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LENORE ZANN: Woodlands spraying program throws caution to the wind

By Lenore Zann: The environment minister's hands-off approach to woodlands spraying in Colchester is outrageous. It would seem the main mandate of the department is to let industry do whatever it wants, over the objections of citizens.

As MLA for the riding of Truro-Bible Hill-Millbrook-Salmon River in Colchester County, I have been very concerned since I learned a month ago that Colchester County's woods are on the list to be widely sprayed with VisionMax by Northern Pulp and other large companies (including the Irvings).

I had never heard about the chemical glyphosate (which is also considered an antibiotic) or Nova Scotia's spray program until now — since it was only in 2015 that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a branch of the World Health Organization (WHO), deemed glyphosate (which makes up 49 per cent of VisionMax)  a "probable human carcinogen."

So when I heard that the McNeil government was actually contemplating approving this spraying of hundreds of hectares of wooded lands in the province — including Colchester County (for which I am responsible as a provincial MLA) — I became extremely concerned for the health of our environment, our sustainable forestry management, our natural water supply, our wildlife, pollinators and our people.

I've been pretty passionate about this issue throughout the summer and until recently I've been the only MLA who has stepped up to vocally oppose the spray program.

I even asked for a meeting with Environment Minister Margaret Miller to tell her my concerns. I took three local mayors from Colchester with me who had similar concerns and also had the backing of several local municipal councillors plus two local First Nations chiefs (Bob Gloade from Millbrook and Rufus Copage from Sipekne'katik).

At that meeting, the minister actually told us that she was not the one who would be making the decision — that her "staff does the research and they would be making the decision" for her so that she could "remain neutral and objective in order to deal with any appeals"!

I mean, what are we paying her for — the minister of environment — if not to make important decisions like this that affect our environment? How could she pass the buck like this? And if she's not knowledgeable or competent enough to be making these decisions, perhaps she should step down as minister.

More and more people are speaking out against the spray program. We now have close to 10,000 signatures on three different petitions (find them here, here and here) saying "No spray, no way."

These spray programs have apparently been taking place in Nova Scotia for years, and with a lot of new research still coming out, the jury is still out on glyphosate. However, what we do know is that  in 2015, the IARC released a report indicating that glyphosate is a "probable human carcinogen."

This is why I think we should apply the precautionary principle in determining how and where it will be applied. At the very least, there should be meaningful public consultations with any community affected by this spraying.

I have now heard from hundreds of Nova Scotians who are very clear that they do not want VisionMax or any herbicides sprayed on our woods and they, too, believe in adhering to the precautionary principle when decisions of this magnitude are made.

So before any major decisions about this or other major environmental concerns are made, there is a clear need for more public input — including from our First Nations people who were the original guardians of this land.

This spring, the NDP caucus introduced legislation that would establish an environmental bill of rights in Nova Scotia. This legislation would ensure that local communities are consulted in situations like this. Communities would also have access to all research the government has related to projects with environmental impacts.

As NDP Leader Gary Burrill has stated, "An environmental bill of rights would give us a framework to determine what a community does and does not want in their backyard. Proper care of our environment relies on meaningful consultation with the people who live in it."

I'd like the McNeil government to actually listen to the people who have been writing and calling them and act upon citizens' wishes instead of simply pandering to corporations like Northern Pulp and the Irvings whose interests are purely profit-driven.

Instead of spraying and clearcutting, let's create a sustainable forestry, which includes silviculture and natural landscaping — thus providing more jobs for young Nova Scotians. Not to mention protecting the health of our rivers, lakes and streams, woodland animals and pollinators like bees and butterflies, and keeping our province pristine, healthy and beautiful for ecotourism, which has become so popular globally.

If Nova Scotia is to move ahead in the global world of business and tourism today, that also means protecting our most valuable natural resources — our environment and our people. Without the health of our environment and our citizens, what do we have left?

Many people these days have chemical sensitivities and surely there is too much cancer in this small province already.

The value of clean air and clean water will only increase as time goes on and our planet continues to heat up with more droughts over wider areas such as the one folks in the Valley experienced this summer.

Meanwhile, we already have examples of places where the lakes have turned toxic and green (like Mattatall Lake) due to over-clearcutting and chemical spraying of glyphosate as green algae thrive on the phosphorus and nitogen produced by glyphosate.

I have been assured that the green algae which, in just three years, has overtaken a once-pristine lake is not due to residents' septic or fertilizer run-off. It has been thoroughly tested regularly over the past few years and the citizens have warned the environment minister a number of times about what has been happening since clearcutting by Northern Pulp and another company began and the woods around the lake were sprayed with glyphosate two years ago.

I even asked the minister questions about this problem in the House last spring and she gave me no tangible response as she felt it is not her duty or that of her department to protect the environment — only to "regulate." It would seem the main mandate of the department is now to allow industry to get away with doing whatever it wants.

My question is: If it's not the minister of environment's responsibility to look after the environment, then whose is it? The citizens'?

We have to start looking at things from a new 21st-century lens lest the rest of the world leave Nova Scotia far behind. This government already blew the opportunity to make billions this year from the film and TV industry after its fatal and ill-advised decision to cut the film tax credit. Meanwhile, the rest of Canada made huge profits.

Now I believe the McNeil government is making a similar mistake by allowing our forests to be destroyed — taking away the habitat of our wildlife as well as the quality of our water and air.

Enough is enough, Madame Minister and Premier McNeil. No matter what you say, the buck stops with you. You're telling us, on the one hand, the spraying of our woodlands is perfectly safe and yet you are putting up signs in Colchester County saying "Don't Eat the Berries." Which is it? By the way, our woodland creatures, unfortunately, can't read.

Perhaps we could turn this whole issue into a money-maker by getting our best chefs to create special blackberry, raspberry and brambleberry glyphosate pies — with the moniker "Sprayed in Nova Scotia." Yum. Yum.

But, as with everything the McNeil government does, I advise you to read the small (very small) print.