MPP Cindy Forster Seeks Answers from Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority To Concerns Raised By Niagara Area Constituents

“I am requesting a copy of documentation between NPCA and OMB that approves any salary, expenses, or allowances or contracts to any board members since 2014. Was Carmen D’Angelo while a board member, given a paid contract for strategic planning work?” – an excerpt from a letter MPP Cindy Forster sent to the NPCA this January 16th requesting answers

“I am told the labour relationship with the employer is deplorable, grievances unresolved with everyone one them going to arbitration, a very costly process to the taxpayers that could be used for conservation.” – another excerpt from a letter MPP Cindy Forster sent to the NPCA this January 16th requesting answers.

“How much money has it cost the NPCA and its foundation and the taxpayers between 2013-2016 for the restructuring that has taken place in terms of severances and any legal actions arising out of wrongful dismissal claims?” – yet another excerpt from a letter MPP Cindy Forster sent to the NPCA this January 16th requesting answers.

READ THE FULL TEXT OF CINDY FORSTER’S LETTER BELOW

Posted by Doug Draper, publisher of your online news site Niagara At Large

MPP for the Niagara, Ontario riding of Welland, Cindy Forster continues to push for more public accountability from the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority

MPP for the Niagara, Ontario riding of Welland, Cindy Forster continues to push for more public accountability from the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority

January 17th, 2017

In November of last year Cindy Forster, an Ontario Member of Parliament for the Niagara riding of Welland, followed up Niagara area citizen Ed Smith in a call for a forensic audit and full investigation of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s operations.

Forster also met with members of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authorities board and management in November to discuss concerns raised by her constituents and other citizens, including municipal councillors, across the Niagara and Hamilton region about how the NPCA is using millions of dollars of our municipal tax dollars each year.

Since Forster’s open call for a full audit and investigation of the NPCA’s operations and her meeting with NPCA honchoes, several municipal councils, representing well over half of the watershed the NPCA has jurisdiction over – councils for St. Catharines, Thorold, Welland, Pelham, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Port Colborne and the City of Hamilton – have made similar calls.

And last but not least, the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority and its former CAO (now Niagara Region’s CAO) Carmen D’Angelo have taken the unprecedented step of launching a lawsuit against a private citizen, Ed Smith who, like Forster, and growing numbers of others has been trying to get answers from the NPCA on matters involving the spending of our tax money.

Welland Riding MPP Cindy Forster speaking in the Ontario legislature. File photo

Welland Riding MPP Cindy Forster speaking in the Ontario legislature. File photo

Then this January 16th – just two days before a key board meeting the NPCA is holding this Wednesday, January 18th starting at 9:30 a.m. at its Balls Falls centre in the Niagara municipality of Lincoln, Forster sent a letter to Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority chair Bruce Timms and members of the NPCA’s board, requesting answers to “areas of concern” raised by her constituents, including concerns related to the NPCA’s hiring and firing practices, its awarding of contracts, its land dealings and other matters involving the public money and assets.

Niagara at Large obtained a copy of this letter, which Forster also sent to other area MPPs, municipal governments in Niagara, Hamilton and Haldimand and Ontario Minister of Natural Resources and Foresty Kathryn McGarry, from sources in the community where it is now circulating.

For a better understanding of the questions and concerns being raised by growing numbers of citizens and politicians across Niagara and neighbouring regions, here is the full text of Cindy Forster’s letter. Please read it and join the growing numbers of people pressing for full accountability for our tax dollars from this government body – 

January 16, 2017

Mr. Bruce Timms, Chair and Board Members, Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, 250 Thorold Road West; 3rd Floor, Welland, ON L3C 3W2

Dear Mr. Timms:

As per our meeting of November 21, 2016 in my office with you and the NPCA Board and staff, I am following up on your request to send a letter citing the areas of concern raised by my constituents.

1. During the meeting I provided you a statement of claim document between William Montgomery and the NPCA Authority and the NPCA Foundation, Toronto Court File # CV 16005453780000. I asked if there is a settlement, the amount of the settlement as well as the legal fees incurred. I am requesting a copy of the contract between the parties named, the terms of reference and description of the work to be completed that lead to the lawsuit. I am including further documents obtained from the Ontario Supreme Court in Toronto which may assist you and your staff in relation to this request.

2. Under the Conservation Authority Act, section 37, it specifically states “that all money required by this Act raised for the purposes of an authority shall be paid to the authority, and the authority may spend money as it considers proper, except that no salary, expenses or allowances of any kind shall be paid to any of the members of the authority without the approval of the Ontario Municipal Board”.

Former NPCA CAO (now Niagara Region CAO) Carmen D'Angelo, sitting to right of Niagara Region's chair Al Caslin in this recent photo, has joined the NPCA in launching a lawsuit against Niagara citizen Ed Smith, who has been pressing for a forensic audit of the NPCA's operations.

Former NPCA CAO (now Niagara Region CAO) Carmen D’Angelo, sitting to right of Niagara Region’s chair Al Caslin in this recent photo, has joined the NPCA in launching a lawsuit against Niagara citizen Ed Smith, who has been pressing for a forensic audit of the NPCA’s operations.

I am requesting a copy of documentation between NPCA and OMB that approves any salary, expenses,  or allowances or contracts to any board members since 2014. Was Carmen D’Angelo while a board member, given a paid contract for strategic planning work?

3. How much money has it cost the NPCA and its foundation and the taxpayers between 2013-2016 for the restructuring that has taken place in terms of severances and any legal actions arising out of wrongful dismissal claims? My understanding is that terminations have continued into November 2016.                                                                                                                                                    

4. During the meeting I also raised the issue of protecting wetlands and pointed out the Paradise Development being proposed to be built on top of the Thundering Waters Forest in Niagara Falls. The size of the Thundering Waters Forest is one of the largest remaining continuous forests in Niagara. Shouldn’t the NPCA be protecting it?

In a Statement that appeared in Niagara This Week on April 28, 2016, and a message from the NPCA Chair, you state “Currently, the NPCA is following and enforces the existing legislation which prohibits any development within a Provincially Significant Wetland (PSW). The NPCA does not advocate for development projects”.

I request a copy of the comment provided by NPCA to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry regarding bio diversity offsetting. Please include any documentation with respect to the NPCA and the Thundering Waters Project.

5. You are on record as stating Alan Caslin, Regional Chair requested a pilot project of biodiversity offsetting at Thundering Waters that is disputed by his Communications Director Jason Tanning. Who was the author of this pilot project?

6. I would like the NPCA’s position, enforcement and remedy with respect to the potential development and past infilling of a Provincially Significant Wetland (PSW) at Coyle Creek in Welland for the complainant Bob Milenkoff. Please provide an update as to the enforcement plan for the developer to remediate this PSW.

7. I also raised the matter of a 3 acre parcel of land at Cave Springs being sold to developers. NPCA Board Member Stew Beattie, representing the City of Hamilton was quick to point out it was not sold to developers but individuals with restrictions and certainty that it will never be developed. Is that agreement in perpetuity and does it apply to successive owners?

Citizens protest in front of NPCA offices in Welland last fall. File photo by Doug Draper

Citizens protest in front of NPCA offices in Welland last fall. File photo by Doug Draper

8. In a separate issue, constituents are seeking an update on written requests to have the NPCA include testing for neonicotinoids at its 115 testing sites around the Niagara Region.

9. I raised the unanswered FOI and costs incurred by concerned private citizen Ed Smith regarding FOI documents and in one case over $800 charged for five pages. NPCA has these FOI requests in their possession and I request the information be released if the NPCA is as transparent, open and accountable tax payer funded agency as it states.

10. I also did look at NPCA’s mission statement as provided by you and note that it includes the words under Executive Summary “The new 2014-2017 NPCA Strategic Plan embraces this responsibility with the implementation of the Mission:

To manage our watershed’s natural resources by balancing environmental, community, and economic needs”                                                                                      

Economic needs are nowhere to be found in the actual Conservation Authorities Act. I would be interested to know how the NPCA decides what is an economic need and does this open the door for development at a cost of our natural habitat the NPCA is mandated to protect.

It was suggested at our meeting by the Vice Chair of NPCA that I am taking an adversarial approach with respect to the NPCA. However many issues have been brought to me by concerned constituents and I believe this once highly respected conservation authority which you say is one of the most transparent in Ontario needs to put the public interest ahead of the public perception of an agenda favouring developers.

The public perceives the NPCA has being relentless in their pursuit of individual property owners but very lenient, turning a blind eye as it relates to enforcing conservation rules for developers under the act.

11. Last but not least, labour issues at the NPCA have been brought to my attention many times over the last three years before and following unionization of the workforce. I am told the labour relationship with the employer is deplorable, grievances unresolved with everyone one them going to arbitration, a very costly process to the taxpayers that could be used for conservation. In addition, I am told that layoffs are now occurring and senior employees in the organization are being denied their rights under the collective agreement.

Since our meeting, almost a million taxpayers represented by their municipal politicians have endorsed resolutions calling for a third party independent forensic audit/ value for money audit/OPP investigation of the NPCA and the NPCA Foundation on finances, human resources, conflicts of interest and procurement practices, etc.  Also the four Niagara Members of Provincial Parliament are on record in support of these resolutions.

Although the MNR is passing the buck on its responsibility, there is nothing preventing them from requesting that the NPCA allow the MNR to do the forensic audit on behalf of the conservation authority in the interest of the taxpayers.

Thank you for this opportunity to present these concerns to you and the board and I look forward to your written response.

Sincerely,  

Cindy Forster,MPP                                                                                                                           Copy:   

  •                 NPCA Board and CAO
  •                 Niagara’s 12 Local Municipalities
  •                 Region of Niagara
  •                 City of Hamilton
  •                 County of Haldimand
  •                 Niagara MPP’s
  •                 Hon. Kathryn McGarry, Minister of Natural Resources  

NIAGARA AT LARGE encourages you to join the conversation by sharing your views on this post in the space below the Bernie quote.

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

 

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2 responses to “MPP Cindy Forster Seeks Answers from Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority To Concerns Raised By Niagara Area Constituents

  1. Thanks to MPP Cindy Forster for requesting this important information. If NPCA is an “open and transparent” organization that truly serves the public good, it should have no problem responding to Ms. Forster’s request. Only those with something to hide refuse to be “open and transparent.” Certainly an honest and complete reply to Cindy Forster would be a good start toward building public trust. Meanwhile, if all those who are displeased with the NPCA’s handling of this matter and its apparent attempt to silence citizen, Mr. Ed Smith, pledged $100 to help him with his legal costs, much of the information Cindy Forster requests may well come out in court. How good is that! Mr. Smith, where do I send my $100?

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  2. A letter to The Standard this January 18th also made that point that if the NPCA had nothing to hide, then go for a Forensic audit. It would only help clear the air. See, there is smoke in that air. And where there is smoke, there is fire.

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