MANITOBA could soon join nearly every other province and ban cosmetic pesticides, the chemicals in sprays like WeedEx and RoundUp that keep lawns perfect by zapping weeds and bugs.
"I'm certainly open to it," said Conservation Minister Bill Blaikie. "The government is considering what steps might be taken in terms of public consultation."
The move comes after Blaikie asked the province's round table for sustainable development to study the issue of cosmetic pesticides. Last month, the round table came back with a call for a province-wide ban.
It's about time, say local and national environmental groups, including the David Suzuki Foundation.
According to a 2009 Statistics Canada survey, 47 per cent of Manitobans report using chemical pesticides to perfect their lawns and gardens. That's the second-highest rate in the country. Meanwhile, Manitoba is out of step with most other provinces in its failure to enact a province-wide ban on herbicides and insecticides used for cosmetic purposes.
This week, the David Suzuki Foundation released a report evaluating provincial pesticide bans and found Ontario and Nova Scotia's were the toughest.
Manitoba didn't even earn a passing mention in the report because the province has no legislation to review.
Manitoba is one of only four Canadian provinces with no pesticide ban and that club is about to shrink. British Columbia just finished a long round of public consultations on a possible ban and new Liberal Premier Christy Clark has said she supports one.
"It's just low-hanging fruit," said Lisa Gue, an environmental health policy analyst at the David Suzuki Foundation. "It's a completely needless exposure we can just do without."
Unlike dozens of municipalities in Canada, no Manitoba city has an all-out cosmetic pesticide ban.
"Currently, what we have is kind of behind the times," said Kristine Hunter, a University of Manitoba instructor in the department of environment and geography. "When you look at the evidence on pesticides, there is really strong evidence now about serious human harm. We're talking cancer and links to ALS."
But Hunter, who sits on the province's sustainability round table, says she senses a shift in political will.
"I'm the most hopeful I've been in 10 years of advocating for this," she said.
Local commercial lawn maintenance companies have traditionally resisted a pesticide ban, in part because it could damage their industry.
Dana Kapusta, co-owner of Nutri-Lawn in Winnipeg, proposes a compromise. He suggested the province ban the retail sale of chemical pesticides but continue to allow lawn-care companies to use them. Kapusta said professionals are trained to apply the pesticides sparingly and safely and ought to be allowed to continue to have access to at least some of the products.
And he said Manitobans might not be ready for the kind of weed and dandelion invasion that left some in Ontario grumbling the summer after that province banned cosmetic pesticides.
"A beautiful city will go to hell in a handbasket pretty quickly if the weeds aren't under control," said Kapusta.
Kapusta said his customers have already begun moving toward non-chemical pesticide alternatives.
Organic lawn care products are more expensive and take longer to apply, but he's seen a sixfold increase in the number of customers asking for Nutri-Lawn's organic product this summer over last.
Cities can ban the use of pesticides but only the province can ban the sale -- a much more effective method of reducing pesticide use.
A province-wide ban also makes enforcement much easier because inspectors only have to check a few home and garden stores, not every homeowner. And, it ensures the ban covers the entire province, not just a handful of cities.
A ban won't be in place in time for this gardening season, and Blaikie wouldn't guess when public consultations might begin. They could start before this October's provincial election.
Gue said there's no reason to delay.
"It's no longer a matter of reinventing the wheel," said Gue. "There are strong models that have been test driven in other province and the sky hasn't fallen. There are still lush and beautiful green spaces in all those provinces."
April 2003: Quebec introduces Canada's first province-wide pesticide ban that targeted 20 active ingredients. The use and sale of pesticides was phased out three years later. In 2009, a Statistics Canada survey found that only four per cent of Quebeckers reported using cosmetic pesticides.
March 2006: Brandon enacts a bylaw restricting cosmetic pesticide use near schools, daycares, parks and many other public spaces and requiring lawn-care companies to post warning signs when they apply chemicals.
May 2008: Winnipeg enacts some restrictions on pesticides, requiring lawn-care companies to post warning signs when they apply chemicals and allowing residents to request no-spray buffer zones.
June 2008: Ontario adopts what's widely seen as Canada's toughest and most comprehensive pesticide ban. It prohibits the use and sale of 96 active ingredients as well as the sale of 172 products.
Dec. 31, 2012: A federal ban on weed-and-feed kicks in. That's the combination product that fertilizes lawns while also killing weeds, and it's widely seen as overused, ineffective and environmentally damaging.
MAKE YOUR OWN BAN
-- Avoid any of these big baddies: 2,4-D mecoprop, dicamba, glyphosate, diazinon and carbaryl. Also avoid weed-and-feed. Even Alberta has banned that.
-- Tolerate a few weeds and dandelions, or pick them by hand.
-- To make your own insecticide, try mixing a tablespoon of liquid dishwashing soap with a cup of vegetable oil to make a concentrate. Mix a couple of teaspoons of the concentrate with a cup of water in a spray bottle and apply to stems and both sides of plant leaves. Reapply after it rains.
-- Or, try the garlic remedy. Many bugs hate the smell. Soak half a cup of finely chopped garlic cloves in two cups water for about a day, then strain out the garlic into a spray bottle. Spray a fine mist over plants. To increase the potency of the insecticide, add crushed hot peppers or a tablespoon of dissolved pure soap to make the spray stick to the insect.
-- Try diatomaceous earth, a powdery white substance that you can buy at most garden stores. It's an abrasive that cuts the bodies of insects, but it's non-toxic.
-- To kill weeds, try vinegar. Boil a quart of water, add two tablespoons of salt and five tablespoons of vinegar. Pour directly on weeds on sidewalks and driveways while the mixture is still hot.
-- Source: Manitoba Eco Network
WHAT A BAN COULD LOOK LIKE
-- Wouldn't apply to farms or forestry, only lawns and other public green space.
-- Would likely list dozens of banned chemicals that can't be used or sold, along with a "white list" of products that are alright.
-- Probably wouldn't apply to golf courses, unless Manitoba was considering a much tougher ban than exists elsewhere. Golf courses are the next frontier of pesticide bans. Denmark is already on the case.
-- Wouldn't apply to pesticides used for health issues such as mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus. Also would likely exempt indoor use of bug-killing sprays for things such as ant infestations or wasps who fly into a home.
-- Would probably exempt some herbicides used for dangerous plants such as poison ivy. In Ontario, homeowners can still buy some heavy-duty herbicides if they have a problem such as poison ivy, but the herbicides are kept under lock-and-key at home and garden stores.