Indigenous leaders have urged provincial politicians to ban the spraying of glyphosate in New Brunswick forests, expressing skepticism about federal scientific reports that found the herbicide is safe to use.
They told the legislature's committee on climate change and environmental stewardship that the product is a poison that is harming forests, rivers, and plant and animal life.
"It's easy to sit here and say from Health Canada's perspective that there's no danger. I beg to differ. I don't think the studies have been done," said Chief Terry Richardson of the Pabineau First Nation.
Glyphosate, used mainly by the province's forestry and agriculture sectors to control weeds and other vegetation, has been the subject of several lawsuits that allege it is a health risk.
In June, the committee held a week of hearings on the issue without inviting Indigenous representatives to appear.
After an Eel Ground First Nation forestry manager made a surprise appearance on the final day of meetings in June, members decided to invite other Indigenous representatives to appear this week.
Alma Brooks, a grandmother representing the Wolastoq Grand Council, told MLAs that corporate forestry policies aimed at maximizing profit are harming the environment and contributing to climate change.
Trees "breathe in carbon dioxide and they breathe out oxygen, which we need," she said. "So there's an interdependency between our lives and theirs. And to just ignore that for a buck, that's insane."
Ron Tremblay, the council's grand chief, said the province must "press pause right now" on glyphosate spraying because of its impact not just on forests but on plants and berries traditionally used as food and medicine.
Health Canada has stood by the scientific evidence it used to approve the continued use of glyphosate in weed killers, and says it has been found unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans at current exposure levels.
But Richardson said he wants more studies done.
He also argued that eliminating spraying would spur job creation in the forest industry by requiring the hiring of more people to clear brush by hand.
"It's a chemical that made us lazy," he said. "Let's be realistic.
"Let's get away from pesticides and let's go back into silviculture. Let's do it the right way. A little bit of elbow grease and hard work, and we're not spraying. Yes, there's an added cost, but how do you not put that added cost [in] when you look at the environment?"
In June, officials from Forest New Brunswick, Blueberries New Brunswick and the Agricultural Alliance of New Brunswick argued against a ban, saying the proper use of glyphosate is safe.
Environment and Climate Change Minister Gary Crossman was part of the committee meeting Tuesday and disagreed with the suggestion that the Indigenous representatives are skeptical about Health Canada's approval of glyphosate.
"I'm not sure skeptical is the word," he said. "They put a lot of comments out there from First Nations, their concerns, the people they deal with and work with, their concerns about the food they eat, the trees in the forest, medicine in the past, in their history."
The Blaine Higgs government has refused to ban glyphosate. Asked if common ground was possible on the issue, Crossman said consultation with Indigenous communities was key.
"They want to feel they're part of it."