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'Left Wing Conspiracy Theorists' Support Pesticide Ban: Committee Chair

Critics say MLA Bill Bennett's characterization of pro-ban side shows bias.

By Andrew MacLeod 31 May 2012 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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Bill Bennett, BC Liberal MLA and chair of Special Committee on Cosmetic Pesticides.

The chair of a legislative committee that reported on the cosmetic use of pesticides has dismissed people who support a ban as "politically motivated left wing conspiracy theorists."

It's an email outburst that has critics questioning whether Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett's biases made him a poor choice for Premier Christy Clark to pick as chair for the Special Committee on Cosmetic Pesticides.

In a May 30 message to Bill Wells, a retired agrologist in the Kootenay town of Kaslo, Bennett wrote, "I'll take the 350 scientists at Health Canada over the politically motivated left wing conspiracy theorists any day."

Wells had written to Bennett calling the committee's recommendation against a ban "disgraceful" and expressing "disappointment that a committee of the BC Legislature would be so prejudiced in reaching their 'decision' that they ignore and humiliate those who would come to them to provide them with actual facts and knowledgeable guidance."

Bennett's first response to Wells said, "I am pleased to hear that you can read and encourage you to put your skill to work reading the Special Committee's Report. Perhaps even an old dog can learn a new trick!"

Public support for a ban

When Wells wrote back saying the chemical industry has undue influence on Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency, Bennett responded: "And a commie under every rock and the grassy hill in Dallas and all corporations and all that jazz. Sorry, I'm not a conspiracy theorist."

During its hearings, the Special Committee on Cosmetic Pesticides heard from a wide range of stakeholders and the public. "Of the 7,300 e-questionnaires submitted, almost 5,000 supported a ban on the sale and use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes," the committee's report said.

Some of the most vocal supporters of a ban have been mainstream health advocacy groups, a point made by NDP Leader Adrian Dix when he asked about Bennett's email during debate with Premier Christy Clark on her office's budget May 30.

Asked Dix, "Is the Premier in agreement with the co-chair of her platform committee that the Canadian Cancer Society, Canadian Pediatric Society, Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta, the Public Health Association of B.C., the Lung Association and so on are part of a left-wing conspiracy?"

Clark, who a year ago said she supports such a ban herself and has for a long time, said she disagrees with Bennett. "The committee in its entirety did a very good job of soliciting a broad range of information from a broad range of sources," she said. "I think that despite the comments that the member has quoted there, the committee did a very good job on this."

Response shows Bennett's bias: NDP

Wells shared the response he got from Bennett with his MLA in Nelson-Creston, the NDP's Michelle Mungall. "When I first read it I was very shocked," she said. "It was an inappropriate way to respond to anybody... I would never respond to someone like that in an email."

While Wells was unavailable to speak on the phone Thursday morning, Mungall said she'd spoken with him. "He was quite upset," she said. "He was quite frustrated. He definitely felt dismissed."

Mungall said the response shows why Bennett was the wrong person for Clark to choose to chair the committee. "It shows the bias that Bill Bennett had going into this process," she said. His comments discredit the report his committee wrote, she said.

"What is the premier going to do about this?" she said. "Is she going to stand up to Bill Bennett? The response he gave my constituent is bullying... Is she going to ask Bill to leave caucus because he clearly can't conduct himself appropriately?"

She noted Bennett also has a role as the co-chair with Education Minister George Abbott on the BC Liberal Party's election platform committee preparing for the 2013 vote. "Is he fit to be coordinating their political committee and making decisions that will impact every single British Columbian? I personally don't think so."

Cautious approach needed: advocate

It's ridiculous to dismiss supporters of a ban on the cosmetic use of pesticides as politically motivated left wing conspiracy theorists, said Andrew Gage, staff lawyer for West Coast Environmental Law.

"We take on this issue because we think it's important," he said. "It's all about a cautious approach. Most people get that."

The PMRA has a very difficult job to do, he said. Pesticides include hundreds of chemicals and it can take years for industry studies to show harm to human health or the environment, he said, making a comparison to the length of time it took science to confirm that tobacco is harmful.

"For him to accept the word of the PRMA as gospel is bizarre," said Gage, noting that the Ontario College of Family Physicians recently released a report that found pesticides do have a negative impact on reproductive health, respiratory health and neuro-developmental or behavioural health.

The B.C. committee heard from many people who supported a ban, including doctors and others with backgrounds in science, he said.

As for Bennett's dismissal of his constituent's concerns, Gage said, "It says more about whether he was independent as the chair of the committee... than it does about the proponents of a pesticide ban."

When Clark appointed Bennett as chair of the committee, The Tyee reported environmentalists were concerned that someone who had referred to them as "eco-fascists" was a poor choice. Clark said at the time she was confident Bennett would take a "balanced" view of the committee's work.

The committee split on party lines, with NDP members in support of a ban and the government majority against. On May 30, the NDP reintroduced for the fourth time a private members' bill, a symbolic measure that's unlikely to pass, that would put a ban in place.

When the NDP introduced the same bill a year ago, Clark said she supported a ban and would appoint a bipartisan committee to make recommendations.  [Tyee]

Read more: Health, Politics

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