Wild parsnip spraying and deputy mayor vote dominate council meeting

by Edith Cody-RIce 

Once again a packed gallery with citizens spilling out into the foyer, witnessed council’s deliberations on Tuesday February 19. The most contentious items on a busy agenda were the question of wild parsnip management and the method of selection of a deputy mayor. A full complement of councillors attended the meeting.

Community Plan for Safety and Well Being Plan for Lanark County and Smith Falls

First though, Stephanie Gray, accompanied by OPP Staff Sergeant Martin O’Connell,  the United Way representative, gave an interesting presentation on the Community Plan for Safety and Well being. The plan has two main components: a situation table with agencies collaborating to identify and intervene in situations of acutely elevated risk and the development of a community plan for safety and well being that identifies local prevalent risks and strategies to mitigate them.

New legislative amendments to the Police Services Act mandate municipalities to prepare and adopt such a plan.The take aways from this presentation are:

  1. that Lanark County was ahead of the game in initiating this plan which has now been adopted throughout the province. Councillor Denzil Ferguson congratulated Ms. Gray on her success and prescience in introducing this initiative;
  2. that the principle risks in our area are mental health, criminal involvement and drugs and that the implementation  of the plan has reduced calls for service between December 9 2015 and August 9 2017 from 2692 to 963.

The plan, being new, has not yet been adopted by the municipality and Ms. Gray urged council to pass a motion adopting the plan for Lanark County and Smith Falls.

Wild Parsnip Management

 Wild Parsnip is recognized as a noxious invasive weed in the Ontario Weed Act. Contact with the sap of the plant can lead to burning and scarring of skin in both humans and animals when the skin with sap on it is exposed to sunlight.

Six delegates appeared before council to argue passionately about one side or the other of the spraying controversy. Myrna Lee presented a compelling case for not spraying, essentially telling council that the herbicides are not being monitored and that no one really knows what their consequences are. And the assurances about lack of damage only relate to human health, not to the environment or the lives of other species.

Dr. James Coupland, Director for FarmForest Research supported the case for no spraying citing other control methods such as properly timed mowing and pulling.He said that roadsides make up one of the most important publicly managed habitats in the world and diversity is very important for native plants and insects.  He noted the decline in insect life which is very noticeable, attributing this in large part to herbicides.

On the other side of this controversy, Brenda Cochran, a MM resident and farmer who farms 900 acres pleaded with council to continue the spraying plan. She said that wild parsnip poses a danger to farm animal life who also can suffer from exposure to the sap. She runs a seed production facility, growing and packaging seed for other farmers. She pointed out that if any noxious seeds are found in her produce, it cannot be sold either in Canada or internationally. In short, wild parsnip poses an existential danger to her business and as she pointed out, at the moment, the ditches around her farm are full of it.

Paul Sullivan, Agronomist and owner of P.T. Sullivan Agro Inc and Chad Horton, Past President of the Ontario Vegetation Management Association argued for the spraying plan stating that it is effective, safe and the most efficient way to manage the problem and that any danger to health depends on dosage. They stated that there is a tiny amount of herbicide in the great canister trucks we see in the countryside. Most of the content is water, in which the herbicide is dissolved.

Janet Tysick, Business Manager of Public Works for Lanark County presented the management strategy for the county  which she thoughtfully laid out showing a significant decrease in wild parsnip infestation between 2015 and 2018 due to the spraying program. She stated that mowing to control wild parsnip presents a number of challenges: it is unselective, reducing all vegetation; wild parsnip regrows faster than other grasses and plants, therefore it dominates and native pollinator-friendly plants are weakened faster by repetitive mowing than is wild parsnip She also noted that the county is engaged in a habitat restoration project and, using funds provided by the Trillium Foundation,  has partnered with the Canadian Wildlife Federation, the National Capital Commission, and Hydro One to repollinate roadsides with native plants and wildflowers.

Finally, former MM Councillor Val Wilkinson appeared on behalf of the  many petitioners who objected to spraying, summarizing their comments.  Council has been been presented with 67 pages of signatures of concerned residents objecting to the spraying program.

Councillors asked some questions of the presenters, then voted to approve the spraying plan.

The Selection Method for Deputy Mayor

The position of deputy mayor became vacant at the death of John Levi. Under the Municipal Act a replacement may be selected by appointment by council or through a byelection.

Councillor Janet Maydan initially expressed interest in a byelection as the most democratic manner by which a selection could be made. Mayor Christa Lowry agreed suggesting that the appointment to the last vacancy on council left some citizens resentful of the method by which the selection was made. Councillor Denzil Ferguson expressed a firm preference for a byelection. Mayor Lowry advised council that money was available to conduct a byelection

Councillor Cynthia Guerard proposed a hybrid method of selection, involving an independent ad hoc committee which would prepare a short list of applicants and a public vote on this list in some central location. MM staff pointed out that the Municipal Act does not allow a hybrid vote. The legislated methods are appointment by council or by election.

On a motion to conduct a byelection, Mayor Lowry and councillors Maydan and Ferguson, voted in favour. As the split was 3-3, the motion was defeated.

On a motion to fill the vacancy by interview and appointment Councillor Maydan changed her vote, joining Councillors Holmes, Guerard and Dalgity to carry the motion.

The vacancy will thus be filled by an interviewing process in which interested parties may submit applications, submit to an interview and selection by sitting councillors.