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, 2017 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.
“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 amplify 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.
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.
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 on – http://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 on – https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/90c27 .
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