Photos by Yvonne Bambrick and Tammy Thorne
Interview by Tammy Thorne
Maggie MacDonald is a bon vivant bicyclist. A well known artist and activist about town, Maggie usually walks to work these days where she advocates for a better environment as program manager of the toxics program at Environmental Defence, one of Canada’s most effective environmental action organizations. dandyhorse asked this force of nature about the birds and the bees.
Have you ever worn formal attire or ridden to a gala event on your bike?
I want to say yes but the truth is not really... only halfway. I do have a taste for un-bike- friendly footwear when it comes to dressing up.
Have you worn heels while riding?
I have tried. It was, for me, a mistake.
Have you ever ridden your bike while carrying instruments or equipment or art?
I’ve carried a lot of things on my bike. Art supplies, snacks. In 2002 I played a Reclaim the Streets show with a band on a bike-drawn cart that served as a stage. Gradually the protest morphed into a party at my then apartment on D’Arcy Street. The lead cyclist was renowned designer Jeremy Laing.
Photo in print and on our homepage by Yvonne Bambrick.
What’s your favourite thing about riding a bike?
The air in my hair. The feeling that I’m flying.
What do you think the city of Toronto should do to make cycling safer?
Examine the intersections where collisions occur and try to make those spots safer. That would be the first step. More needs to be done to improve safety.
How important is transit to reducing the envi- ronmental footprint of a city? Are bikes part of the solution?
Bikes are definitely part of the solution. The World Health Organization considers air pol- lution to be a carcinogen to humans. Biking is a great way to reduce auto exhaust fumes from trans- portation. Improving public transit is key as well.
What’s the number 1 thing the city could do right now to be more environmentally friendly?
There are many things the city can do, it’s hard to choose a number one.I am a fan of the ChemTRAC program which tracks pollution in Toronto and encourages businesses to reduce their environmental impacts. Of course expanding and maintaining cycling infrastructure and public transit is very important as well.
Tell us about the plight of the birds and the bees please. What role do pesticides and other toxins play in the decline of these precious pollinators?
Neonic pesticides have played a role in the decline of bee populations as well as other pollinators. Neonics are subject to new restrictions in Ontario, and the federal pesticides management agency just made a step in the right direction by ending something called conditional registrations, which allowed companies to register a pesticide and bring it to market without first providing data regarding environmental impacts.
The pesticides could be sold on condition that data would be provided at a later date. Some neonics were re-registered multiple times without this data ever being submit- ted. I testified before Parliament’s standing committee on health last year on this topic and I am glad to see that conditional regis- trations will stop.
A recent report from the Auditor General’s office showed that there were pesticides found to be unsafe that were still on the market 11 years after it was determined they should no longer be used. So it’s not just a matter of reg- ulations and oversight, but how the rules are observed and enforced that matters when it comes to pesticides.
What has Environmental Defence done to help reduce toxic materials in our water and air?
On the pesticides front, Environmental Defence worked very hard for the Ontario regulations on neonics to be passed.
Overall, Environmental Defence has been working on this issue for 11 years now. A lot of work being done in the area of endocrine disrupting chemicals, meaning chemicals such as BPA and phthalates that can mimic hormones and have been linked to human health and ecosystem impacts, from cancer, to reproductive toxicity. We offer plain language materials on the issue, but readers who want a deeper look at endocrine disrupting chemicals should check out the report issued by the World Health Organization and United Nations Environment Programme on the topic in 2013.
We do everything from participate in government committees on toxics policies, such as the federal chemicals management plan stakeholders advisory, to working with companies to support the transition away from chemicals that harm human health and the environment to safer alternatives.
Environmental Defence most recently worked on a study of BPA in food cans, and as a result of this collaboration with five US NGOs, Campbell’s and Del Monte announced they will be taking BPA out of all their cans in North America by 2017.
We have also recently worked on detoxing cosmetics, finding safer alternatives in the dry cleaning industry, moving the federal government to ban microbeads, and researching indoor air quality and cleaning products.
What do you think of Catherine McKenna so far as the environment minister and Trudeau’s policies around climate change mitigation?
Minister McKenna has been hard at work on the climate file since day one. I am glad to see her dedication to the issue. The approach on this file has definitely improved. So far, climate has been the focus, but there are also promising signs of what’s going to be done to protect the health and environment of Cana- dians from toxics chemicals.
What do you think of the new federal government’s mantra “sunny ways”? Is positivity in politics productive?
I think positivity is often the right approach. We have seen a few important things moving on the environmental file since the election, which is a good thing. Of course it is early days yet and the new ministers have only just begun. We’ve heard some great promises, but eventually those words must be turned into action. Environmental Defence looks forward to working with the government to get things done.
Is cycling a political activity?
I think this depends on your personal philosophy. Some of us believe that everything is political!
From the artist, Jimmy Chiale who painted the mural at Shaw and Bloor that provides the back drop for this Heels on Wheels shoot:
“First, I am proud to be a cyclist because biking doesn't pollute the planet. Two, it keeps me active and it’s quick and accessible. And, three, it's cheap. I am proud of Toronto for a million-and-one reasons. It's open-minded. clean, quiet, growing, artsy, sportive, lots of opportunities, activities, education, and celebration.”
Our new issue of dandyhorse has arrived! dandyhorse is available for FREE at Urbane Cyclist, Bikes on Wheels, Cycle Couture, Sweet Pete's, Hoopdriver, Batemans, Velofix, and Steamwhistle.Our new issue of dandyhorse includes cover art by Kent Monkman, interviews with Catherine McKenna and the women behind Toronto's first feminist bike zine, lots of news and views on Bloor, Under Gardiner and the West Toronto Railpath and much, much more! Get dandy at your door or at better bike and book shops in Toronto.