Now Madam Minister, It Is Also Time To Focus On Taking Action On Protecting Wetlands, Biodiversity & On Auditing A Conversation Authority Many Have Lost Trust In
A News Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted September 23rd, 2016 on Niagara At Large
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne unveiled a set of mandates for members of her cabinet this September 23rd, with one for her Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, Kathryn McGarry, focusing on issues that have become a focus on quite a bit of public debate in Niagara lately.
Those issues include what to do about protecting wetlands and strengthening biodiversity in the province, and how Conservation Authorities should be government in the future.
All three of these issues have generated a good deal of heated discussion and debate in recent months as growing numbers of residents across Niagara have joined efforts to save hundreds of acres of forest, savannah and wetlands – located in the southwest end of Niagara Falls and known to many as Thundering Waters Forest – from being bulldozed away for urban development.
It is a campaign that rages on as Wynne – her popularity and that of her Liberal government tanking in the polls – attempts to get back on track with a Throne Speech, delivered earlier this month, and again this September 23rd, with the release of “ministers’ mandate letters,” highlighting priorities the premier and representatives of her cabinet promise to pursue as her government crosses the midway point of a four-year term.
The issues of biodiversity and of protecting what is left of Niagara’s wetlands – now down to about 10 per cent of what were here a century ago – moved to center stage early this 2016 when the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority began more publicly playing around with a scheme called “biodiversity offsetting.”
Biodiversity offsetting – as much as the Conservation Authority’s CEO, Carmen D’Angelo, told a meeting last January of some 200 area residents his agency did not yet have a clear definition of – turns out to be code for destroying a real wetland in one place and trying to grow one like it somewhere else to make way for urban development.
In short order, members of Niagara’s public discovered that the NPCA was looking at possibly trying this offsetting business out on about 13 acres of wetland, mapped out by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources as “provincially significant,” in the Thundering Waters Forest area where a China-based corporation is proposing to develop a billion-dollar “Paradise” community, complete with residential and commercial space, and a privately operated health care facility.
The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s interest in this Paradise project drew growing public attention to the NPCA itself – an agency with a board stacked with municipal politicians with little or no background in conservation, and an agency that is funded with millions of municipal tax dollars, yet seems not to be accountable to either municipal or provincial governments.
Concerns over the NPCA’s firing and hiring practices, and questions over land transactions, the tendering of contracts and, more generally, how it spends millions of dollars of money taxpayers in Niagara, Hamilton and Haldimand collectively appear collectively forced to give it each year led to a delegation of citizens going to Niagara regional council last spring, asking for an independently done, detailed, value for dollar audit of its operations.
That request received a negative reception from the council, with some of the strongest opposition to it coming from regional councillors who sit on the NPCA board.
So here we are this September 23rd, with no word yet on what Wynne’s government will do about schemes like biodiversity offsetting or whether it has any interest at all in making this agency more accountable by subjecting it to an independent audit, and we’ve got a mandate letter from the premier and her Minister of Natural Resources, talking about continuing a review of provincial legislation government Conservation Authorities, and looking at strategies for protecting biodiversity and “stopping the net loss of wetlands.”
Given the ever growing level of public concern over how the Conservation Authority in Niagara is doing business, and over what will become of what’s left of our wetlands and biodiversity in this region of the province, all of these continued reviews over what government should do in these areas seems like little more than a delay tactic.
When is the Wynne government finally going to show some leadership on these matters and take some decisive action?
To see the Ontario government’s September 23rd media release on the ministers’ mandate letters and links to each individual letter, including the one prepared for the Minister of Natural Resources, click on – Ontario Releases Ministers’ Mandate Letters
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