NDP delays Manitoba government from lifting pesticide ban

Jesse Oberman is raising his glass to Manitoba’s ban on cosmetic pesticides staying in place.

The Winnipeg cider-maker strives as much as he can to make products free of pesticides, which is why he supports the NDP’s decision to delay government legislation that would have lifted a ban on some of these products. 

“We have an access to a lot of pesticides already, probably too much access,” Oberman, the founder of Next Friend Cider, said inside the brewery he works at. 

“I’d prefer if there was less [pesticides], not more.”

On Friday, the NDP gathered Oberman, emergency room physician Dr. Paul Doucet and parent Yanik Sourisseau for a news conference at Oxbow Natural Wine Bar and Restaurant to argue the Progressive Conservative government’s decision to lift the cosmetic pesticide ban is bad for the environment and for children.

As the Official Opposition, the New Democrats have the right to delay five government bills until the fall legislative sitting. The party announced at the event Friday that it would prevent Bill 22 from becoming law.

‘Bare mininum’ unacceptable: NDP

“The priority that we’re hearing from people across Manitoba is that they want a safe, clean and healthy environment for our kids,” NDP leader Wab Kinew said.

“We shouldn’t just merely accept the bare minimum standard when we’re talking about children. We should be setting a higher standard.”

The NDP is trying to keep legislation they themselves implemented. 

Back in 2014, the former NDP government banned the use of what’s called cosmetic pesticides, which are considered optional or non-essential pesticides meant to improve the look of a lawn. They called it a win for the environment and people’s health.

But many property owners complained, as they were left with weed-control products that were more expensive and less effective.

At a government announcement last month, the Association of Manitoba Municipalities celebrated the province’s reversal. President Kam Blight said some municipalities were spending 10 times as much after being forced to switch chemicals.

Environment minister Jeff Wharton accused the NDP of choosing ideology over science.

He said lifting the ban will permit pesticides that have Health Canada approval and, as such, “do not present unacceptable risks to Canadians and the environment,” Wharton wrote in an email.

He added Manitoba will keep some aspects of the ban “out of an abundance of caution,” such as continuing to prevent cosmetic pesticides from use at schools, hospitals and child-care centres.

Environment Minister Jeff Wharton said the government’s decision to lift the ban on some pesticides is backed by science. (Ian Froese/CBC)

Kinew said he’s spoken with the AMM and he’s aware of their endorsement of the government bill, “but we’re listening also to the people of Manitoba who are voicing their concern for the health of our children.”

Those concerns are also driving Oberman’s objection. 

He seeks to be environmentally conscious in his business, which opened in 2020 out of the headquarters of the Barn Hammer Brewing Company. Oberman picks fruits from backyards and trails, the type of food that would otherwise go to waste. He prefers as much as he can to acquire fruits that haven’t been sprayed by chemicals. 

“We’re never going to have a world where there’s no spraying anywhere, but if I can affect my community by saying to farmers, ‘If you farm this organically, I’ll pay you more,’ I feel like I can make a real impact,” Oberman said.

In voicing his objection at the news conference, Doucet brought up scientific evidence that warned against exposing people, particularly children, to chemical pesticides. He cautioned the government against proceeding.

“Such a move would once again make lawns, parks, boulevards and other green spaces into sources of pesticide exposure, defeating the goal of reducing human exposure to cosmetic pesticides.”

The NDP has until Monday to announce the other four pieces of legislation it intends to delay. 

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