The NPCA “has operated as a closed shop (and) has shown no respect for the principle of serving the common good and protecting the unique natural environmental features we share in the Niagara Peninsula.” – St. Catharines, Ontario City Councillor Bruce Williamson
By Doug Draper
Posted December 1st & 2nd 2016 on Niagara At Large
Niagara, Ontario –A St. Catharines councillor is planning to put a motion before the city’s council this coming Monday, December 5th, urging the Ontario government “to immediately initiate an appropriately thorough investigation and forensic audit of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority.”
The motion, drafted by veteran St. Catharines councillor Bruce Williamson, follows in the wake of a public call Welland Riding MPP Cindy Forster made two weeks ago to Kathryn McGarry, Ontario’s Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, for a full and independent forensic audit of the NPCA.
A call for an audit of the same body was also made to Niagara’s regional council earlier this year by a delegation of area residents, led by St. Catharines citizen activist Ed Smith, who was recently threatened by the NPCA with a “defamation” lawsuit for circulating a report called “A Call for Accountability at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority,” detailing a long list of concerns and questions around the way the NPCA operates, including the firing and hiring of staff.
The same report, which was recently slammed as a venue for “falsehoods and fabricated documents” in a “Special Statement’ by NPCA chair and St. Catharines regional councillor Bruce Timms and posted on the Conservation Authority’s website and run as an advertisement in area newspapers, ultimately raises concerns and questions about the way t, and ultimately, the way it spends millions of dollars annually of tax money it collects from municipalities in Niagara, and the regions of Hamilton and Haldimand, parts of which fall within the watershed area that the NPCA has some jurisdiction over.
At a press conference in St. Catharines this November 30th, Smith said he has no plans to back down in the face of the NPCA’s threatened lawsuit and stands behind the contents of the report.
“I stand by the research that went into the making of the report on the NPCA and I am asking for a full response to the as yet unanswered questions in the report,” Smith told a room full of media representatives and others during the press conference.
Contacted by Niagara At large this December 1st about the motion he drafted and that is already included in the agenda for the coming December 5th council meeting, Williamson had this to say; “The passage of this motion is important for triggering some long overdue scrutiny and over sight of a government agency which has operated as a closed shop. It (the NPCA),” added Williamson, “has shown no respect for the principle of serving the common good or protecting the unique natural environmental features we share in the Niagara Peninsula.”
If a majority of St. Catharines councillors pass the motion at the December 5th meeting, it won’t be the first time a municipal council in the watershed has passed a motion urging the provincial government to take action against the NPCA.
A year ago last February, faced with a request from the NPCA to contribute a higher amount of money to support the Conservation Authority’s costs of doing business, Hamilton’s city council passed a motion “to use any and all available powers (the provincial government has) pursuant to legislation, contract or otherwise, to intervene in and assume control over the administration of the Niagara Peninsula.”
The City of Hamilton is apparently still waiting for the provincial government to respond to that request, although some sources close to the government have told Niagara At Large that the province’s patience with the NPCA is growing thin in the wake of continued concerns and demands for action made by members of the public.
Williamson added this December 1st that “in conjunction with the motion passed by the City of Hamilton, the earnest work being carried out by community leaders, (the hopeful passage of his motion this December 5th) would be sending another strong message to the provincial government to take action in bringing a reasonable measure of accountability and transparency to the NPCA.”
The NPCA collects a total of about $9 million annually from Niagara, Hamilton and Haldimand to help cover its operations, with about $7.8 million of that amount coming from Niagara’s regional government and Niagara’s 12 local municipalities in 2014 alone.
The motion Williamson is tabling for St. Catharines council’s approval this December 5th is subject to some modification, but as of this posting reads (in its entirety) as follows –
“WHEREAS the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority(NPCA), a Provincial agency operating in the Regions of Niagara and Haldimand County and the City of Hamilton, is funded largely by the Region of Niagara; and
WHEREAS the City of St. Catharines is the single largest local tier municipal contributor of public funds to the Region of Niagara and, therefore, the largest contributor to the NPCA’s funding;
WHEREAS, serious questions have been raised about the financial and human resource management of the NPCA; and
WHEREAS, serious questions have been raised about the functioning of the NPCA in upholding its duty to fulfill the legislative mandate, as set out for it in Section 20 of The Conservation Authorities Act, “to establish and undertake programs designed to balance the conservation, restoration, development and management of natural resources.” ; and
WHEREAS, Niagara MPPs and citizens have called for a forensic audit of the NPCA’s business practices; and
WHEREAS the people of the City of St. Catharines, the Region of Niagara and the Province of Ontario deserve openness and accountability as to how their tax dollars are being spent and how effectively our natural environment is being protected;
Therefore be it resolved, Council requests a letter be sent to Premier Kathleen Wynne and Kathryn McGarry, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, with copies distributed to all Niagara MPPs, the Niagara Region, local tier municipalities in Niagara, Haldimand County and the City of Hamilton, urging the Province to immediately initiate an appropriately thorough investigation and forensic audit of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority.”
(A Brief Editorial Note from Niagara At Large as a supporter of a full and independent forensic audit of the NPCA. –
It may be that NPCA representatives will lobby St. Catharines city councillors prior to the December 5th meeting to vote against this motion. So if you are a St. Catharines resident who believes that the NPCA’s operations should be subjected to more accountability and transparency, we urge you to contact the city’s mayor and your ward councillors prior by phone or email to let them know you want this motion passed!
If you don’t have the names or the contact information for St. Catharines mayor and your ward councillors, you can find them by clicking on the city’s website at – https://www.stcatharines.ca/en/governin/mayorcouncil.asp .
Read a story in the Hamilton Spectator about the Hamilton council’s decision to call on the province to take over the administration of the NPCA by clicking on – http://www.thespec.com/news-story/5450293-hamilton-niagara-watershed-war-call-for-province-to-take-over-conservation-authority/ .
NIAGARA AT LARGE encourages you to join the conversation by sharing your views on this post in the space provided after the Bernie Sanders quote below.
A reminder that we only post comments by individuals who also share their first and last names.
For more news and commentary from Niagara At Large – an independent, alternative voice for our greater binational Niagara region – become a regular visitor and subscriber to NAL at www.niagaraatlarge.com .
“A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders