Ontario’s Natural Resources Minister Passes Buck On Growing Call for NPCA Audit

Is Wynne Government Telling The Truth When Its MNR Minister Claims It Can’t Audit the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority?

“The ministry does not have the legislative ability to order a forensic audit.” –Kathryn McGarry, Ontario Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry

“MNR (the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) reserves the right to audit CAs (Conservation Authorities) for adherence to these policies and procedures and to review the effectiveness of the policies and procedures with regard to implementation of provincial policies and protection of the provincial interest.” – from the ”final version” of Ontario government’s Polcy Book, dated May 2010, on policies and procedures governing Conservation Authorities across the province. 

A News Commentary by Doug Draper

Posted December 30th, 2016 on Niagara At Large

Wynee's Ontario Natural Resources Minister, Kathryn McGarry, claims province can't order forensic audit of NPCA operations. In a letter to municipal councils in region, she offers her regrets.

Wynee’s Ontario Natural Resources Minister, Kathryn McGarry, claims province can’t order forensic audit of NPCA operations. In a letter to municipal councils in region, she offers her regrets.

A letter Ontario Natural Resources and Forestry Minister Kathryn McGarry sent this Holiday Season to the locally elected councils for least six Niagara municipalities – and possibly to the council for the City of Hamilton – says the onus rests with them, and not the province, to get the board of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority to order a full forensic and/or value for money audit of its operations.

In other words, McGarry told the councils in her letter, that ministry won’t order one because, according to her, the province does not have the authority to order one.

“I regret to inform you that the current avenue to address any concerns with the management of the NPCA would be through your own municipal-appointed representatives on the NPCA board,” stated McGarry in her letter to the councils, including those for St. Catharines, Welland, Thorold, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Pelham and Port Colborne – all of which followed the .lead of Welland Riding MPP Cindy Forster this past November in calling on Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and McGarry to subject the NPCA to a full audit and investigation.

The councils for six Niagara municipalities and Hamilton, representing well over half of the more than half a million people living in and around watersheds in the NPCA’s jurisdiction of care, called on the province to launch thorough probe in the wake of growing questions and concerns about its policies and practices when it comes to hiring and firing staff, awarding contracts, land dealings and other matters around more than $7 million it receives each year from municipal tax payers.

In response to all of this, municipal councils in the region get a letter from one of Wynne’s cabinet ministers – delivered either intentionally or unintentionally during a period between Christmas and New Year’s when many people are busy celebrating the season and not paying as much attention to other news – expressing her “regret.”

Regret for what?

Does McGarry even know what she regrets? Or does she know and simply not care enough or have the will to exercise the right she claims she doesn’t have as a minister of the Ontario cabinet – a right that is spelled out in a provincial Policy Book (a link to which is posted below – to order an audit?

Was McGarry told by Premier Wynne to send this letter of regret to municipal councils in the region? And why have our municipal councils not heard directly from the premier on this matter yet, since their motions calling for the province to order an audit were also addressed directly to her?

Where are you on this Madame Premier?

Do you know that your Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry has, in this letter of regret (the full text of which is also posted below), asked local municipalities to take their demand for a full forensic audit to the same NPCA board members, the majority of which voted ‘No’ to such requests earlier this year?

Do you know that as recently as the first week of this December, the NPCA’s chair, Bruce Timms, repeated his argument to the City of St. Catharines’ council that such an audit does not need to be done now because: 1) the NPCA has financial statements (what he calls audits) prepared and released each year, and 2) there is no reason to “waste” time and money on another audit because the NPCA is doing a fine job and has nothing to hide?

Niagara, Ontario resident Ed Smtih, who has been threatened with lawsuit by NPCA board, has been pushing for a forensic audit of the Conservation Authority's for more than half a year. Here he takes his request for one to Niagara regional councilors this past May 2016. File photo by Doug Draper

Niagara, Ontario resident Ed Smtih, who has been threatened with lawsuit by NPCA board, has been pushing for a forensic audit of the Conservation Authority’s for more than half a year. Here he takes his request for one to Niagara regional councilors this past May 2016. File photo by Doug Draper

Do you also know, Madame Premier, that at least one citizen in Niagara in the name of Ed Smith has been threatened with a lawsuit by the same NPCA board your Minster of Natural Resources says local councils should go to with their request for an audit? That’s right. This citizens, who has earned the respect and support of thousands of other citizens across this region, has been threatened with a suit for raising many of the same concerns and questions so many of the region’s  municipal councillors and their constituents are hoping you can finally obtain answers to through a full forensic, value-for-money audit.

The recent, unprecedented call by the council for Hamilton and by so many councils across the Niagara region for a forensic audit and investigation (with the Welland council going so far as to say that perhaps the Ontario Provincial Police should be called in) of the NPCA is an opportunity for a Premier who is now experiencing some of the lowest popularity ratings in Canadian history to show people here that she is still willing to take their questions and concerns about government services seriously.

Instead, what we get is a letter of regret, loaded with a song and dance about how the province is in the middle of gathering public input for a review of its Conservation Act, and maybe citizens and local councils ought to channel their questions and concerns through that.

It is a response from Wynne’s government that shows a total lack of understanding of the seriousness of the problem so many citizens in this region have with a Conservation Authority they feel has been hijacked away from its rightful mission as an uncompromising voice for the protection of our natural heritage.

Niagara At Large will continue to have much more to post on this issue in the days and weeks ahead.

For now, here is the full text of McGarry’s, what I might call ‘Grinch that Stole Christmas’ letter to municipal councils, followed by a few other related links.

The letter from Ontario Natural Resources and Forestry Minister Kathryn McGarry to Niagara area municipal councils –

Thank you for your letter regarding your concerns with the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA).

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) is currently undergoing a review of the Conservation Authorities Act to ensure it is meeting the modern needs of Ontarians. Your concern about the lack of transparency is one we have heard from the public, stakeholders and
Indigenous communities as part of this review.

My ministry has identified five key priorities that are the current focus of the review, one of which is strengthening oversight and accountability in conservation authority decision-making. I am aware that improvements can be made to strengthen conservation authority governance and accountability and will be looking to do this when we move forward with new legislation.

However, I regret to inform you that the current avenue to address any concerns with the management of the NPCA would be through your own municipal-appointed representatives on the NPCA board.

Under the current act, conservation authority boards are set up as
corporate bodies and governed by a board of directors, whose members are
appointed by the participating municipalities explicitly for the purpose
of representing the interests of their communities.

As local autonomous boards, the ministry does not have the legislative
ability to order a forensic audit. The province oversees the policy
relating to conservation authorities but it is municipalities, like you,
who have the sole authority to appoint the boards. MNRF’s interests are
in flood control and watershed management, and we have no hand in the
operations or operational oversight of conservation authorities.

Each of the respective participating municipalities has the
responsibility to appoint their members consistent with the NPCA’s
published board selection process. Appointed members have the authority
to vote and generally act on behalf of their respective municipalities.

I wanted to reiterate that it is up to the member you have appointed to
the NPCA board to represent the interests of your municipality and its
residents.

Therefore, you should direct your local representative on the NPCA board
to put forward a motion to the board calling for this thorough
investigation. Once this motion is put forward, the board can vote on it
and subsequently decide to launch an investigation.

Below is a list of the current board members and the municipalities they
represent. I strongly urge you to take up any concerns you have with the
operation of the NPCA with your appointed member.

Councillor Bruce Timms, City of St. Catharines
Chair Mayor Frank Campion, City of Welland
Councillor Sandy Annunziata, Vice Chair Town of Fort Erie
Lord Mayor Patrick Darte, Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake
Councillor Brian Baty, Town of Pelham
Mayor Jim Diodati, City of Niagara Falls
J. Stewart Beattie, City of Hamilton
Dominic DiFruscio, City of Thorold
James Kaspersetz, City of Hamilton
Mayor April Jeffs, Township of Wainfleet
Councillor Bill Hodgson, Town of Lincoln
Mayor Douglas Joyner, Township of West Lincoln
Mayor John Maloney, City of Port Colborne
Councillor Tony Quirk, Township of Grimsby
Councillor Rob Shirton, Haldimand County

Please feel to contact me or my office, should you require additional
information on the process.

Thank you again for writing.

Best, Kathryn McGarry
Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry

Here is the link to the provincial Policy Book, making reference in Section 9.2 of the Book to the province right to audit Conservation Authorities –

http://www.web2.mnr.gov.on.ca/mnr/water_erb/CALC_Chapter_Final_Apr23_Final.pdf

Here is a link to one of many media reports on the approval ratings of an Ontario Premier would might think would take advantage of an opportunity to respond to public concerns – http://globalnews.ca/news/3123704/premier-wynnes-approval-rating-drops-to-all-time-low-of-16-angus-reid-poll/ .

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

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3 responses to “Ontario’s Natural Resources Minister Passes Buck On Growing Call for NPCA Audit

  1. Appalling that the new Minister of Natural Resources could choose, yes choose, late in the day before a holiday (that’s the Modus Operandi, right?) of sending bad news out. Oh, she probably didn’t have time to look carefully at the weeks, nay months, of her file on this. It just came across her desk after Christmas, you think?

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  2. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and her comrades seem to think that they can “pick and choose” what the government can or cannot do. The provincial government created the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, therefore the responsibility for the actions of the NPCA falls in the hands of the provincial government. Is Ontario a democracy or an oligarchy controlled by Wynne and her comrades? Who is Wynne protecting?

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  3. Is it too late to add the MNR Ministry to the call for an audit/investigation into wrongdoing? One begins to wonder how far the tentacles of this foul-smelling mess reach.

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