This Tuesday, December 13, Public Eyes Turn To Niagara Falls City Council for A Vote on an NPCA Audit
A News Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted December 12th, 2016 on Niagara At Large
Niagara, Ontario – The Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake has joined the City of St. Catharines in calling on the provincial government to launch a thorough investigation and forensic audit of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority.
The town council’s support for a motion calling for a full probe of the NPCA was requested at this December 12th, by Michael Welsh who sits as chair of the town’s committee of adjustment, but told Niagara At Large in an interview earlier this December 12th that he is making a case for passage of the motion as a private citizen.
“I am coming forward as a private citizen,” added Welsh, a Niagara-on-the-Lake resident,” because I was quite disturbed that the Conservation Authority is going after Mr. Ed Smith legally.”
Welsh was referring to the recent threat that the NPCA’s board of directors, chaired by St. Catharines regional councillor, has made in a lawyer’s letter to threaten Smith, a St. Catharines/Niagara citizen for circulating a report raising concerns and questions about the NPCA’s operations, including its hiring, firing and contract tendering practices, in his quest for a full, independent audit of the body.
The legal threat the NPCA board has made against Smith, said Welsh, “is a chill for any citizen bringing forward questions about this Conservation Authority. … This was the straw that broke the back for me.”
The motion the Niagara-on-the-Lake council approved this December 12th contains the same wording as one the St. Catharines unanimously passed this past December 5th and calls on the provincial government – most specifically Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Kathryn McGarry, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry – to order the forensic audit. It does not ask the NPCA board for the audit, as does a motion passed this December 7th by the Township of Wainfleet council and its mayor, April Jeffs, who also sits as one of the Conservation Authority’s board members.
“I don’t trust the Conservation Authority to do the audit,” Welsh said. “It has to be the province.”
Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Lord Mayor, Pat Darte, along with Jeffs, is one of 11 regional polticians that sits on the 13-member Conservation Authority board and he declared a conflict of interest during the council’s discussion and vote on the motion.
In making a case to the council for supporting the forensic audit of the NPCA, Welsh was joined this December 12th by Smith and by Cindy Forster, the MPP for the Niagara riding of Welland, who made her own call on the Ontario government for an audit of the Conservation Authority this November.
Both Forster and Smith stressed the the audit is about forcing some transparency and accountability around a number of questions and concerns about NPCA operations that the Conservation Authority has been unwilling to answer to date.
Forster said the number of regional councilors sitting on the NPCA board is part of the problem. There should be more members of the public with an interest in conservation issues appointed to the board, she said.
This December 13th, a similar motion to the one passed by St. Catharines, and now by Niagara-on-the-Lake, will be going before Niagara Falls city council for a vote, and word has it that other municipal councils in the Niagara area will also be considering passing such a motion.
The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority receives more than $7 million annually from Niagara’s 12 local municipalities and region, and growing numbers of citizens are demanding to know more about how that money is spent on staff, contracts the NPCA awards, land acquisitions and other matters.
Niagara At Large will continue posting up to date news and commentary on this issue and related matters involving regional governance and development proposals, including plans by a China-based development group to build on hundreds of acres of green lands known as the Thundering Waters Forest in the southwest end of Niagara Falls.
So stay tuned to NAL for more.
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