BEACONSFIELD, Que. — Tensions erupted in a Montreal suburb after councillors voted to pass a contentious summer-long ban on leaf blowers.
Protesters gathered with signs outside city hall in Beaconsfield, Que., as a debate that has divided the community’s 20,000 residents came to a head Monday evening.
Mayor Georges Bourelle said councillors voted 5-1 in favour of banning leaf blowers between June 1 and Sept. 30 starting next year, despite vocal opposition from many of the more than 100 residents who attended the meeting.
Police were called as a precaution after one councillor was allegedly threatened by a person who opposed the regulations, the mayor said.
Bourelle said he could barely get a word out between the heckling, yelling and other disruptions from the crowd.
During question period, some protesters shouted down neighbours who voiced their support for the regulations, he said.
“I think a number of (supporters) would have come up to the mic, but … after they saw the intimidation and the bullying that took place, I doubt that they were willing to do it.”
Bourelle said leaf blowers raise health concerns due to noise and air pollution, as well as the dispersion of fine particles he says can contribute respiratory and cardiovascular illness.
He cited World Health Organization guidelines on exposure to noise and airborne particulate matter, saying there are studies to suggest that leaf blowers violate these standards.
But opponents of the leaf-blower restrictions refute Bourelle’s claims as not backed up by concrete evidence.
The managing director of the Canadian Urban Environmental Health Research Consortium has said the health effects of prolonged exposure to noise, fuel emissions and airborne particles have been well documented, but more research is needed to assess the actual level of risk posed by leaf blowers.
Several business owners have rallied against the summer-long ban on leaf blowers, saying the landscaping tool is essential to their operations during peak season.
Before the city’s intervention, resident Toni Lemieux said leaf blowers weren’t particularly high on her radar, nor was she active in municipal politics.
But Lemieux said council’s unwillingness to hear citizens’ concerns about the leaf-blower restrictions “lit a fire” under her.
She decided to organize Monday’s demonstration, which she branded with the hashtags #NotMyMayor and #BringBackTransparency.
“They seem to be treating this in a very paternalistic way,” said Lemieux. “There was no process to hear us out or try to see if there’s a better way to manage this.”
While she doesn’t approve of neighbour-on-neighbour incivility, Lemieux said respect is a two-way street, and in her estimation, councillors have shown little respect for their constituents’ objections.
She said many citizens would be amenable to less stringent restrictions on leaf blowers.
A city-commissioned poll gauging public sentiment on the debate was made public Tuesday.
The poll found that only 28 per cent of 600 residents surveyed were in favour of a ban on all types leaf blowers during the summer months, while there was majority support for restrictions on gas-powered machines.
The results of the phone survey, conducted by Leger between April 17 and 22, were considered accurate within a margin of plus or minus four percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
As far as Bourelle is concerned, the leaf-blower matter has been settled, and he’s confident council came to the right decision, regardless of the potential political fallout.
“I don’t think that council manages this city’s affairs based on elections,” he said.
Other Canadian cities have faced their own battles to muffle leaf blowers.
Two nearby suburbs of Montreal have implemented restrictions on leaf-blowers in recent years, said Bourelle.
Leaf blowers cannot be operated in Vancouver’s west end, and there are regulations on the machines’ use throughout the city.