Pesticide policies

An important step forward for environmentalists was taken with the passing of a municipal by-law in 2003 that forbids future use of pesticides in urban gardens and front yards. This law symbolizes a major victory of the environmental movement to ban a significant amount of chemicals from passing through the material streams of the city. Since 1998, when city council expressed its commitment to "phase out pesticide use on public green spaces" and subsequently reduced such use by 97 percent to the current bylaw that governs private green spaces, the municipality has made big changes to the political ecology of toxins in Toronto. A related by-law was passed in May 2003. It "will restrict outdoor use of pesticides in the City of Toronto". The law, which allows some pesticide use for public health reasons, came along with the establishment of a Pesticide By-Law Advisory Committee to regulate and oversee the policy's implementation (City of Toronto 2005b). Following the analysis of the local state as vulnerable to civil society intervention (see Desfor and Keil 2004: ch.2), it is possible to argue that the success of this initiative can be partly explained as a consequence of the territorial and scalar contradictions of how nature is organized in capitalism. Taking advantage of local conditions and urban political dynamics allowed TEA and its allies to win a surprising victory over a giant chemical industry which was organizing a well-funded campaign to stop the initiative. Roberts explains:

There are many industries that are absolutely absent here—so when it comes to pesticides for instance there are lots of pesticide applicators but there is no pesticide industry here. And they can handle citizen lobbies in Ottawa and at Queen's Park but they can't do it across the country—city by city—they'll go broke. So the fossil fuel industry is not represented here—only users of fossil fuels. And this is why I believe radicals should orient to municipal politics. They're never going to get an opportunity to move the agenda without opposition—other than ideological—there's no one that's going to lose their factory or plant or workers that will lose their job. You know like the CAW supported the Island Bridge and everything else because their members' jobs are on the line. So I always strategically pick issues that there's not a vested interest that will lose out so that was one of the definitions of a quickstart.

The reason why I go into it is that it's not as limiting a factor as you might think. Because we have no pulp and paper here—there's no oil— it's a long list of things we don't have. Other than the fact that a person is an instinctive conservative they're not funded by—there's not pesticide companies—to my knowledge—that are funding councilors to run again to take on the demon environmentalists or anything like that. It would be worth while if we could get somebody to just check their corporate donations but I would be totally surprised if anybody's receiving money from national corporations because of their role in defending their local interest. And to the best of knowledge that whole pesticide thing as an example was only the pesticide applicators—like the national industry didn't even send people. So there's high consensus—low resistance; multiple beneficiaries.

(Personal interview, 3 December 2003)

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