On March 24, the Sierra Club of Canada made a stop in Edmonton with its “Protect the Pollinators Tour“. As I live close to the city, I decided it would be worthwhile to get a clearer understanding of what exactly the Sierra Club, and more specifically, the Executive Director of the Sierra Club is doing in regards to pollinator awareness. And it was worse than I expected.
There were 42 attendees at the meeting, of which 90% were 65+ and had no experience with bees at all. I will admit that the audience was respectful and came across as open minded to all the points made through the night.
The first speaker was Dr. Jessamyn Manson from the University of Alberta. Dr. Manson is an assistant professor with the Department of Biological Sciences, and her speciality is pollinator ecology. Her short presentation (10 minutes) was well done and I agreed with many of her points. She was very clear in the fact that pollinator health is a complex issue with no single item being to blame for pollinator losses. While she admitted that her knowledge regarding honeybees was limited, I was impressed at her open-mindedness towards the topic of honeybee health. I do believe that she would be someone in academia that the honeybee industry could work with on this topic and accomplish something beneficial for both sides.
The next speaker was none other than John Bennett, Executive Director of the Sierra Club of Canada. I had never met the man but from what I had heard of him from others as well as his twitter feed I wasn’t expecting his knowledge on pollinators to be strong. I was not disappointed. He started out by being unable to pronounce “neonicotinoids”, and that was just the beginning of his ineptness.
His second slide clearly showed his mandate. According to Mr. Bennett the bee industry is in steady decline, as are all native pollinators. His belief is that pesticides and monoculture agriculture practices are the main culprits and the role of the Sierra Club is to correct this. He did mention that the Statistics Canada data from 2014 indicated that honeybee colonies were at record numbers, but that he “knows” this data to be misleading. According to John, beekeepers are suffering horrible losses each winter and only our “superb” beekeeping management practices (his words) have been allowing us to replace those losses and expand our hive numbers each year. But according to him, this is not sustainable. I also found his comments about why the activists focus on honeybees to push their agendas to be interesting. He claimed that since it is very difficult and in some cases impossible to obtain accurate population data on native pollinators, they use honeybees instead as beekeepers sit at the hives counting the bees coming home as we depend on them (again, his words) to make a living. This supposedly gives them accurate data to work with, even though that data clearly shows honeybees are thriving.
He then proceeded to educate us on the evils of pesticides. His belief is that pesticides are the primary culprit of bee losses, and that the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) is in bed with the manufacturers of these products. This supposed relationship is why these pesticides are “easily” registered and used commonly in modern agriculture, when in fact it was a very clear tactic by the Sierra Club to instil fear into the audience. From there he then introduced what the Sierra Club’s strategies are for solving this problem. He showed this slide, which only proved that he doesn’t have the ability to disprove the science used by PMRA to register these products. Instead, it’s easier for the Sierra Club to claim Bayer is evil and that certain provincial governments are gullible enough to fall for the Sierra Club’s agenda (ahem Premier Wynne). He then went on to state that the Sierra Club’s actions in Ontario (here and here) led to the creation of the “Pollinator Health Action Plan” by the Ontario provincial government. His final presentation point was about how the ordinary citizen can save the bees as well. When Mr. Bennett was finished, it was abundantly clear that he has no knowledge or experience with bees and is only cares about ways to raise funds for the Sierra Club and promote the eco activist mantra.
John also made some claims during his presentation regarding CropLife Canada and its CEO that were borderline libellous. It’s interesting how he won’t make these claims before the federal government when testifying as he’s too much of a coward to do so. But in front of a small crowd of senior citizens I guess all is fair game. No honour among thieves I suppose.
The final presenter was Paul McKay, a reporter for the Ottawa Citizen and an eco activist/author. I’m still confused as to what point he was trying to make, as he rambled on about nazis, peregrine falcons, song birds, and his book of which all proceeds go to the Sierra Club of Canada. Where this all fit into pollinator health is still debatable.
Once the presentations were complete, the floor was opened to questions. My first comment was to the audience on how honeybees are thriving across the world, and also how beekeepers themselves use pesticides on their bees to control mites. I informed them that if they took the time to look on PMRA’s website regarding bee kills over the past decade, they would see that organic miticides used by the beekeepers have killed more bees than any other Agrochemical product. The look of shock and confusion on the faces of those in the audience was not surprising.
My only question was directed at John Bennett. Out of the funds raised by the Sierra Club of Canada for “Pollinator Health”, how much of it has funded both native pollinator research but also honeybee research through the Canadian Bee Research Fund (which is managed by the Canadian Honey Council)? His response was a direct and firm “We do not fund any research, only promote awareness and pursue advocacy”. But he felt the need to reiterate that the Sierra Club is not pitting people or organizations against each other, and that they are only here to help save the bees……
He then made a flippant comment about how the Canadian Honey Council (CHC) receives research funds from Bayer, of which I countered how our industries collaborations have saved our industry and put it where it is today. That got me thinking, and in discussions yesterday with CHC we found that in fact Bayer has not funded any research carried out by that organization. Just another lie by Mr. Bennett.
At the end of the day the Sierra Club of Canada and John Bennett have no intention of truly helping pollinators and they proved their ignorance and unwillingness to work with anyone that doesn’t believe their nonsense. They are in fact one of the most dangerous organizations that the Canadian honeybee industry has to deal with right now. Their effect on the Ontario Beekeepers Association and the provincial government in Ontario is proof of that.
It’s possible for the bee industry to work with government or our partners in agriculture and achieve common goals. But when it comes to educating the uninformed public, it’s very difficult to counter the lies of a well lubricated spin machine like the Sierra Club. And they count on that.