- MIKE ADLER
- Oct 13, 2010 – 8:14 AM
Blood-sucking insects are on the minds of Toronto voters and in the platforms of leading candidates for mayor.
Joe Pantalone and George Smitherman have both released plans to step up city efforts against bed bugs.
Rob Ford also pledged through a spokesperson this week to put necessary resources toward fighting the pests, which are spreading in the city in infestations often difficult and expensive to destroy.
The Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations issued a statement this week saying bed bugs in the city are “an epidemic” but laws assigning landlords’ responsibility to exterminate them are “unclear.”
Landlords are required to fight the infestations, but there is no standard to follow and spraying with pesticide alone has a low rate of success. Advocates for tenants say landlords also are not required to inform prospective tenants about an infestation.
The federation’s board of directors said it is looking for a mayor who will come up with a clear plan of action.
Smitherman, who has promised a “war” on bed bugs if elected, announced last week he would have the city’s health department establish “clear protocols for tenants, property owners and landlords” in fighting infestations.
The former MPP also promised a public campaign to “de-stigmatize infestation” and a confidential registry of infestations so tenants and landlords can easily report them.
He also said he will direct Toronto Public Health to “make use of existing powers of entry” to wipe out the bugs – implying the city has not been aggressive enough in attacking infestations before they spread through apartment buildings.
Pantalone, though he said the city is a North American leader in the fight against the bugs, suggested the department has not had “adequate resources” to control them and has not considered “drastic intervention” necessary.
That means the “full weight of dealing with the problem has not been applied,” said Pantalone, who a promised a city-wide strategy including a “response protocol” and public awareness campaign.
The veteran councillor also said he wants the province to require landlords to pay the cost of exterminations.
Adrienne Batra, a Ford campaign spokesperson, said Ford will work with all levels of government and Toronto Community Housing on a bed bug action plan. Ford believes the city does not need to hire managers or consultants, but should take action with partners it already has, she added Tuesday,
Just how many of the small, flat insects are in the city is hard to guess, but calls to Toronto Public Health on bed bugs rose from 147 in 2006 to 1,500 last year. In the first eight months of 2010, the department logged 1,300 related calls.
A spokesperson said the department won’t comment on candidate platforms, but in a written statement this week said the issue requires responses from governments and community agencies because it is too big for any one organization to handle.
The department’s Toronto Bed Bug Project, already at work with a variety of partners on anti-bed bug strategies, provides fact sheets in 13 languages on how to detect the insects and what to do once they are found.
For more vulnerable tenants – people who are elderly or living with poverty or disabilities making it difficult to prepare a home for treatment – the city may inspect the site or call the landlord or a pest control firm to make sure an infestation is dealt with, but “much more support is needed,” the statement said.
“TPH does not receive funding specifically to undertake this work,” the department added. “Public Health Inspectors and Public Health Nurses have been reassigned from other programs to work on this project, but this is not sustainable in the long term.”
The department also said the city cannot enter a home without consent unless it believes an immediate health hazard justifies obtaining an entry warrant from a justice of the peace. “This is not a regular course of action and we must have good solid grounds to do this.”
It is thought increased travel, resistance to some chemical pesticides and bans on others have aided the spread of bed bugs.