New NPCA Chair Owes Niagara MPPs, Local Councils and Citizens of Region an Apology and Answers on how  Conservation Authority is Spending our Tax Dollars

“Mayor Joyner, Mayor Campion, Mayor Jeffs, Mayor Darte, Mayor Diodati, Mayor Maloney and the three other Regional Councillors Baty, Quirk and Timms, does the new Chair speak for you?  Do you also consider your citizens as a special interest group?  It is time for Niagara citizens to start demanding answers from their elected officials.” – a Call-Out for Accountability from Niagara citizen Ed Smith

A Commentary by Ed Smith, a Niagara, Ontario citizen, community activist and retired Canadian Armed Forces officer

Posted February 13th, 2017 on Niagara At Large

Niagara citizen watchdog Ed Smith echoes calls of many across Niagara on NPCA is spending our tax money.

Niagara citizen watchdog Ed Smith echoes calls of many across Niagara on NPCA is spending our tax money.

I attended the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) annual general meeting on Jan 18th.  The hall was filled to overflowing; such was the level of public interest in this meeting.

A new Chairperson was elected at that Board meeting and with that election perhaps an optimistic person could have a sense of hope for the future of Conservation in Niagara.  It did not take long for the new Chair to lay waste to any hopes for a reversal of direction at the NPCA.

In a statement to the public on the 23rd of January, a scant five Niadays after being appointed, Chairman Annunziata sent a message that many saw as disrespectful, arrogant and tone deaf.

Niagara's Welland Riding MPP at NPCA board meeting this past January, urging board to answer concerns and questions citizens are raising about how their tax dollars are being used.

Niagara’s Welland Riding MPP at NPCA board meeting this past January, urging board to answer concerns and questions citizens are raising about how their tax dollars are being used.

Perhaps the two most obvious examples are the seeming personal attack on Welland MPP Cindy Forster and his equally enthusiastic disparaging remarks made against a wide variety and great number of the citizens of Niagara.  To quote Mr. Annunziata “In effect she [Cindy Forster] seems to be pandering to one special interest group and only one”. 

I have been involved with the struggle for transparency, accountability and trust at the NPCA for only the past year.  In that short period a number of issues of great concern to Niagara taxpayers have been raised by citizens and left unanswered by the NPCA. A partial list of those concerns of actions of NPCA management and the Board are:  

  • Allegedly violating conflict of interest policy (NPCA reg 10.1) by hiring a Regional Councillor and another Board member for senior management jobs,
  • Awarding a $41,000 cheque to a sitting Board member while on leave of absence from the Board, for reasons not clearly defined. In possible contravention of provincial policy (CAA para 37), and NPCA policy (para’s 10.1-10.3)
  • Releasing or firing 1/3 of the staff and hiring people who in some cases have very close ties with Board members
  • Demonstrated a reluctance or refusal to pursue serious allegations of environmental wrong doing perpetrated by developers
  • Demonstrated a great deal of zeal in pursuing small landowners and farmers for relatively minor infractions (on their own land),
  • Spent unknown amounts of Niagara taxpayer dollars engaged in litigation with fired employees, as well as paying severances
  • Spent unknown amounts to engage lobbying firm(s)
  • Spent unknown amount of time and money engaging NPCA staff, board members and quite possibly legal assistance opposing a Region wide call of an audit and investigation of NPCA’s operations. A call echoing from political leaders as far as Hamilton and representing hundreds of thousands of people.

The public trust has evaporated for the NPCA; I doubt there is any group of citizenry that would rally to their defence.  Mr. Annunziata mentions the needs of carpenters, home builders and skilled workers, and seems to imply that he speaks for them as the NPCA continues to mismanage our local environment. 

Niagara citizens hold demonstration outside NPCA Ball's Falls Centre this past January where board of directors is meeting.

Niagara citizens hold demonstration outside NPCA Ball’s Falls Centre this past January where board of directors is meeting.

Have you consulted with them Mr. Annunziata, have they instructed you that you must sacrifice our environment for their sake?  If so kindly share that information.

Sandy Annunziata is a junior Regional Councillor from Fort Erie and perhaps he is trying to make a name for himself in Regional politics, but in one fell swoop he has labeled all four local MPP’s, the municipal councils and mayors of 10 cities as well as the hundreds of thousands of citizens they represent, as a “special interest group”.  With that single statement he has managed to malign all citizens in Niagara.  He has assaulted the very nature of our Canadian democracy. 

As the new Chairman of the Board Sandy Annunziata has lain out his course for the NPCA and it is not straight, and it is not narrow, and no light shines on that path.  The question now falls to the other Board members who are politicians, has Sandy Annunziata spoken for you with this message?

Councillor Bill Hodgson has displayed exemplary leadership on this issue and I hope the rest of the Board finds ways to support him.  Mr. Hodgson is a councillor who has demonstrated his willingness to fight for transparency, trust and accountability; what about the remainder of the elected officials on the NPCA board?

Mayor Joyner, Mayor Campion, Mayor Jeffs, Mayor Darte, Mayor Diodati, Mayor Maloney and the three other Regional Councillors Baty, Quirk and Timms, does the new Chair speak for you?  Do you also consider your citizens as a special interest group?  It is time for Niagara citizens to start demanding answers from their elected officials.

And what about you Sandy Annunziata, are you ready to do the right thing and apologize?

Ed Smith is a highly respected, retired Canadian Armed Forces major and citizen watchdog in Niagara, Ontario. In the wake of many months of demanding answers from the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority on how it is spending millions of our tax dollars annually, he has been sued by the NPCA and its former CAO (and current CAO for Niagara’s regional government, Carmen D’Angelo.

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

 

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