Municipal Councillors across Niagara and Hamilton Can and Should Move to Dissolve the  Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority

NPCA costs taxpayers millions, while falling further and further away from serving as a voice for conservation and environmental protection

Time to close the doors – For Good – on the NPCA!

A Commentary by Niagara At Larger reporter/publisher Doug Draper

Posted September 29th on Niagara At Large

Warren ‘Smokey’ Thomson, president of the 180,000-member Ontario Public Service Employees Union, summed it up well after learning this last week of September that the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority let go more of its front-line workers – this time eight employees, most, if not all of whom were involved in the NPCA’s watershed protection programs.

“This organization is putting itself out of existence,” said Thomson after the latest firings or layoffs, or whatever, the flying monkeys now running this organization want to call the culling of ever more of the employees that, at least those of us in the public that want a Conservation Authority firmly dedicated to conservation and environmental protection, had a good deal of respect for.

One of many public demonstrations fueled by concerns and questions over the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority does business with millions of our municipal tax dollars – this one last year in front of the NPCA offices in Welland.

“We are not an environmental protection agency,” Sandy Annunziata, a Fort Erie regional councillor and chair of the NPCA’s board of directors, declared himself this past June during a presentation he made on behalf of the body to the Town of Lincoln’s local council.

A story written by reporter Bill Sawchuk in this September 29th’s St. Catharines Standard appears to amply that declaration as it casts light on a “confidential memo” Annunziata, on behalf of an NPCA board made up of mostly developer friendly regional councillors and town and city councillors, wrote about a meeting he had with Niagara regional government staff to, as the memo puts it, “discuss current and future responsibilities with the objective of becoming even more responsive to the local area municipalities and the development industry.”

In the same story, Jim Bradley, a veteran MPP for the St. Catharines Riding who has served, over his many years in provincial politics, as an Environment Minister for two separate Liberal governments, is said to be in agreement with OPSEU’s president, Warren ‘Smokey’ Thomas, that the  NPCA should be working to protect the region’s watersheds for any harm caused by development

“The Conservation Authority is really the best vehicle to do that job,” Bradley was quoted saying. “That’s what the Conservation Authority is all about.”

Indeed, when Bradley served as Ontario’s Environment Minister in the mid-1980s for the then Liberal government of Premier David Peterson, he once told me while I was employed at the time as the environment reporter for The St. Catharines Standard, that he always went into cabinet meetings with a singular mindset that he was the voice at the table for the environment, and he would not compromise from that going into the meetings.

Others at the cabinet table were there to speak for whatever their ministers were in charge of, whether it be finances, industrial development, municipal affairs or whatever it might be, he said, but he was the only voice at the table for the environment, and he would stay with that and let the chips fall from there.

Growing numbers of citizens and others want the provincial government to appoint a special supervisor to boot those sitting on this NPCA board out.

By the same token, and going back for decades when Niagara citizens who advocated for conserving natural areas helped found the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority and went on to serve on its board – citizens like Doug Elliott who I had pleasure of interviewing one last time before he passing, when he received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 for his many years of dedication to conservation – they also stressed that the NPCA should, at the very least, be the one public body that could be counted on to serve as a voice for our rivers and streams and wetlands and other features of nature that cannot speak for themselves.

If as Annunziata and a majority of those now running the NPCA say, that the body has to strike more of a balance between conservation and the interests of homebuilders and the like, then why bother having a Conservation Authority at all?

Most of the people now sitting on the board of the NPCA are municipal politicians anyway, and they can perform that role of balancing the preservation of a wetland or wooded area or some other feature of the environment off against constructing roads and buildings, etc. at a regional or city or town council meeting.

We don’t need to invest millions of dollars a year of taxpayers’ money on a Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority that is no longer a singular voice for conservation or environmental protection to do that.  We can have the same politicians doing that at a regular meeting of municipal council.

So instead of taking up any more time trying to press the Ontario government to fix the NPCA – something it continues to claim it does not have the powers to do – why not simply get rid of it and turn the conservation areas or parks it now has jurisdiction over and the remainder of the frontline staff that look after them over to the local municipalities or the province, which have parks departments of their own.

A Conversation Park named after Mel Swart, owned and maintained by the City of Thorold in Niagara, where Mel Swart lived. Local municipalities have a long history of looking after parks and other green spaces

Our municipalities have had a long track record of looking after green spaces. In the Niagara municipality of Thorold where I live, the city is the steward of a wonderful natural park along Lake Gibson that is named after the late Mel Swart (one of those citizens who was a supporter of the Conservation Authority as a true voice for conservation in its early days) and, in partnership with local citizen volunteers, that park is a model for how to care for green places in our region.

The Ontario Conservation Act has provisions for beginning the process of dissolving Conservation Authorities that begin with local municipal councils voting in favour of “dissolution,” as the legislation calls it.

I am not a lawyer but I have been informed that it may only take as few as three local municipalities across Niagara and Hamilton to vote in favour of scraping the NPCA to get the ball rolling. I am certain there are some lawyers in the Niagara region who might be pleased to volunteer their expertise to assist citizens who may want to begin lobbying their local councils to do exactly that.

And just think about all of the tax money that could be saved if we got rid of the NPCA and its administrative bureaucracy. At least three of the NPCA’s top administrators were shown on the province’s Sunshine list making more than $100,000 each in annual salary last year.

That is money that could be more wisely be invested in public transit, long-term care for our seniors or other essential services.

So what do you think, folks?

I am an environmentalist at heart, and have been at least going back to my participation in the very first Earth Day in 1970, and I never thought the time would come when I would advocate gutting a Conservation Authority.

But when it is no longer a real Conservation Authority, what is the point when we have other bodies around, including the province’s Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Natural Resources, and dedicated nature groups in the region, to do the job.

I will have more information to offer on how we can get down to dissolving the NPCA in columns ahead.

So stay tuned.

To read a related story from The St. Catharines Standard, click onhttp://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2017/09/28/confidential-memo-details-npca-talks-with-region .

To review the Ontario Conservation Act, wich includes provisions for dissolving Conservation Authorities, click onhttps://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/90c27 .

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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5 responses to “Municipal Councillors across Niagara and Hamilton Can and Should Move to Dissolve the  Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority

  1. If “We are not an environmental protection agency,” as stated by Sandy Annunziata, chair of the NPCA’s board of directors, what is the purpose of the NPCA? On the radio,one of the directors commented that the NPCA was willing to gain 3 times more area to create”wetlands” for the that surrendered to the developer – it sounds like a good deal until you ask the following question “Would you rather have a diamond or a zicron”?
    Because Saudi Arabia grants women the right to drive does that mean women have equal rights to men in Saudi Arabia?
    My questions to the politicians are: “Are you relying on developers’ dollars to fund your re-election campaign”? “Did developers fund previous election campaigns and are now demanding payback”?

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  2. Here’s my guess what will be happening with the NPCA in the next while. Niagara Region will take over some of the functions and the remainder will go to either the municipalities or Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Think about it if the NPCA is removed then they are isolated from further controversy about the audit and litigations. Best of all the Liberals dodge the bullet again! Too close to the election, Premier Wynne doesn’t want any more negative publicity. Your thoughts?

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  3. Mpp Wynne and the Ontario Corporate LIberal Government are in essence Negativity Personified and the lack of respect shown by this group is beyond the realm of the definition of “DEMOCRACY”

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  4. I think you’re playing right into their hand. I think they would have done that years ago themselves if they thought it was possible. Goodbye wetlands in Fort Erie if its in municipal politicians hands. Also municipalities are just like any other government. The direction goes back and forth and the next council may see these green spaces for tax value not quality of life for residents.
    My suggestion is what you’ve been calling for. A complete replacement of the board but with provisions in the act that require members to have certain environmental credentials and maybe even pass a knowledge test. At the very least!

    A Brief Response to Dan’s comment from Doug Draper = I agree that at least some municipalities – i.e. Fort Erie – have been advocating for weakening protection for wetlands for years, but what have we got now with the NPCA?
    At least there is more direct accountability with the people/voters at the municipal council level or at the provincial level, depending on which level took over stewardship for conservation areas and all programs or projects around watershed protection.
    Where is the accountability now with the NPCA?
    We go to the province and it says it has no powers to act and that citizens should take their concerns to the regional level. You go to the regional council and it bounces the ball back to the provincial court.
    This NPCA is able to go rogue and do whatever it wants because it operates in a grey zone where there is no clear government venue that citizens can take their concerns to with some expectation that they will be taken seriously and acted on. – Doug Draper

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  5. I agree with all the comments – which looks like I am indecisive but perhaps not so much “indecisive” as asking the question – “Who can we trust in any of the options?” Frankly I would be hesitant to leave any decisions of an environmental nature to municipalities alone. Your point about Fort Erie is pertinent Doug, and what about Wainfleet? April Jeffs sits on the NPCA Board and voted in favour of another disastrous development. We recognize clear conflicts of interest with Mayors sitting on the NPCA Board, clearly such individuals should not sit on the Board, that would be a start. As you also point out, we are getting nowhere with the province bouncing our concerns all over the place. Cindy Forster has raised this significant issue in the House, supported by Jim Bradley and Sam Oosterhoff – evident that this issue crosses “party lines” – commendably so but – NO response, nothing!! Why is there no “government venue”? We have petitions, we have written letters and emails only to receive pat “standard” empty “non” responses so what can be done? It seems to me that absolutely no one is accountable at any level and I seriously doubt that there are any elected individuals at any level (with a few exceptions) who can be trusted to take an ethical stand to protect the environment when developers’ donations would be lost. We could “demand” that the NPCA be reconstituted and that only individuals with NO vested interest in the outcome of decisions they have to make involving any potential conflict between environment/conservation and development but who/which “higher level” of authority could or would enforce that condition? We are witnessing unbridled manipulation, croneyism, nepotism at a level that defies credulity. We all agree on what would represent the “ideal” but it appears no level of government is willing to acknowledge the validity of that ideal and take necessary action to realize that. Why do we appear to have no other ethical, responsive, responsible elected people like Jim Bradley and Cindy Forster and Sam Oosterhoff speaking up? Where are the other local MPPs on this? If more of them spoke up in the House perhaps Wynne might – just might – realize something has to be done and a structure implemented which would articulate what is needed all over the Province to preserve and protect all necessary conservation and, at the same time, provide oversight with the power to step in to control “rogue” agencies like the NPCA before they get as totally out of control as this one is.

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