FINALLY, there is something other than roads and potholes as an election issue -- but the resolution could be just as elusive.
Mayoral candidate Gord Steeves says he'll convince the province to reduce the buffer zones for mosquito fogging to 40 metres from the current 90 metres.
He's also wants city-wide aerial spraying every few years to combat mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus.
"We're not living up to the expectations of our citizens on mosquito control," Steeves, a lawyer and former city councillor, said while speaking from a backyard on Dudley Avenue in Fort Rouge Tuesday. "We're causing all sorts of problems in our community."
Not only would Steeves work to reduce the size of the buffer zones, he would also ensure residents could only register for buffer zones based on medical reasons -- not simply as a preference.
"For the benefit of the greater good, choices must be made," Steeves said. "The will of the larger majority should carry the day."
It's a sensitive topic that draws strong support and vocal opposition.
The buffer zones are mandated by the provincial permit the city has to apply malathion mist from the back of trucks to kill adult nuisance mosquitoes.
The zones prohibit the malathion mist from being applied 90 metres on either side of the registered property.
Some observers said Steeves' announcement is simply a cynical move to attract votes, knowing it's not a promise he can keep.
Steeves made this an issue in 2010 but only the province can reduce the buffer zone and it would only agree to reduce the buffer zone to 90 metres from 100 metres.
Taz Stuart, the former City of Winnipeg entomologist, said there are physical reasons why the buffer zone can't be reduced -- malathion mist drifts for 90 metres when applied from the back of a moving truck. "People have the right not to be subject to the chemical simply for a nuisance program," Stuart said.
The health concerns of malathion are also up for debate, at least among supporters of buffer zones. Health Canada says malathion is safe for humans when applied properly by professionals but many people refuse to accept that position.
"It is a divisive issue and some residents would love it and others would hate it," said Coun. Jenny Gerbasi. "I disagree with the medical note idea -- some people who are concerned about overexposure to pesticides don't have a specific medical issue other than not wishing to have themselves or their families exposed to more chemicals."
One of the other mayoral candidates, Brian Bowman, said he used to register for the buffer zone because he didn't want to be exposed to it -- but that changed six years ago with the birth of his first child.
"We wanted to be able to go outside and enjoy the yard," Bowman said, adding he's open to the idea of reducing the buffer zone but realizes only the province can make that change.
Steeves said Winnipeg summers are too short for the enjoyment to be ruined by individuals without valid reasons to be protected from spraying with buffer zones, which he said now stretch the length of a football field on either side of a property.
"I do not believe buffer zones should be allowed for political reasons, only for medical reasons," he said.
Steeves said he'll need the province's support to reduce the size of the buffer zones, adding Broadway should allow city hall to determine the size of the buffer zones.
Steeves also wants to introduce city-wide aerial spraying -- without buffer zones -- to combat West Nile virus-carrying culex mosquitoes, and for other public health concerns. He said aerial spraying would only occur every four to six years when conditions warrant it.
Stuart said Grand Forks, N.D., does aerial malathion spraying but that community is much smaller than Winnipeg, adding accuracy is an issue for aerial spraying and accuracy is important in a public health situation.
"When it comes to aerial spraying, you could just as well end up spraying 13 acres in East St. Paul rather than over the city of Winnipeg, where you want it to be," Stuart said.
Is Gord Steeves and his mosquito spraying pitch out of step with the times or smart populist politics? Join the conversation in the comments below.