management”. She noted that Parks & Rec maintains many of the playing fields in the municipality and that reducing children’s exposure to harmful chemicals is one of the stated reasons for enacting the ban. This received a slightly annoyed response from Councillor Braithwaite, who sits on the Parks & Rec Commission, saying that Ney had been invited to the commission meetings where the bylaw was discussed and she “was sorry that you weren’t able to attend.”

Ney also wondered why the approving officer was the Manager of Parks & Rec, not council itself, as is common with other municipalities (and the draft CRD bylaw which Oak Bay’s is modelled on.)  This may have been an effort to take items off council’s plate — a recent example would be the changing of the boulevard planting process that allows staff to process them — but may be premature, given that the boulevard planting process was generating quite a bit of work and, according to Ney, Esquimalt has received zero requests since enacting their bylaw.

The objection that wasn’t raised last night, but has been brought up before, is the inclusion of the loophole that allows pesticide application where a pest infestation “will cause significant economic loss”. This lovely little inclusion comes to Oak Bay via Saanich, which included it in their bylaw due to their mixed urban/rural setting, something that Oak Bay does not have (Oak Bay’s one farm is in the Uplands and is basically a tax dodge).

Creating giant loopholes in the pesticide bylaw isn’t just an Oak Bay or Saanich problem. The Canadian Cancer Society, which is working aggressively to get bans enacted, strongly criticized the City of Victoria’s bylaw in 2007 for not keeping the requirement to publicly post notices when pesticides are used and for exempting the municipality.

So into 2011 the bylaw gets pushed, but don’t expect any bylaw passed at that meeting to be final. Oak Bay Council has been tinkering with the Tree Protection Bylaw for quite some time now (almost a half dozen revisions in four years) and this bylaw is likely to be the same.

Pesticides and your lawn

As Oak Bay debates the merits of a cosmetic pesticide ban, the recent Victoria premiere of A Chemical Reaction could not have come at a better time. The film charts the course of pesticide bans across Canada, from tiny Hudson, Quebec to full province-wide bans in Ontario and Quebec. It is a US-focused film, so it presents an outsiders viewpoint, which is always refreshing. Often we can’t see how successful we have been until somebody from outside points it out to us and this one of those cases.

The premiere, held at UVic’s David Lam Auditorium, was put on the Canadian Cancer Society’s BC & Yukon section, whose Prevention division has been pushing for a province-wide ban and the UVic Environment Law Centre. It was fairly well attended, including by a few local politicians: MP Denise Savoie, Victoria-Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming and two councillors, Oak Bay’s Tara Ney and the City of Victoria’s Lucas Phillipe. I was a little disappointed there were not more municipal politicians there, given that the issue is still being debated across the region.

As for the potential Oak Bay bylaw, that is currently still in committee, as it were. A sub-group of the Parks and Recreation Commission are looking at the Saanich bylaw right now and should report back shortly. This is after the commission started to look into it April of last year (PDF). I expect to see recommendations before council probably within two months and here’s hoping council will see the light and ban cosmetic pesticides.