10/07/2014 10:28 EDT | Updated 12/07/2014 05:59 EST

Ont. watchdog wants province to act on pesticides linked to bee deaths

Ontario's environmental watchdog is recommending the province act on its own to restrict the use of neonicotinoid pesticides in 2015 if a federal initiative now under way proves ineffective.

Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller says there is abundant evidence linking declines in honey bee populations to use of the chemicals to treat seeds for corn, soybeans and similar crops.

Miller says Ontario faces a potential ecological and economic crisis because of the disappearance of bees, which pollinate hundreds of crops in the province.

The federal government is studying the effects of three of the pesticides on bee colonies in agricultural areas, after putting in place a plan to mitigate dust during seed treatment.

Ontario has said it will wait for the results of those trials before it makes a recommendation to restrict neonicotinoids, as has been done in Europe and proposed in the U.S.

Miller recommends Ontario act even if the federal government doesn’t. It would be Health Canada's role to ban neonicotinoids.

He urges the province to adopt an ecological approach to pest control that minimizes use of pesticides. Crop rotation, improved planting techniques and pest resistant crops can help eliminate the need for pesticides in agriculture.

Miller urged Ontario to continue to commit money to the problem, even when its current research fund runs out.

He recommends the Ontario government commit longer-term funding to study how the pesticides remain in soil and water and move within ecosystems as more creatures, including birds and reptiles, may be at risk from neonicotinoids.

In his annual report, Miller also calls on the government to ban logging in Algonquin Park, the only one of the 339 provincial parks where timber harvesting is allowed.

The commissioner says the Environment Ministry must do more to resolve what he calls the health crisis at a First Nation near Sarnia, which receives millions of kilograms of air pollution from the nearby petro-chemical complex known as "chemical valley."

He calls the situation a "historic failure," and says it's "truly shameful" that a promised review of the cumulative effects of air pollution on the Aamjiwnaang First Nation still isn't done after five years.

Miller also slams the Liberal government's efforts to control urban sprawl in the Greater Golden Horseshoe from Niagara to Toronto, saying allowing low density projects only puts pressure on municipalities to open more lands for development.