Conservation Authority staffers – Past and Present – are looking at suing Kathryn McGarry, sources say
A News Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted September 12th, 2017 on Niagara At Large
Niagara, Ontario –
Frustration is reaching a boiling point over Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry Minister Kathryn McGarry’s failure to act on repeated concerns that have been raised over the way the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority does business.
So much so that past and present employees with the Conservation Authority are making inquiries with lawyers about possibly filing a class action lawsuit against McGarry for “non-action” on the NPCA file, sources close the inquiries have told Niagara At Large.
Employees want McGarry, whose ministry has jurisdiction over an Ontario Conservation Act that sets a framework for the operations of 36 Conservation Authorities across the province, including the NPCA, to appoint a special supervisor to go in and turf out the current senior managers and board of directors at the NPCA, said the sources, who do not want to be identified for fear of reprisals from the Conservation Authority’s current management.
Short of the minister taking such action, a lawsuit may be the only option left, the sources added.
Talk of filing a class action suit against McGarry is building in the wake of a report released this past September 5th by the Ontario Public Services Employees Union (OPSEU), the union representing more than 35 NPCA employees, alleging widespread cases of workplace harassment occurring inside the Conservation Authority.
That report, citing a survey of NPCA employees conducted by the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, notes that of the 86 per cent of NPCA employees who participated in the survey, well over half of them said they have witnessed bullying and other incidence of workplace harassment, and more than 60 per cent said they have experienced harassment themselves within the past year.
A full 55 per cent of the employees surveyed describe the workplace at the NPCA as “toxic,” according to the OPSEU report which NPCA managers have so far dismissed as not reflective of their “wonderful organization, and that McGarry has so far shown no signs of responding to despite past claims that she doesn’t believe harassment in any workplace in the province should be tolerated.
In April of 2016, before McGarry was appointed Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry by the province’s Premier Kathleen Wynne and while she was still serving as a parliamentary assistant to the Transportation Minister, she tabled a private member’s bill on workplace harassment in the Ontario legislature and said; “There is no place, anytime, anywhere, for sexual harassment or misogyny. It’s sad that, in 2016, issues of sexual harassment in the workplace are still prevalent. It’s incumbent upon all of us to stand up and simply say it’s never okay.”
But now with allegations of widespread workplace harassment happening at the NPCA – a public body that is operating right under her ministry’s nose – McGarry so far appears to have nothing to say.
The Minister of Natural Resources has also said little and done even less over the past year and a half in the face of growing questions and concerns raised by individual citizens, by municipal politicians and by MPPs in the Niagara area about the NPCA’s hiring and firing practices, or about the way it is awarding contracts and carrying out other business with millions of dollars of our tax money.
Public opposition to a lawsuit the NPCA’s board launched last winter against Ed Smith, a St. Catharines resident and retired career officer in the Canadian Armed Forces, for questions and concerns he raised about the Conservation Authority’s operations – some of which the NPCA claims are defamatory – have also gone unheeded by the Natural Resources minister.
When called upon to take action or to approve an independent, forensic audit of the NPCA’s operations, as a majority of area municipal councils, including the council for the City of Hamilton, called for this past winter, McGarry’s pat response has been that her ministry is in the process of revising the Conservation Act.
However, few if any individuals and groups across the region believe that any revisions in a draft of the legislation now awaiting approval will do anything to address issues at the NPCA and few are buying a line from the provincial government that it does not have the powers to appoint a supervisor to address those issues.
Over the past decade, the provincial government appointed supervisors to address concerns raised about two other public bodies in the region, the Niagara Parks Commission and Niagara Health System, and in both cases top executives and board members were replaced in an effort to address the concerns and restore public confidence.
In the case of the NPCA and McGarry, patience has run out, which is why discussions are now underway to sue the minister for inaction, sources say.
Indeed, as far as this journalist and news commentator is concerned, I believe NPCA employees – past and present – are going far too lightly on McGarry with the idea of a lawsuit.
Having reported on the unfolding of this mess for more than two years now, I believe that McGarry should be given to the end of this week to answer the questions and concerns that have been raised – as they were again in a lengthy address delivered in the Ontario legislature by Welland Riding MPP Cindy Forster this September 11th (a link to Forster’s address is included here below) – by appointing a special supervisor to take over operations at the NPCA, or face widespread call from citizens across this region and province for her resignation.
McGarry has just about proven through the lack of concern she has so far shown to what is happening at a Conservation Authority under her watch that she is not up to the job.
The following Niagara At Large post has already gone viral, but if you have not yet read it for a review of the address Welland Riding MPP Cindy Forster delivered in the Ontario legislature this September 11th, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2017/09/12/breaking-news-welland-riding-mpp-uses-ontario-legislature-address-to-slam-niagara-peninsula-conservation-authority/ .
To check out some information from OPSEU on this mess, click on – https://opseu.org/news/employees-say-npca-workplace-culture-toxic .
For a related story on this issue, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2017/09/08/ontario-minister-mcgarry-must-act-on-workplace-harassment-allegations-at-npca/ .
Hear a recent interview with an OPSUE representative on CKTB Radio in St. Catharines by clicking on – http://www.iheartradio.ca/610cktb/npca-toxic-workplace-damning-report-interview-1.3257628?mode=Article .
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