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Province could override local pesticide rules, says committee chair

The British Columbia government could replace the pesticide bylaws municipalities have put in place with its own law, the chair of a legislature committee said.

"The province actually could, if it chose to do so, stop local governments from dealing with what is supposed to be, I think, a provincial issue," Kootenay East MLA and recently appointed chair Bill Bennett told the special committee on cosmetic pesticide use last week.

He was not advocating such a step, but asked Gail Wallin, executive director for the Invasive Plant Council of B.C., for her thoughts on whether it would be better to have one law for the whole province.

Wallin said she thinks it is better to keep the rules flexible. "If you were to try to ban a pesticide across the province, it may be the right tool in the north but the wrong tool in the south," she said. "Whatever is provincewide has to allow lots of flexibility across the different regional and local governments. It would really depend on how you would handle that provincewide."

The exchange, however, left some wondering what Bennett and the government would prefer.

"Currently the province has essentially stood back and let local governments make their own decisions on whether they're going to have bans, partial bans, some restrictions, no restrictions," Bennett said in an interview.

"We've ended up with what I think the opposition members have quite rightly characterized as a patchwork," he said. "The province does have the legislative authority to impose one policy for the whole province, but I think I made it quite clear that would be a decision of the cabinet and the government."

The committee is at too early a stage for him to say whether the government is likely to go that route, said Bennett. "The authority is there, whether it would be exercised or not, I don't know."

"I'm not sure his legal opinion is correct," said Rob Fleming, the New Democratic Party's environment critic and vice-chair of the pesticide committee. A Canadian supreme court decision in 2001 found that Hudson, Quebec had the right to make pesticide use bylaws, he said.

"I think those rights are quite well established by the courts," said Fleming. "I would suggest any impinging on the rights of municipal governments in B.C. would have an extremely difficult time getting the unanimous support of the committee."

According to Pesticide Free B.C., 39 B.C. communities have pesticide bylaws, covering 59 percent of the province's population.

The province is to blame for the patchwork as it now exists, said Fleming. The committee is the second review the province has held on cosmetic pesticides and comes several years after the Union of B.C. Municipalities asked the provincial government to consider the issue, he said.

"This government has had no legislative agenda on this and other environmental health issues," he said.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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