“Nice Guy” Takes On “Activist” Groups

When anti-pesticide groups show up to speak at public meetings, Jeffery Lowes urges all councillors and officials to arm themselves accordingly.

“Cover your ass,” said Lowes, director of governmental and industry relations for M-REP Communications, a PR firm that he founded based in Kingston, Ontario.

“The second an activist steps into your jurisdiction and wants to start talking to you, pull out a digital tape recorder and put it on the table. It will really tone them down,” he said, in a presentation at the recent Manitoba Weed Supervisors annual general meeting.

The former insurance and investment broker, who described his company as a one-man operation working out of his basement “cave” using video tape footage gleaned from public meetings and a wall full of sticky notes, took on the task of keeping a watchful eye on activist groups in defence of the province’s lawncare industry three years ago during the debates that led up to the Ontario cosmetic pesticide ban.

Having an audio or video recording of activists at public meetings eliminate the possibility of “he said, she said” arguments in court.

“Instead, it’s Mr. Activist, this is what you said in front of this council on this day. It’s exactly what you said, verbatim,” he said.

“You’ll be surprised how much crow these people are going to have to eat.”

In a role that seems part private investigator and part PR firm, Lowes claims to have uncovered evidence that activist groups routinely misrepresent both their own credentials and scientific research in their “smoke and mirrors” goal of convincing politicians to enact pesticide bans.

Proper science, and not the court of public opinion, should govern environmental stewardship policies, according to Lowes.

He noted that the Sierra Club website has a kit available for free download offering tips on how to form groups, influence politicians, and enlist local doctors and use medical reports in pushing for pesticide bans.

“There’s a number of people out there who feel the need to impose their beliefs and lifestyles on the public,” he said.

“And if they use false or misleading information – the end justifies the means – they may sometimes cross a legal line. That’s where I come in, because I’m such a nice guy.”

The threat to established businesses is real, he said.

Prior to the ban, at the end of 2007, the Ontario Turfgrass Association had 1,300 licensed companies, with 6,300 licensed professionals, 5,000 technicians, and 10,000 support staff with sales of $1.26 billion in the lawncare business alone.

“Since the ban came in, we’re down $420 million in the first year,” said Lowes. “It’s not chump change. They’ve really taken it in the teeth.”

In fighting the activists, he advocated that municipalities adhere to four principles.

First, all products used must be licensed by the Pesticide Management Regulatory Authority (PMRA) – no homebrews. Second, all products must “work” and third, they must be “cost effective.” Fourth, they must not increase the “environmental footprint” by requiring repeated treatments.

“If you apply these four principles, you’re indifferent whether the product is organic or synthetic,” he said.

“As a professional applicator, a municipality, or a province, it doesn’t matter. We’re not siding with either the organic or the chemical side.”

daniel. winters @fbcpublishing.com

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