Manitobans are giving the green light to the NDP's phased-in approach to a new pesticide ban that could be here before the snow melts.

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Manitobans are giving the green light to the NDP's phased-in approach to a new pesticide ban that could be here before the snow melts.

Poll results released Tuesday show 71 per cent of Manitobans support a law phasing out the use and sale of lawn and garden chemicals across the province.

It also shows rural, urban and suburban residents agree (at 86 per cent, 72 per cent and 68 per cent, respectively) chemical weed killers should be barred from use and sale.

The poll was released by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and Manitoba's Green Action Centre.

Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh, speaking Tuesday, said the province is not going to bring in an immediate, outright ban on the potentially harmful chemical sprays.

Instead, Mackintosh said he favours a phased-in approach focusing on newer biological or organic lawn treatments coming onto the marketplace.

"Manitobans get it and are certainly in synch with the science," he said. "Just in the last few months we're seeing red flags from the science community on the health impacts, in particularly affecting children."

Mackintosh said the survey's results duplicate what the province has found in its own consultations about restricting cosmetic lawn-care chemical use.

He said the American Academy of Pediatrics and Ontario College of Family Physicians have both spoken out about the potential harm from lawn and garden chemicals, which are already banned in six provinces including Ontario, British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador. Some research has shown links between pesticide and herbicide exposure and childhood cancer, birth defects, neurological problems and respiratory illness.

The Selinger government has been looking at similar regulations for this province over the past year. Whatever new regulations are approved, they will not affect agricultural use of pesticides and herbicides.

Farrah Khan, spokeswoman for the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, said the poll's results indicate Manitobans uniformly support restrictions on the sale and use of lawn chemicals. The association represents 6,000 physicians across Canada.

"We don't think there's an acceptable risk," she said.

Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister has said if such a ban is imposed, playing fields will become contaminated with dandelions, based on the experience in other provinces with restrictions.

He has said the result is kids don't get exercise and community clubs are forced to install costly artificial turf.

"Manitobans clearly disagree with Mr. Pallister who thinks that dandelions are more dangerous than pesticides," Mackintosh said. "Manitoba parents should be asking why Manitoba's children aren't getting the same protection as most other Canadian children when it comes to cosmetic application of pesticides."

Tory Conservation and Water Stewardship critic MLA Larry Maguire (Arthur-Virden) said the PCs support a government-run education campaign on the safe use of lawn chemicals rather than a ban.

"We think people should be allowed the common sense to look after their own yards," he said.

Mackintosh also said he expects to take draft regulations on cosmetic lawn chemicals to cabinet this spring.

"We'd certainly be looking at a phase-in that would be a year to a year-and-a-half," he said. "We want to make sure there are available alternatives that are organic and effective replacement products."

Organic products like corn gluten meal and iron chelate are already widely available, but critics argue they tend to cost more and are not as effective.

Local lawn-care companies have said a cosmetic lawn-chemical ban is little more than politics and the chemicals they use are approved by Health Canada.

Josh Brandon, communications co-ordinator at the Green Action Centre, said whatever form the new rules take, he expects the majority of Manitobans to respect them.

"I think most people are reasonable," he said. "I think most people will adapt pretty quickly."

The questions and answers

Q: "Would you support or oppose a law that phases out the use and sale of lawn and garden pesticides in Manitoba? This law would still allow pesticides for mosquitoes and farming." A: More than seven in 10 or 71 per cent of those surveyed (498 Manitoba residents) claimed they would support legislation to phase out the use and sale of lawn and garden pesticides.

Support was strongest among NDP voters (82%), non-pesticide users (80%), females (78%), 18-34 year olds (76%), rural/remote residents (86%) and higher-income earners in the under $75,000 (78%) and over $75,000 (74%) categories.

There was also strong agreement pesticides pose threats to the environment and to pets. With respect to the environment, agreement was highest among non-pesticide users (86%), 18-34 year olds (87%), urban residents (82%), Liberals (88%) and females (83%)

When it came to risks to pets, agreement was greatest among Liberal voters (88%), non-pesticide users (83%), those with children (80%), 18-34 year olds (83%), rural residents (79%), those earning over $75,000 (83%) and females (78%).

The poll was conducted by Oraclepoll Research. It involved a telephone survey of 498 Manitoba residents. The margin of error is +/- 4.4 per cent 19 out of 20 times. It was conducted Feb. 11-15.