Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Dandelions--Manitoba's next official flower

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There was a time when I'd get after my young daughters for blowing dandelions seed heads all over my lawn.

I had enough grief controlling the spread of dandelions in my front and backyard without my kids adding more.

I'd spray and spray and spray whatever I could get at the hardware store to keep what little lawn I own free of dandelions and other weeds.

I gave up a few years ago. One reason was because of our pets. At one time it was dogs and more recently cats. We thought whatever we were using in the backyard wasn't good for them or the birds and squirrels we feed.

My front yard is now also a lost cause. I'd be better off with cement and green paint.

We get rid of our dandelions now, or some of them anyway, by putting on the iPod on nice evening and pulling them out by the roots using dandelion removers.

Manitoba's NDP is in the process of drafting regulations that will outlaw the use of cosmetic lawn pesticides over the course of the next year. They've been working on this for quite a while. It has not been a state secret.

But now that spring is around the corner the forces on both sides of the fence, those in favour phasing out these chemicals and those who believe the NDP has no business on their lawns, are organizing themselves to duke it out over this ban.

The lefty tree huggers recently released a poll saying the majority of Manitobans support such a ban. They also said many doctors support such a ban because of a possible link to childhood diseases, including cancer.

Those who believe these pesticides pose no health risk if used properly -- they're regulated by Health Canada, after all -- have replied that the NDP and its tree-hugger supporters are the scourge of free choice and rational thought.

Fact is what the NDP are planning is no different than what's already happened in other provinces and municipalities across the country.

Even the Harper government has taken action. Ottawa phased out "weed-and-feed" products, which are herbicide and fertilizer combinations, at the end of last year.

Essentially, the New Democrats in his province are just jumping on the pile by catching up to the rest of the country.

Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh has also gone out of his way to say the phase-out of these products DOES NOT INCLUDE AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTS.

Here's a sample of some of email I've recently got on the subject:

1) "How embarrassing it must be for Bruce Owen and the Winnipeg Free Press, that on the same day they report the majority of Manitobans want a pesticide ban, The Free Press' own online poll shows just the opposite. I guess it's no surprise that an environmental activist group would produce results that support their own agenda.

"Manitobans need to know that no prairie provinces have banned cosmetic weed control. Since agriculture plays an important economic role on the prairies the noxious weed act was created to protect farm fields from weed invasions. The act states that dandelions, thistles and other common weeds found in lawns and ditches need to be controlled before they go to seed and create problems for agriculture. Current weed control products In use and approved by Health Canada offer effective, economical and safe control. If we trust the scientists at Health Canada for the foods we eat and the medicine we take why wouldn't we trust them for the pesticides that we use?"

--Dillon Vincent

2) "This issue is purely political and without any scientific evidence the policy will not be understood by Manitoban's. Staff inside Conservation and Agriculture all say they use Health Canada for any Health and Safety information on these products. They tell me that this decision is all at the political level. Mackintosh thinks they will gain votes. I think he is in for a surprise when home owners realize how difficult it is to correct problems with pests on their valuable landscape without these tried and true traditional products. The alternatives are more expensive and take longer to work. These alternatives are ‘pesticides' and must be registered with Health Canada to be sold and used in Canada."

-- David Hinton 

3) "The poll doesn't provide us with the actual questions (for example, how did they determine voting preferences?) or the order in which the questions were asked. One wonders if the voting preferences of the respondents was representative. Is it possible, for example that the poll was targeted to supporters of a specific political party? Without the raw numbers, no inferences can be drawn."

-- Blair Rutter


Then there's this from the Canadian Association of Agri-Retailers

Manitobans Should Have Access to Tools that Protect Urban Green Space


February 27, 2013

Winnipeg, MB - According to the Canadian Association of Agri-Retailers (CAAR), Manitobans should have access to federally-approved, safe and effective pest control tools to manage noxious weeds in urban green spaces. There is no sound scientific evidence to support a ban on the proper use of these thoroughly researched and regulated products.

"The issue is not about whether dandelions should be weeds or flowers. It's about the health of our green spaces, the health of our playing fields and the quality of our communities," said Don Pincock, Interim President & CEO of CAAR.

These products have been more thoroughly researched over the years than any drugs and, in most cases, are less toxic. Glyphosate, used to eliminate weeds that compete with both grass and commercial crops around the world, is one-half (1/2) the toxicity of Aspirin and one-third (1/3) the toxicity of table salt.

Canadians enjoy one of the strictest and best pesticide approval processes in the world. Health Canada's Pest Manage¬ment Regulatory Agency, the agency responsible for regulating pesticides, is respected the world over for the rigor of its pesticide evaluation process.

Further, managing allergies is a major concern in today's environment. Noxious weeds are a significant part of the problem. One square yard of healthy lawn provides more benefits in terms of air quality and our health than an acre of forest.

One does not have to look far for examples when considering the impact of a pesticide ban. According to an article on, pesticide bans "rest not on competing scientific evidence, but rather a vague unease about chemicals in general" and they "represent a triumph of sentiment over science."

The article cites numerous concrete examples of issues attributed to the ban in other locations where it was legislated. Most notably, in Chicago where within four years of the implementation of the ban, award winning sports fields were overrun with weeds rendering many unusable for sports resulting in the district approving the return of pesticides.



And lastly this from Manitoba's Opposition Tories. PC MLA Larry McGuire is the party's critic on conservation.

In all areas of life, education is the key to success. The same applies to the use of pesticides wherever the application takes place.

In Manitoba, there is a lack of education to the general public on the use of urban lawn care products. This could lead to a draconian ban, limiting people’s options to protect their lawns and gardens from the spread of weeds across the province.  The NDP have recently said there are "Red flags" about the health impacts related to pesticide use. However, it is the NDP that is ignoring scientific evidence by groups such as Health Canada that state pesticide use is safe when application directions are followed.

These products have gone through a rigorous regulatory process by Health Canada’s scientists. They review and re-evaluate products of concern. The World Health Organization and the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States agree with Health Canada and state that products are safe. That doesn’t seem to be good enough for the NDP.

A report from the British Columbia Legislative Assembly, which studied the use of pesticides for a year, revealed a simple conclusion. There is no scientific evidence to justify a ban on pesticides. Governments in Alberta and Saskatchewan have stood firm against a ban as well. Even in Ontario, where the most-restrictive ban was implemented, there are calls to reverse it. But that evidence isn’t good enough for the NDP in Manitoba.

Of all the non-agricultural uses of pesticides, only 1.6 percent of the products sold are used for lawns and gardens. An average city lawn uses 60 ml of chemical top control weeds. The average backyard swimming pool uses 100 litres of pesticides to ensure it is safe to swimming activities. Yet the NDP has not come out against swimming or swimming pools.

Using the NDP’s logic, alcohol would need to be banned because of the health risks associated with abuse of the product. Yet alcohol remains a legal product for sale on Manitoba’s shelves. Gambling would have to cease because of the damage caused by overindulgence and gambling addictions. Yet casinos remain open. Instead, the NDP has decided to declare war on lawn care products deemed safe by scientists, Health Canada and other environmental protection agencies.

The NDP’s approach to pesticide use makes no sense. It has ignored science and logic. If there are pesticide bans in place elsewhere there should be real data showing the health of those citizens has improved. There has been no measurable improvement in the health of citizens where pesticide bans are in place.

It all comes back to education: Educating consumers on how to use lawn care products, educating homeowners about the use of the products, and educating governments that bad laws and policies have real consequences.

-- Larry Maguire

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About Larry Kusch and Bruce Owen

Larry Kusch has been a journalist for 30 years, the last 20 with the Winnipeg Free Press. His is one of the newspaper's two legislative bureau reporters.

Raised on a Saskatchewan farm, he received an honours journalism degree from Carleton University in 1975.

At the Free Press, Larry has also worked as a general assignment reporter, business reporter, copy editor and assistant city editor.

Bruce Owen joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1990 after four years working in other media.

He's worked in a number of positions at the Freep, including pet columnist, assistant city editor and police reporter. Right now he takes up space at the Manitoba legislature.

Bruce is one of five reporters who won a National Newspaper Award for the paper’s coverage of the 1997 Flood of the Century. He's also the recipient of the 1996 Volunteer Centre of Winnipeg Media Golden Hand Award and the 1995 Canadian Federation of Humane Societies Media Commendation Award.

In a past life Bruce worked at YMCA-YWCA Camp Stephens. He has a blog where he and others write about camp and the people who worked and played there.

You can also find Bruce on Twitter where he posts and retweets all sorts of stuff.

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