All about Commercial Beekeeping in Alberta and Canada

Sierra Club Canada – Protect the Pollinators Tour

Lee Townsend

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.

Lee Townsend
Lee Townsend

8 Comments

  1. Stephen Denys Reply to Stephen

    Excellent postings. I appreciate your pursuit of the truth. This has been a difficult issue to work with and has consumed 1/3 of my time for two years running now on behalf of the seed trade – most recently working on the Pollinator Task Force to create an alternative strategy versus that delivered by the Ontario provincial government – I worked with Hugh Simpson on this task force.

    Ultimately I believe these bans will hurt bee health as not only will be forced to use other tools, but it is taking attention away from other needed research re pollinator health. In discussions with Europeans on Tuesday while in the U.S. , bee health has declined more precipitously since the moratorium in Europe and in France where neonics were never allowed on corn, it has been a straight line down for bees. What a joke.

    Thanks again for your efforts.

    • Lee Townsend Lee Townsend Reply to Lee

      Thanks Stephen! I share your frustration, as I was on the “Bee Incident” committee with Canadian Honey Council for two years. Everyone involved outside of the OBA was open to any and all solutions, but once the OBA showed their true colors it made it very difficult for me to continue on that committee. Due to that I stepped down, but I’m still doing my best to work with everyone involved in order to find common ground. I think for the vast majority of beekeepers and farmers, there is a common goal. But for certain beekeepers (specifically hobby/urban/OBA board), they prefer to align with the activists. What they don’t realize is this course of action won’t save a single bee, and it’s their own management that needs to be fixed.

      in the meantime, it’s the farmers that are being painted as the bad guy and the actions taken by the Ontario government only work towards making their lives more difficult. I honestly can’t fathom why the MOE and OMAFRA think this is going to help anyone. But then again, that’s what happens when people that are oblivious to the nature of Agriculture start wading in and blindly make decisions.

  2. Lee we could definitely use someone of your caliber to speak on the subject of bee health in Ontario. I feel from your perspective you have a very fair opinion of what needs to be done. I thought that the grain growers in Ontario did a good job with their proposal by addressing more of the problems beekeepers face. What do you think?
    I feel that if the government here posts the blame on farmers it will open the door for other provinces to do the same. I don’t know what contributions you have made to this case in Ontario but if you ever thought that a one on one conversation with our Ag Minister Jeff Leal would do any good I could probably arrange it. We are in the 11th hour of this legislation so I’m not sure if the time for listening to a knowledgeable perspective has passed.

    • Stephen Denys Reply to Stephen

      The problem with seeking a meeting with Minister Leal is he has no power on this topic despite the fact he is listed as one of the lead minister. The Ministry of the Environment under Glenn Murray is completely directing this process. In fact almost none of the amendments proposed by OMAF were used by the Ministry of the Environment. Right now our defacto Minister of Agriculture is Glenn Murray.

      • Lee Townsend Lee Townsend Reply to Lee

        That seems to be the case, and Lyndsey Smith touched on that in her article a few weeks ago (https://www.realagriculture.com/2015/03/help-wanted-an-ag-minister-that-actually-works-with-and-for-farmers/). Glenn Murray is not doing anything but appeasing the urban vote and his own self serving interests, and with his cabinet posting in the ON government he is quite willing to abuse his power. Quite the legacy he’s leaving, and I still don’t understand how anyone from Toronto City Centre can be an expert on Agriculture.

        • Stephen Denys Reply to Stephen

          I have read the proposed Ontario regulations twice now. It is obvious that the regulations developed for Ontario were written based on Google searches as we were told in advance. We can also confidently interpret that no one who was involved in drafting these regulations has actually ever stepped foot on an Ontario Farm, had in depth discussions with farmers or understand food production in Ontario. If yes, I would like to hear the evidence to the contrary.

          This is unfortunate as industry did reach out long in advance of the posted proposal in the fall to try and work with the government. In fact the Grain Farmers of Ontario had a task force developed which the provincial government walked out of in advance of November last year. The government to their credit 18 months ago committed to waiting for the federal government to finish their review on neonicotinoids. No such patience exhibited as of last November. The calendar got in the way of ideology execution.

          I have spoken with many people over the last few days. Our base interpretation is that the proposed regulations are demeaning to both farmers and the agri-industry in Ontario. The Ontario government is clearly saying that farmers and agri-industry cannot be trusted and so in line with governments from other countries in other eras, our politburo has decided they will make the decisions for us going forward. This is despite the fact we produce the safest food supply in the world and despite the fact we have overall done more as farmers in terms of environmental stewardship on our own and without government policy than has been attempted elsewhere in the world.

          These regulations clearly prove this is about ideology, not science. OMAF is saying growers can use the technology if proven needed, but the guidelines are overtly onerous for farmers and industry to make it possible.

          The ironic part of this whole thing is that if the politburo had gone out and talked to farmers, they would learn that many farmers have not seen the wildlife, frog, insect and worm activity today on their farms this plentiful since generations past. I know this is the case on my farm and this is the experience shared by other farmers in our area. This is proven. At the exact time our Environmental Ombudsman in Ontario appointed by the Liberal government said last summer that there were no insects left in the province, I had literally thousands of frogs on my farm. The last I heard frogs eat insects. But you would have to leave Toronto to talk to farmers to learn about this, and ideologists including those in Queen’s Park and those in the Sierra Club cannot afford to have their judgement clouded.

    • Lee Townsend Lee Townsend Reply to Lee

      I don’t think I’d be the best representative from the Canadian bee industry to speak to Minister Leal about this. I do think that either Rod Scarlett or Kevin Nixon from the Canadian Honey Council would be better suited and their voice would carry more influence than mine would regarding this. If you need either of their contact information I can pass it along to you.

      As for this happening in other provinces, I hope we can prevent that from occurring. I know that in AB the provincial government has zero interest in going down the path that Ontario has, but that’s also because beekeepers and farmers here are sending them the same message. Also, the Alberta Beekeepers Commission has no interest in working with eco activists so that eliminates that issue. We went through the same hardships that Ontario beekeepers are experiencing right now starting back in 2006. Sadly, the OBA chose to blame others rather than working with them. I would like to think that SK and MB are in the same position as AB, and since we represent 80% of the Canadian bee industry it is very difficult for special interests groups to take control of our industry out west.

  3. Nick Stokman Reply to Nick

    Thanks Lee and Stephen. Was at a get together for a retiring OMAFRA employee last evening, farmers, ag industry, and extension present. Fun evening, but negative tone just below the surface, all related to this issue. Don’t know how best to address it. Also concern about what the next issue will be.

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