Everyone deserves
protection from pesticides
Why 54 of 55 municipalities in NS can’t have a pesticide bylaw

UPdate Summer 2007

Bylaws banning pesticide use on lawns and gardens have sprouted up across Canada. More than 125 communities now protect their citizens from exposure to toxic lawn and garden pesticides.

But not in Nova Scotia. In Nova Scotia, only Halifax Regional Municipality has a pesticide bylaw. The NS Municipal Government Act forbids all other municipalities from passing pesticide bylaws.

Mayor Bob Stead of Wolfville thinks this is wrong. “We would like to have the right in legislation to craft our own pesticide bylaw,” Stead explains. Mayor Ann McLean of New Glasgow agrees that municipalities should have that enabling legislation.

The Town of Wolfville has begun an education program to encourage citizens to switch to healthier lawn practices. But Stead recognizes the limitations in this approach.

The unequal rules for pesticide protection came about in 1998 after Halifax citizens lobbied the provincial government to allow Halifax the right to regulate pesticide use. On December 4, 1998, the NS government amended the Municipal Government Act to allow Halifax to adopt a pesticide by law. At the same time, under pressure from the pesticide industry, the Act was changed to block any municipality outside HRM from doing the same thing.

The present Municipal Government Act prohibits all 54 municipalities outside HRM from restricting pesticide use. At best, residents in municipalities outside HRM are allowed to request a "warning" when pesticides will be applied on lawns near their homes. Not everyone has the right to even this minimal protection. Only households where a resident already suffers from serious illness such as leukemia or other cancer, asthma, or autoimmune disease are eligible to receive a warning. There is no provision for protection of schools, wells, hospitals, seniors’ residences or playgrounds.

‘Why do Nova Scotia children living outside HRM deserve second-rate protection from pesticide exposures in their neighborhood,” asks Helen Jones, a former member of HRM’s Pesticide Advisory Committee and member of Real Alternatives to Toxins in our Environment (RATE). “ I think every person living outside HRM should be asking his or her MLA to correct this intolerable double standard immediately,” she added.

This two-tiered application of the law has never been discussed in the NS legislature since it was passed in 1998, although governments have come and gone, Liberal, Conservative, majority, minority.

The right of municipalities to restrict pesticide use was unanimously upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2001 in the case of Hudson, Quebec vs. Chemlawn and Spraytech. The decision stated, "our common future, that of every Canadian community, depends on a healthy environment ... Based on the distinction between essential and nonessential uses of pesticides, it is reasonable to conclude that the town bylaw's purpose is to minimize the use of allegedly harmful pesticides in order to promote the health of its inhabitants," the justices wrote. The written decision also noted that municipal authorities are closest to the everyday lives of citizens and most responsive to their needs.

It is likely that if the NS Municipal Government Act were challenged in court, it would be found unconstitutional. As yet, no municipality in Nova Scotia has taken on this challenge. As well, no municipality has yet passed a bylaw in defiance of the act, knowing that the pesticide industry could take the issue to court again, as it did with Hudson and the City of Toronto, although the rights of the municipalities were upheld both times.

Until the provincial government removes the restrictive wording from the Municipal Government Act, Nova Scotia municipalities which want to protect their citizens from lawn and garden pesticides are focusing on educational campaigns. Studies show that educational campaigns alone are far less effective in reducing pesticide use than bylaws supported by education.

Over 12.4 million Canadians, almost 40% of the population presently benefit from enhanced protection from lawn and garden pesticides. The largest is the City of Toronto, population 2.5 million, and the smallest is the town of Sainte-Paule, Quebec, population 229.

Best Practices for Pesticide Reduction:

“Only those communities that passed a by-law and supported it with education or made a community agreement were successful in reducing the use of pesticides by a high degree (51-90%). Education and outreach programs alone, while more popular than by-laws, are far less effective. We could find none that have achieved more than a low reduction (10-24%) in pesticide use to date.

In those communities that used the law as their primary tool, education was still vital to their ability to reduce the use of pesticides, along with effective enforcement and a permitting system that allowed people to apply to use banned pesticides.”

from The Impact of By-Laws and Public Education Programs on Reducing the Cosmetic/ Non-Essential, Residential Use of Pesticides: A Best Practices Review, March 2004, Canadian Centre for Pollution Prevention and Cullbridge Marketing, full report available at http://www.cullbridge.com/Projects/Pesticides.htm