Niagara’s Regional Chair Apologizes To Conservation Authority For “Offensive Content” Of Citizen’s Delegation

“I extend on behalf of Regional Council our apologies for the offensive content of the delegation (meaning Niagara resident Ed Smith) in question.” – Niagara Regional Chair Alan Caslin in a June 9th, 2016 letter to Niagara Peninsual Conservation Authority Board Chair Bruce Timms

By Doug Draper

Posted June 14th, 2016 on Niagara At Large

On May 19th of this year, St. Catharines citizen Ed Smith, accompanied by more than two dozen other Niagara area citizens, appeared as a delegation at a regional council meeting to present a case for doing a detailed “value for money” audit of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s operations.

Niagara Regional Chair Alan Caslin. File photo

Niagara Regional Chair Alan Caslin. File photo

Smith had appeared before the regional council a month earlier, on April 7th, 2016, along with numerous other citizens from across Niagara who packed the council chambers that night, to oppose a bid by the same Conservation Authority to “pilot” something called biodiversity offsetting – code for destroying a provincially significant wetland in one spot and attempting to grow a comparable wetland somewhere else – in order to make way for buildings and pavement.

At the May 19th meeting, Smith returned to the council to press for a detailed audit of the NPCA due to questions and concerns he and other citizens have over how the Conservation Authority’s administrators and board members are spending millions of dollars of money they receive each year – most of it coming from municipal taxpayers in Niagara, with some coming from the neighbouring regions of Hamilton and Haldimand.

Smith arrived at the May 19th meeting prepared to make a verbal presentation, accompanied by a Power Point Slideshow, and he brought a pile of documents he planned to circulate, when necessary, to back up his points.

But some regional councillors wondered if Smith should be allowed to speak at all since they said they only received the material he would be presenting within a few days of the meeting and since, as Bob Gale, a councillor from Niagara Falls, put it, some of the material might be libelous or defamatory.

Those councillors were narrowly overruled by others who voted to hear Smith. But when he finished, Bruce Timms, a St. Catharines regional councillor who also serves as chair of the NPCA’s board, asked for an opportunity to stand and address parts of the presentation he felt where defamatory to him, including a concern Smith raised that Timms may sometimes be engaged in a conflict of interest in his dual role as a regional councillor and board chair.

Timms said he has not engaged in any conflicts of interests in his role as NPCA chair. He also argued that the audit Smith was pressing for is not necessary because the Conservation Authority has an audit done on itself every year.

Niagara, Ontario citizen Ed Smith speaking in opposition of destroying significantly significant wetlands for urban development at an April 7th meeting of regional council

Niagara, Ontario citizen Ed Smith speaking in opposition of destroying significantly significant wetlands for urban development at an April 7th meeting of regional council

Following the meeting, Smith insisted that there was  nothing libelous or defamatory about raising concerns about the leadership of the NPCA, including possible conflicts of interests involving any of the regional councillors appointed by their council peers to serve on the NPCA board, or in his taking issue with a comment Fort Erie regional councillor and board member Sandy Annunsiata made at the April 7th meeting that the NPCA has not engaged in any lobbying for biodiversity offsetting.

Among the documents Smith was prepared to show at the May 19th but was not given time to, was one showing that in 2015 the NPCA board approved a contract worth $$24,000 with a professional communications firm called Kealy and Associates to develop a “strategic communications plan” for issues like biodiversity offsetting.

Niagara Regional chair Allan Caslin was away for the May 19th meeting but later met with St. Catharines regional councillor Brian Heit, whose turn it was to chair the meeting that night and who repeatedly argued that Smith should be allowed to speak.

In a June 14th interview with Niagara At Large, Heit said that Caslin told him “the Conservation Authority wanted an apology (for what unfolded around Smith’s delegation at the May 19th meeting) and I responded that I didn’t think it was appropriate to apologize because any citizen has a right to appear before council and raise concerns.

Heit added that Timms was given somewhere between 19 and 19 minutes – well over the 10 minutes usually allowed – to respond to Smith’s presentation.

Nevertheless, Caslin  forwarded the following letter of apology to Timms and the NPCA board, which was included in a package board members received for their June 15th meeting.

Office of the Regional Chair / Alan Caslin

Mr. Bruce Timms,

Chair, Board of Directors

Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority

June 9, 2016

Dear Mr. Timms,

During the meeting of Regional Council on Thursday May 19th, a delegation was made by Mr. Ed Smith, Resident, City of St. Catharines with respect to “Selection of Value for Money Audit Areas (Agenda item 11.1-Minutes AC 3-2016, Minute Item 6.1). Unfortunately, I was unable to attend this meeting and it was chaired by Councillor Brian Heit.

Upon review of the deliberations that evening, via video and recording and the meeting minutes, I am aware that you raised point of personal privilege. Your point stated that due to the libelous and defamatory content of the Power Point slideshow accompanying Mr. Smith’s presentation, that it should not form part of the official record of the meeting. While Chair Heit ruled against your point of privilege, Councillor Quirk challenged the ruling of the Chair, a challenge which was subsequently supported by a majority of council.

As a result of this decision by Regional chair in support of your concerns, I extend on behalf of Regional Council our apologies for the offensive content of the delegation in question, and any and all comments by the presenter that supported the allegations outlined in the delegation.

It has also come to my attention that Mr. Smith’s original submission of his presentation contained other allegations and defamatory statements that were requested to be removed by the Regional Clerk in consultation with legal counsel. I am concerned that regional staff are now editing content for defamation material and other information outside the jurisdiction of regional government. Thus, I have requested the Regional Clerk to review the process by which PowerPoint slideshows and delegation summaries are reviewed and provided to Regional Council in advance of meetings, and to ensure that all existing policies related to delegations and their content are strictly followed.

Once again, please accept my sincere apologies for the events of May 19th and any harm caused to you or other NPCA Board Members on Regional Council. I request that you circulate this letter to all members of the NPCA Board of Directors.

Respectfully,

Alan Caslin, BSc, MSc

Regional Chair, Niagara Region

Heit, who continues to stand behind his position to allow Smith to make his presentation that night, had the following to say about Caslin’s charge that the presentation included content that was “offensive.”

“Was there anything truly offensive? I don’t believe so other than he (Mr. Smith) was question what was going on (at the NPCA) and 11 of the 15 representatives (on the NPCA board) are representatives of the Region elected by the people,” Heit told Niagara At Large.

“So I guess if I was one of those (councillors sitting on the board) I might be offended too that someone was questioning what I was doing, if I was that sensitive. But if you were doing the right thing, why would you be offended. Prove that they are wrong by doing an audit.”

This past June 9th, at a more recent meeting of Niagara regional council, Thorold councillor Henry D’Angela said he would like to see an audit that goes beyond the annual audits Timms was talking about – an audit, said D’Angela, that takes a more detailed look at how public money the NPCA gets is being spent.

“I want to make sure we’re getting value for money from the NPCA,” D’Angela said, adding that he fails to understand why there has “always been reluctance to have this done.”

At the same June 9th meeting, a request by Smith to speak in favour of an audit again was refused and a motion to do an audit was ultimately defeated.

For his part, Caslin cast a tie-breaking vote, defeating a motion by D’Angela to defer the whole matter to the next meeting of regional council.

Niagara Regional Chair Alan Caslin, wearing the chain of office representing all citizens of Niagara, Ontario, in an ad supporting the candidacy of Harper Tory and since defeated St. Catharines MP Rick Dykstra during last October 2015 federal election

Niagara Regional Chair Alan Caslin, wearing the chain of office representing all citizens of Niagara, Ontario, in an ad supporting the candidacy of Harper Tory and since defeated St. Catharines MP Rick Dykstra during last October 2015 federal election

NOW IT IS YOUR TURN. Niagara 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.

Visit Niagara At Large at www.niagaraatlarge.com for more news and commentary for and from the greater bi-national Niagara region.

“A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

 

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6 responses to “Niagara’s Regional Chair Apologizes To Conservation Authority For “Offensive Content” Of Citizen’s Delegation

  1. Mr Draper,
    Thanks for staying on top of this story. It is of vital importance to the people of Niagara. There are shadows in the leadership of the NPCA and the Niagara Region, deep shadows, There is little doubt as to why an in-depth operational audit is so feared, Your continued vigilance sheds light and forces those who prefer to work amongst the shadows to scurry.

    Like

  2. Marcie Jacklin

    Thank you for publishing what is happening at the Niagara Regional Council meetings. I agree with Mr. Heit. I can’t find anything in Mr. Smith’s presentation that was offensive. If anyone deserves an apology it is Mr. Smith. Why were the issues Mr. Smith presented about the Board of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority not addressed properly? Why did they avoid the conflict of interest concerns? Why are they so scared of an audit of the NPCA? In my opinion the members resorted to name calling to draw attention away from these import issues.
    The public has a right to ask questions of the municipal council. Perhaps the members of the council should read this site about the Responsibilities of Municipal Council. http://www.mah.gov.on.ca/Page2107.aspx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Correct me if I am wrong but didn’t the Regional Chair in a recent news article NOT make reference to his approving this “Bio-Diversity” debacle put forth by the NPCA and his subsequent interaction with the Provincial Government relative to his support?
    If this is the case is it not a conflict of interest on the Chair’s part to go beyond the direction of the Regional Council members?
    This NPCA thing, the Burgoyne bridge cost discrepancies and other questionable over runs on projects during the reign of this council l;eaves the taxpaying citizens perplexed, concerned and annoyed.
    If we the stakeholders of this Region cannot ask a question concerning the above then we live in a dictatorship and the next election cannot happen soon enough……Amen
    Thank you Mr. Smith and your associates who attended Regional Council with you on your mission for Transparency and Resolution.
    Thank You Doug for your in depth coverage and publishing this and other recent debacles.
    Some elected Members of this Regional Council leave me with a very bad taste and to a degree, disgust.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Gail Benjafield

    I concur with all of the above. Sadly, the political partisanship on both the Regional Council, and the NPCA are widely well-known by anyone with a modicum of interest in following the issues. The Regional Chair ‘appears’ happy to be persuaded by his partisan colleagues, against the sober thoughtfulness of those not saluting his party. Cronyism anyone?

    Sadly too, some of the St. Catharines city council are also in the camp with this partisanship. I despair.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Regarding the submission that “a case exists for doing a detailed “value for money” audit of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s operations.” I agree wholeheartedly that this matter ought to have been pursued. It was perfectly legitimate to raise the point that citizens have questions and concerns over how the Conservation Authority’s administrators and board members are spending millions of dollars of money they receive each year. As most of the money come from municipal taxpayers in Niagara, with some coming from the neighbouring regions of Hamilton and Haldimand this is an instance in which citizens to have a “right to know”.

    “Some of the material might be libelous or defamatory.” That remark in and of itself ought to raise some red flags – if everything is, as implied, above board why would any material be interpreted as defamatory or libelous?? What is being hidden?

    The concern that Timms may sometimes be engaged in a conflict of interest in his dual role as a regional councillor and board chair is a matter that definitely ought to be investigated – if for no other purpose than to prove no conflict exists. “Timms said he has not engaged in any conflicts of interests in his role as NPCA chair. He also argued that the audit Smith was pressing for is not necessary because the Conservation Authority has an audit done on itself every year.” Again, another red flag – how valid is an audit they conduct “on themselves”? If they are conducting the audit then clearly it would be in their own interests to find themselves in the clear. How can this be allowed?

    “Heit said that Caslin told him “the Conservation Authority wanted an apology (for what unfolded around Smith’s delegation at the May 19th meeting) and I responded that I didn’t think it was appropriate to apologize because any citizen has a right to appear before council and raise concerns.” Heit is absolutely correct and we, as citizens whose tax dollars pay the salaries of these “elected individuals”, have very right to raise concerns and hold them to a high level of trust and integrity.

    Furthermore, I would suggest that Timms was owed no apology and he is perhaps “protesting too much”.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sheila Krekorian

    Where are concerned citizens supposed to go when they believe the committees they fund are not acting in the community’s best interest?
    The incestuous nature of the relationship between NRC and NPCA needs to end. Normally, I’d say “Call the Police” but members of NRC are also Police Board members so we know how that would turn out…..another love letter.

    Liked by 1 person

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