The committee was revisiting the vexing issue of the (potentially) killer weeds. At last month’s meeting, councillors decided to delay a decision on whether to follow staff’s recommendation to mechanically harvest the weeds, one of three options considered. The others were to use pesticides or dredge the lakes.
The delay was due to new information available to the committee, the nature of which was not publicly disclosed at the time. This month, a new briefing from staff revealed that the new information came from Keith Solomon, “a recognized international expert on environmental toxicology” who is often quoted by advocates of pesticide use. According to the staff briefing, Solomon’s input was arranged for by Jamie MacNeil, Vice President of m5 Public Affairs.
Despite a telephone meeting between Solomon and Halifax environmental staffer Cameron Deacoff, in which Solomon argued that the herbicide Diquat is a viable, safe alternative that would leave little or no trace in the lakes, staff still preferred mechanical harvesting because “members of the community attending two public meetings generally opposed the application of aquatic herbicides.”
The committee supported that decision and praised staff for its judiciousness in reviewing all the evidence. Councillor Darren Fisher heaped praise on Councillor Gloria McCluskey, who is not on the committee but represents the areas in question, for being the “instigator along with myself on this” several years ago.
Aside from the decision itself, two minor controversies emerged. Councillor Lorelei Nicoll expressed dismay that the name of Jamie MacNeil —the m5 VP who recommended using herbicides — was made public in the staff briefing. MacNeil lives in Nicoll’s district. “It was very unfortunate to see the individual from District 4 identified in this briefing note,” she said. “When he asked to understand the process I did not say ‘are you OK with having your name made public?’ … I hope that never happens again.”
According to the briefing note, MacNeil had approached the council on behalf of an m5 client, Lake Management Services. Nicoll did not say why the public should not be fully aware of the involvement of either a herbicide company, its PR firm, or the PR firm’s VP. Regardless, the city’s Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, Mike Labrecque, apologized for telling the public the truth.
Councillors Bill Karsten and Barry Dalrymple were both perturbed by a letter from Dartmouth-Cole Harbour MP Robert Chisholm chastising the committee for delaying its decision to “get more information about the herbicide option.”
“I take some offense,” Karsten said. “We at local government must be respected and allowed to do our due diligence without outside interference from another level of government. I respectfully suggest that the letter that we have from a member of parliament is out of order.”
Karsten accused Chisholm of lobbying and using a threat when the latter wrote: “As the Member of Parliament and the Official Opposition critic for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans I…will recommend that DFO reject any application for its use in our lakes.”
Dalrymple was disgusted by Chisholm’s letter and called it “obviously politicking” and inaccurate, though he didn’t state any specific inaccuracies in the letter. He vowed to send a personal response to Chisholm.