Regular readers of the Brandon Sun may recall that we made some rather stinging comments last year regarding the City of Brandon’s handling of the mosquito and fogging file.
Since then, the city has rejigged its fogging policy, and we note that at least a few of our concerns have been addressed, including a new buffer zone condition that calls for applicants to offer proof of occupancy.
These changes are a good step forward, though we still remain skeptical that the question of who — council or city managers — ultimately decide when the city should fog has been properly clarified, especially if pro-fogging voters feel the wrath of the little bloodsuckers again this summer.
But what’s currently bugging us about this file is a recent decision by council to lobby the province to allow individual municipalities to decide the appropriate size of buffer zones.
On Tuesday, a majority of councillors voted to put forward a motion at an upcoming Association of Manitoba Municipalities meeting to push the provincial government to give municipalities the power to decide how big buffer zones can be.
Currently, Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship requires municipalities to have a list of registered residents who don’t want fogging near their homes. Equipment must be shut off 90 metres on all sides of the buffered properties.
We don’t mean to chide our elected officials for wanting the freedom to decide buffer zone sizes on their own. If a majority of councillors believe this is in the public interest, and they’ve got facts on their side, more power to them — and Mayor Shari Decter Hirst, who quite disliked the fact that she was outvoted, should respect that.
But we do suggest they get their information correct before making decisions that look uninformed.
In 2010, the City of Winnipeg made a similar request to the province to reduce the size of buffer zones around homes from where residents object to the application of pesticides. One year later, the Winnipeg Free Press reported that the province couldn’t reduce buffer zones more than 10 metres from the 100 metres it used to be, because of federal rules governing malathion use.
“Based on a technical and literature review of this proposal, I have been advised by staff that the maximum possible reduction the province can grant the city is 10 metres,” Manitoba Conservation deputy minister Fred Meier wrote in a letter to Winnipeg chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl. “As the city is aware, this is because the federal label for this product cites a 90-metre swath as a regulatory requirement for the proper use of this product.”
Clearly, if the AMM and our councillors need to lobby anyone to change the regulations, it’s the federal government, not the province.
Also, during the council’s debate on this topic, Coun. Len Isleifson — who later in the week announced his intention to seek the Progressive Conservative nomination for Brandon East in the upcoming provincial election — said something we found rather curious.
While arguing in favour of the lobbying decision, Isleifson told his fellow councillors that the decision should be made based on what citizens want “regardless of the health component or how I feel about it.”
“I sit at this council table as a politician,” he continued. “We’re politicians and we need to represent those that put us here.”
We get what Isleifson was trying to say. The voting public has given him his marching orders; he and any other politician — including those who feel strongly opposed to malathion and have voted accordingly — will have to answer to that public come election day, whether that be at the municipal or provincial level.
But as voters, we need to ask ourselves what we expect the duties of our elected officials to be, and why we elect people to office, whatever level of government is in question. Being a responsible politician should mean balancing public demand with the public good, based on available and hopefully accurate information.
In the case of malathion buffer zones, as a community, we should not be against protections for people who need them, save for those rare occasions when such zones are eliminated to spray for mosquitoes that transmit the potentially fatal West Nile virus.
What we should not abide are poorly designed and ineffective public policies, politicians and bureaucrats who try to hide information to quash bad publicity, and the abuse of public institutions and policies that were meant to protect at risk individuals.