News from the Ontario NDP and Welland Riding MPP Cindy Forster
(Niagara At Large contacted the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s new communications person this March 20th to ask who would be the best person in the agency to do an interview around this – given the rapid liquidation of staff in the recent past – and has so far received no response.
Whether this agency, which only exists because we, the taxpayers of Niagara and Ontario, pay for it, responds or not, Niagara At Large will continue to reveal more on allegations of cronyism in this organization and its bowing at the knees of developers over protecting our green spaces.)
QUEEN’S PARK, March 20th, 2014 – Welland MPP Cindy Forster says residents of the Niagara region are becoming increasing concerned about the dealings of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority.
“Conservation authorities have an important job preserving and protecting our land and waterways for Ontarians. Recently, the actions of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority have raised concerns,” explained Forster during question period. “Their strategic plan shows a shift toward land acquisition disposal and development, and my constituents and elected officials are telling me that property development seems more important than conservation by the NPCA.”
According to Forster, a recent land purchase made in Wainfleet by the authority was conditional on the municipality waiving developer fees amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue for the town. “Our conservation authority needs to be focused on keeping water clean, preventing floods and keeping our residents safe from natural hazards, not cutting deals for developers,” said Forster.
Forster urged the Minister of Natural Resources to intervene.
“Does the minister share the concerns of the people of Welland and Niagara?” asked Forster. “Is the minister prepared to conduct a review or an audit of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority to ensure it’s meeting its mandate?”
Niagara At Large is posting below the full exchange in the Ontario legislature this March 20th between Niagara, Ontario area MPP Cindy Forster and the porvince’s Minister of Natural Resources David Orazietti.
Ms. Cindy Forster: My question is to the Minister of Natural Resources. Today I rise to echo—
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Sorry. Excuse me. Stop the clock. The member from Oakville will withdraw.
Mr. Kevin Daniel Flynn: I withdraw, Speaker.
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you. Carry on.
Ms. Cindy Forster: Today I rise to echo concerns of my constituents as well as elected officials throughout the Niagara region. As the minister knows, conservation authorities have an important job preserving and protecting our land and waterways for Ontarians. Recently, the actions of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority have raised concerns. Their strategic plan shows a shift toward land acquisition disposal and development, and my constituents and elected officials are telling me that property development seems more important than conservation by the NPCA. Does the minister share the concerns of the people of Welland and Niagara about this direction?
Hon. David Orazietti: I’m pleased to respond. I’ve received a letter today from the member from Welland, so I’m happy to review that and get back to the member, but with respect to conservation authorities, what I am pleased to report is that, since 2003, our government has provided over $130 million to 36 different conservation authorities across the province. This year we’re going to be providing $12 million as well. With respect to the governance of conservation authorities, the Conservation Authorities Act, 1946 establishes these organizations, and the responsibility and makeup of conservation authorities, as the member knows, is directed largely by elected representatives of municipalities. In fact, the board of directors—they’re responsible for making all staffing and hiring decisions with respect to the general manager and the chief administrative officer…
(Hon. David Orazietti)
… In fact, the board of directors—they’re responsible for making all staffing and hiring decisions with respect to the general manager and the chief administrative officer of the conservation authorities.
I’ll have more to say in the supplementary, Speaker.
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?
Ms. Cindy Forster: I urge the minister to look into this matter. Just yesterday, the NPCA purchased a piece of land in Wainfleet with regional taxpayer dollars. That was rejected and deemed unsuitable by the Niagara regional council in 2012. The purchase of that land was conditional on Wainfleet cutting a developer a break and waiving the township’s 5% in lieu of parkland deal—thousands of dollars for that municipality; thousands of taxpayer dollars from the region.
Our conservation authority needs to be focused on keeping water clean, preventing floods and keeping our residents safe from natural hazards, not cutting deals for developers.
To the minister again, is he prepared to conduct a review or an audit of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority to ensure it’s meeting its mandate?
Hon. David Orazietti: To the member, with the respect to the accountability of conservation authorities across the province, they are audited regularly, and the funding that we do provide, they are accountable for. The large majority of members on conservation authority boards are elected representatives from municipalities and, perhaps, some of these questions would be best directed to those municipalities in the regional area.
The reality is that those individuals who are on these boards are accountable to their municipal colleagues who are elected representatives as well.
I’m happy to review this, happy to look into this, but those are independent boards and agencies that are responsible for the decisions that they make and are accountable to their local electorate.
Finally, here is an OPEN LETTER from Cindy Forster to Ontario’s Minister of Environment which, among other things, speaks to the disturbing cronyism involving filling new administrative jobs at an NPCA that is paid for with our taxdollars. And yes, we are paying for this!
Letter from Welland Riding MPP Cinder Forster –
Hon. David Orazietti, MPP Ministry of Natural Resources
Suite 6630, 6th Floor, Whitney Block
99 Wellesley Street West
Toronto, Ontario M7A 1W3
I am writing this letter to echo the concerns of city councilors, regional councilors, conservationists, residents of the Niagara Region as well as past and present members of the board of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority over the recent actions of the NPCA.
Since January of 2012 the NPCA has termination of no less than 20% of their staff, including many long-serving senior positions such as, Senior Planner, Engineer, Senior Corporate Manager, Conservation Planner, Director of Land Management and the Site Administrator of Ball’s Falls. These positions have been filled with junior employees, some just out of school, one without a public posting and given new titles such as: Supervisor of Construction Approvals, Planning Approvals Analyst and Operations Manager.
These personnel changes have not been the only major changes taking place. The NPCA recently released their Strategic Plan that outlines their goals for the next four years. Concerns have been raised over the direction in the plan and the shift towards the potential sale, purchase and development of NPCA land.
In the plan, one of the key objectives is the ‘Streamlined, Efficient Delivery of Development Approvals Process’, which clearly defines development as a priority. Also, I understand that a separate committee has been struck to deal specifically with property acquisition and disposal. The committee is comprised of many from the development community.
The NPCA’s new shift in direction is evident in a current land deal that was confirmed only yesterday. The NPCA has purchased a 15 acre parcel of land in Wainfleet, which was conditional on the Wainfleet Council waiving their 5% in lieu of parkland fee. On March 10th, the St. Catharines Standard reported that the NPCA was urging the Wainfleet Council to waive the fee to give the developer a break. Not only does this mean a loss of precious tax dollars for Wainfleet, but this is a piece of land which the Region of Niagara Council deemed unsuitable for purchase in 2012.
According to the mandate of Conservation Authorities of Ontario, the NPCA is here to ensure that Ontario’s rivers, lakes and streams are properly safeguarded, managed and restored; to protect, manage and restore Ontario’s woodlands, wetlands and natural habitat; to develop and maintain programs that will protect life and property from natural hazards such as flooding and erosion; to provide opportunities for the public to enjoy, learn from and respect Ontario’s natural environment.
Many are worried that the NPCA is diverting away from their mandate.
I am writing this letter to request that the Minister of Natural Resources:
- Allocate Ministry staff to review the recent personnel issues at the NPCA.
- Review the NPCA and their adherence to their mandate and Ontario Conservation Authority standards.
- Institute a moratorium on current and future NPCA land acquisitions and disposals until the reviews are completed.
I strongly urge the Minister to take these steps to ensure that the NPCA is operating in accordance with their mandate and Ontario Conservation Authority regulations.
Sincerely, Cindy Forster, MPP Welland Riding
Cc: Welland City Council, Port Colborne City Council, Thorold City Council, Pelham Town Council, Niagara Regional Council, Niagara Falls City Council, Niagara-on-the-Lake Town Council, Fort Erie Town Council, West Lincoln Town , Council, Grimsby Town Council., St. Catharines City Council
(NOW IT IS YOUR TURN. If you care about protecting and preserving green space in Niagara, Nagara At Large encourages you to share your views on this post. A reminder that we only post comments by individuals who share their first and last name with them.)