A Brief News Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted March 21th, 2017 on Niagara At Large
Niagara, Ontario – The council representing the larges of Niagara’s 12 local municipalities – the City of St. Catharines – has unanimously approved a motion calling on the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority to accept an offer it received as early as this past January from Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysk to perform a full and independent forensic audit on its operations.
The motion, tabled by St. Catharines Councillor Carlos Garcia at this Monday, March 20th’s city council meeting, reads as follows; “Be it resolved, that Council urges the NPCA board to do everything required in order to ensure they accept the Auditor General’s offer to perform an independent, third party operational review/audit, as approved by the board on January 18, 2017, at no direct cost to property taxpayers in St. Catharines and the other NPCA-funding municipalities; and;”
“Therefore Be It Further Resolved,” continues Garcia’s motion, “that the NPCA, all Niagara Municipalities and MPPs, the City of Hamilton and Haldimand County, the Premier, the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, the Auditor General and the Ombudsman be notified. FORTHWITH.”
Fellow St. Catharines councillor Bruce Williamson, who last December tabled and saw passed the first motion by a municipality in all of Niagara calling on the province to conduct a full audit and investigation of growing questions and concerns citizens and MPPs have raised about the NPCA’s operations, was among those speaking in favour of Garcia’s motion.
The provincial Auditor General not only offers an audit that would cost fewer, if any, municipal tax dollars to perform, but would offer an independence from NPCA control
Williamson noted that another motion for an independent, third-party audit of the NPCA – a motion that was actually tabled by Town of Lincoln regional councillor and NPCA board member Bill Hodgson and passed by the board last January while more than 80 citizens from across the region watched, was more recently “watered down” (as Hodgson noted earlier this March himself) to a point where many fear the NPCA will have too much control over how the audit is done.
The provincial Auditor General not only offers an audit that would cost fewer, if any, municipal tax dollars to perform, but would offer an independence from NPCA control and “this is precisely what we need” to ensure public confidence, Williamson said.
Further to the Garcia motion, veteran St. Catharines councillor Joe Kushner introduced an amendment that was finally voted on and approved separately by a majority of councils that took the city council’s stand in favour of a full audit and investigation of the NPCA a significant step further.
That amendment asks Niagara’s regional government, which is responsible for awarding about $7 million in tax dollars from local municipalities each year to the NPCA to cover most of the costs of its operations, to withhold St. Catharines’ portion of the money until the NPCA’s board agrees to let the Ontario Auditor General do the audit.
St. Catharines’ portion of the money the NPCA gets annually adds up to about $1.7 million and voting to withhold it would “send a message” to the NPCA’s board that the city is serious in its demand that the Ontario Auditor General do the audit.
The city’s mayor, Walter Sendzik, advised Kushner that it is likely Niagara’s regional council will not support St. Catharines request to withhold its money because the regional government is required, by provincial law, to use municipal tax dollars to fund the NPCA.
However much that may be the case, Kushner was successful in persuading enough councillors to pass the amendment, stressing that approving a motion to refuse funding to the NPCA, whether the regional supports it or not, “does indicate intent (on the part of city councillors) and it does indicate the intensity of our feelings.”
Further to Kushner’s amendment, Niagara At Large will soon be posting commentary on what more can and should be done to defund the Niagara Peninsula Conservation and to dissolve its current board of directors and upper management.
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