Here’s hoping that the biggest winner of the NPCA games is the environment
A Commentary by Carolyn Ioannoni, a member of Niagara Falls, Ontario’s city council
Posted October 18th, 2017 on Niagara At Large
This past Monday, October 16th, I attended a St. Catharines city council meeting.
Council meetings around the Niagara Region have begun to feel like episodes of Survivor. They are being viewed, not for what they are positively accomplishing for the communities they serve, but to see who, in a manner of speaking, will be kicked off the island.
I must say in all honesty, I rather enjoyed being on the viewing side of the audience for a change. The view was so much clearer as a spectator as opposed to a player in the blood bath game of politics that has become the norm in Niagara.
The topic of the evening that brought out environmental activists and union protestors alike was a motion tabled by St. Catharines Councillor Bruce Williamson that would call on the Premier of Ontario to “immediately appoint a supervisor to take over the operations of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority”.
If passed, St. Catharine’s’ city council would have been the first local council in Niagara to call on Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and her government to appoint a special supervisor to come in and sweep out the senior managers and board of directors at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA).
Within the past year, representatives of municipal and provincial government across Niagara and the Hamilton area where the NPCA also has some jurisdiction over the Niagara watershed, have called for more public accountability at the Conservation Authority. NPCA CAO Mark Brickell admitted that the public perception out there now is that the NPCA goes from one controversy to another.
So passage of Williamson’s motion for a special supervisor to come in should have been a no brainer, right? Wrong.
Public perception also is that this NPCA board has become synonymous with threatening, bullying, attacking, censuring, firing, and suing people who dare question how it operates. This was never more clear than when, in his address to the St. Catharines city council this past Monday, October 16th, NPCA board chairman Sandy Annunziata, a Fort Erie regional councilor, highlighted that the majority of board members the council would be asking the Premier to remove, should Williamson’s motion be approved, were their peers in municipal politics.
Annunziata spoke those words in a normal, measured tone of voice but in truth, they were the loudest words he uttered in the entire time he spoke and answered questions. The subtlety of that wording was like a hammer hitting a fly, reminding the council of the repercussions the NPCA, and regional councilors/Mayors have brought down on anyone that has spoken out against them.
In political speak, it meant; “Keep the code boys, have our backs, don’t make trouble.”
I want to point out that while there are two women on St. Catharines’ council, neither were present at the meeting.
Mr. Annunziata’s use of those words have even greater meaning when put in context with those who have been in the path of the wrath of the NPCA.
The list is well known and continues to grow. They are Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn, Lincoln Regional Councillor Bill Hodgson, Welland Riding MPP Cindy Forster, former NPCA employee Jocelyn Baker, community activist Ed Smith and myself.
It’s important to point out that those of us who are elected officials and are being targeted because we are asking questions of the NPCA are being targeted by our fellow council ors…..our peers, be it at the regional or local council level, so the use of those particular words spoke volumes.
Because despite hearing from Lucy Morton, a spokesperson for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) which represents some of the employees at the NPCA, including eight who were the latest to be removed from their jobs, out discussed a recent survey charging the NPCA with operating an unhealthy, toxic workplace, and despite hearing from a local environmental expert, Owen Bjorgan who highlighted how very far many citizens in Niagara feel the NPCA has strayed from its historic conservation mandate, and despite a letter from MPP Forster supporting the request for a supervisor, the council voted to refer the questions and concerns that had been raised that evening to staff for answers.
Are they all living in a bubble?
With all due respect to the St. Catharines council, if the politicians of all levels are asking questions and can’t get the answers they are looking for, how does this council think the city’s staff is going to get them?
Why would you even put your staff in that position?
Make no mistake, this October 16th council session was a political showdown.
Facts and common sense be damned. The members of that council, for whatever reason, were not going to put themselves in the crosshairs of the NPCA and their political peers, who incidentally are one and the same.
I commend Councillor Williamson for not backing down and for putting the motion on the floor in the first place.
Those of us out here who are continuing to demand accountability still have room at our table and we are solidly pro information, anti-bullying and welcome everyone out there to join us.
So today, the Survivors on the board of the NPCA still have control of the island, but stay tuned because the twist for the next season is that municipal elections are coming in October of 2018, and the tide is turning with every controversy and fact that becomes public.
When those alliances no longer work for the “peers” Mr. Annunziata sits with on the NPCA board, they will start to make new ones.
It will be interesting to watch how fast the board members splinter and try to distant themselves from this endless controversy to stay in office. We have already seen it start with the comments made by Welland Mayor and NPCA board member Frank Campion in a taped conversation that became public earlier this year where he was very critical of how the NPCA was being run.
That wedge will grow wider as we head into the finale of silly season and next year’s municipal elections draw ever more near.
It is then that we will see who gets voted off the NPCA island and who
It appears with the inaction so far by this Liberal government it is then, and only then will we see who gets voted off the NPCA island and who the winners are.
Personally I am hoping the environment wins. That’s the only way our children and grandchildren will be able to be survivors, and that is far more important than the game of politics.
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