Citizens Asking For Audit Accused Of Engaging In “Smear Campaign”
By Doug Draper – reporter/publisher, Niagara At Large
Posted May 20th, 2016
Niagara, Ontario – Niagara’s regional council barely approved a motion asking the board of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority to allow an audit of its operations during a meeting that saw some of the councillors accusing a citizens delegation of engaging in “misinformation,” borderline “libelous comments” and a “smear campaign.
The motion asking the NPCA to subject itself to a “full operational audit” that the regional government would pay for squeaked through at the May 19th meeting in a 14 to 13 vote after Bruce Timms, a St. Catharines regional councillor and chair of the Conservation Authority’s board, stressed that another audit is unnecessary because the NPCA had one done on itself by a “reputable auditor” for its 2015 operating year and for years before that.
“You are not going to get much value for our money because it has already been done,” Timms insisted. “We (regional council) have more pressing issues to deal with.”
“This is nonsense,” added Andy Petrowski, another regional councillor from St. Catharines. “I’m not saying that the NPCA is perfect (but) this is political,” he added, echoing a theme in a phone interview with Niagara At Large earlier in the week when he argued that it often seems to be the case that “lefties” or liberals want to audit an organization when the majority of people sitting on it are right-wing or conservative.
However, other regional councillors, including George Marshall of Welland, Henry D’Angelo of Thorold, Bill Hodgson of Lincoln, Gary Burroughts of Niagara-on-the-Lake and Dave Augustyn of Pelham, said they’ve received numerous expressions of concern about the way the NPCA operates and they believe an independent audit would help answer those concerns, one way or another.
“I hope that the NPCA board will also see the value of this,” Augustyn said.
The NPCA has become a focus of growing public attention in recent years over land dealings, firing and hiring practices and other matters.
In recent months, the Conservation Authority has found itself under fire from citizens packing its meetings to protest its interest in asking the province for approval to use something called “biodiversity off-setting” (plowing over acres of wetland designated as “provincially significant” and attempting to reproduce a wetland somewhere else to make way for residential and commercial development.
Ed Smith, a Niagara resident who headed up a delegation of citizens supporting an audit, was made to weight for about four hours into the meeting before he was finally allowed to speak. And when he did, Smith began by noting that the NPCA’s annual budget involves the spending of more than $7 million municipal tax dollars and citizens want an audit to determine if those dollars are being spent.
At that point, the atmosphere at the council meeting turned from bad to worse as some councillors accused Smith of making charges that were untrue, potentially defamatory and that should be stricken from the council record.
In all of this reporter’s more than three and a half decades of following municipal politics in this region, the treatment of Smith and other citizens who sat waiting for hours in the chambers and outside of it twice, during prolonged closed sessions, by a number of councillors was about as discourteous and ugly as it gets.
On that note, Niagara At Large will take a pause for the Victoria Day long weekend and will be posting more detailed reports this coming week on the disgraceful conduct of too many on this regional council, and on why it is time for the provincial government to intervene and clean house at a Niagara Conservation Authority that has compromised its historic mission to serve as a guardian for what we have left of our natural heritage in this region.
Some are also beginning to wonder whether it might be better to get rid of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority and other Conservation Authorities across the province completely given the apparent confusion and passing the buck over the question of which level of government – municipalities or the province – has any jurisdiction or oversight over their operations.
If the administrations and boards of Conservation Authorities were dissolved and the good front-line staff and watersheds and conservation areas they are now responsible for were placed under the employ and jurisdiction of the Ontario Ministry of Environment, at least people would know who is accountable for addressing any questions or concerns they may have, so one line of thought goes.
Stay tuned for all of this and more in the days following this Victoria Day long weekend.
In the meantime, if you cross paths with any of our municipal or provincial politicians on the long weekend, let them know how much that protecting what’s left of our natural heritage matters to you.
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