Graphic by nik harron Composite by nik harron.

Neonicotinoids – commonly known as neonics – are the most widely used insecticide in the world. Some are considered to be up to 10,000 times more toxic than DDT. On November 25, 2014, the Government of Ontario announced a bold plan to reduce neonics' use on corn and soybean crops in the province by 80 per cent by 2017. Warmly welcomed by beekeepers, environmentalists, health professionals and some farm organizations, the announcement set Ontario apart as the first jurisdiction in North America to begin to rein in the significant harm these pesticides do.

With all eyes on Ontario’s precedent-setting reduction plan, chemical companies will likely try to discredit, delay and undermine its implementation. Strategies that secured the plan’s announcement will be just as important in the days ahead to make sure it’s followed through.

1. Demonstrate public interest.
People relate to bees. “Canadians understand intuitively that if bees are in trouble, so are we all,” says Lisa Gue, senior researcher and analyst at the David Suzuki Foundation. To convey public investment to the government, environmental groups including Ontario Nature, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) and the David Suzuki Foundation commissioned polls. In August 2014, they found that 92 per cent of Ontarians wanted the government to protect pollinators and 87 per cent were concerned about neonics. After the Ontario government’s announcement in November, polling showed that 77 per cent supported its goals.

2. Define the issue.
While the media focused largely on the decline of honeybees and associated costs, we have preferred instead to highlight the broader public interest. “Routine and widespread use of neonics is harmful,” explains Kim Jarvi, senior economist at the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO). While approving of Ontario’s important first step, Jarvi says, “Nurses are urging a complete ban to prevent the grave implications these neurotoxic chemicals have for the food supply, biodiversity and human health.”

3. Inform the political agenda.
Through letters, questionnaires asking candidates’ views and face-to-face meetings, environmental and health organizations sought to ensure that neonics were in the platforms of every major political party going into Ontario’s 2014 election. The winning Liberal party and others committed to action. Letter writing and meetings with all parties continue, to maintain the issue’s priority with government.

4. Build bridges.
From the outset, groups like mine, Ontario Nature, sought to understand the perspective and concerns of farmers – the people best placed to deliver solutions, but who would also be most directly affected by restrictions on the use of neonics. Through meetings and information-sharing, farmers and environmentalists are finding common ground from which to create a plan for the pesticide’s phase-down that is fair and workable for all.

5. Network.
Burgeoning networks have been the backbone of the campaign to date. Environmentalists and health professionals are working with beekeepers, farmers and scientists. Though we share common objectives, we have no central command overseeing the whole. Our efforts are only loosely coordinated, leaving us nimble, diverse and able to tap into other networks as opportunities arise.

At Ontario Nature, our provincial Youth Council organized a pre-election postcard campaign calling on Premier Wynne to restrict neonics. Council members continue to reach out through personal networks, blogs, videos, presentations and workshops, encouraging youth to participate in public consultations on the government’s proposal.

6. Uncover and share good information.
Science-based campaigns are the hallmark of organizations like Ontario Nature, CAPE, RNAO and the David Suzuki Foundation. One of the most helpful events in this campaign to date was the release of the Worldwide Integrated Assessment on Systemic Pesticides last summer. As it and other subsequent reports have been released, we have made sure that the evidence they bring to light is shared with stakeholders and reaches the eyes of political leaders.

Check out our previous neonics coverage or get more campaign advice.

Anne Bell is the Director of Conservation and Education at Ontario Nature, a charitable conservation organization that protects wild species and wild spaces through conservation, education and public engagement. 

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