I” noticed your recent RSVP to our event. … Please note that this event is invite-only and is being held for staff, family, and friends of the NPCA.” – the kiss-off message Niagara At Large got back from the NPCA to our request to attend the party
Does Anyone Out There Know How Much We Paid For This Bash?
A Commentary by Doug Draper, reporter/publisher, Niagara At Large
Posted October 27th, 2017 on Niagara At Large
Niagara, Ontario – Well, it was their party and I hope they got whatever lift out of it that they were looking for, because it probably isn’t going to last.
This past Wednesday, October 25th, while Well and Riding MPP Cindy Forster and an all-party Public Accounts Committee of the Ontario legislature finished up calling on the province’s Auditor General to do a full audit on the Niagara Peninsula conservation Authority’s operations, the board members and administrators at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority were getting ready to host what they called an “I LOVE NPCA KICKOFF PARTY” at the Ball’s Falls Conservation Area in an idyllic spot above the Niagara Escarpment in the municipality of Lincoln.
That’s right – not an ‘I love conservation party’ or an ‘I love Niagara’s natural heritage or the region’s watersheds party’, but an ‘I love the NPCA party’ because, after all, with all of the controversy swirling around the way the NPCA’s current rostrum of managers do business these days, it’s little wonder the NPCA honchoes are looking for a little more lovin’.
And with all of the shifting away – they call it ‘striking a balance’ – of the NPCA historic conservation and watershed protection and restoration mission in the interest of developers, builders and the like, isn’t it all about the NPCA and the great job its managers insist they are now doing of running it?
So there they were, getting ready to have their ‘I LOVE NPCA KICKOFF PARTY’ this past October 25th and invitations and registration information for it was starting to fly around the internet.
I had one of these invitations, prepared the NPCA’s “communications team” on behalf of its CAO, Mark Brickell, pop up in my inbox – sent to me, by the way, not from the NPCA, but from a second- or third-hand party – a day or two ahead of the big event, and it read as follows –
“I would like to invite you to the #IloveNPCA kickoff party that is being held at Ball’s Falls Conservation Area on Wednesday, October 25th, 12pm-2pm.”
“At this event,” the invitation went on, “we will be announcing some bold new initiatives that will further our commitment to delivering on our mandate. Without question, we are reinventing how the NPCA engages with stakeholders. We are excited for our future and hope you can join us at this event.”
Wow, I thought. You would assume that the NPCA would want the publisher of an online news venue like Niagara At Large, that typically gets many thousands of readers per week, and that got more than 10,000 direct hits (not to mention all those who shared it on Twitter and Facebook) within 36 hours for one story alone we posted on the NPCA earlier this month, to attend this event so I could report these “bold new initiatives” to our readers.
But when I clicked on a tab that came with invitation to register for the party, I got the following note back from one of the “communication specialists” for the NPCA –
“Dear Mr. Doug Draper,
I noticed your recent RSVP to our event— see email confirmation below.
Please note that this event is invite-only and is being held for staff, family, and friends of the NPCA.
While you are not on the list of invitees, we will gladly keep you informed once we’ve had the chance to engage with our staff, and primary stakeholders. You can expect a media release shortly after the event, outlining the announcements that take place.
Message to Erika Navarro; Niagara At Large did not receive a copy of the media release either, although I went out of my way to locate it on the NPCA’s website and post the whole thing, with no editing from me, in a spirit of sharing with our readers the news about these “bold new initiatives” that Brickell and other NPCA brass had been bragging about announcing for at least the past two or three weeks.
It is also interesting to note that not all news reporters got the kiss off message I did. A few were allowed for reasons some say may have something to do with the relatively soft coverage the media outlets they work for have offered up in the past.
But soft coverage or not, what respectable organization would cherry pick the media like that?
More to the point, why would any respectable organization want to do a by –invitation-only event where they are going to announce some big initiatives they are launching in the region – especially when that organization is public body funded with our tax dollars and planning to roll out these initiatives with even more of our tax dollars?
One of the NPCA’s communications people told me this past spring, when I asked why I don’t get any responses to questions or request for information from the Conservation Authority, that there is no point in responding to me because all I do is write negative information about the NPCA anyway.
Excuse me! Going back to my earliest years as an environment reporter for The St Catharines Standard – going on 38 years ago to be exact – I produced enough positive stories about projects and events the NPCA was doing to fill a dozen or so books.
I later worked as a so-called communications specialist for a number of organizations and four years ago I was invited by the NPCA to sit on one of the volunteer committees it organized in the process of developing its current strategic plan – a plan that, unbeknown to me and at least some of the others who volunteered many hours of their time for a year or more, morphed into the a framework for the poor excuse for a Conservation Authority we are faced with in this Niagara region today.
The committee I sat on, for which I received a letter in December 2014 from then NPCA CAO Carmen D’Angelo and board of directors Chair Bruce Timms, offering an award to me as one of “numerous stakeholders and volunteers who take the time, energy and resources to help make the Niagara watershed a great place to live,” focused on improving communication with the public. And I certainly don’t remember our committee recommending that it was a good idea to have by-invitation-only events for important announcement or to pick and choose which reporters to cover an announcement based on whether or not you liked some of the previous coverage they have been giving you.
In fact, I don’t know of any journalism or marketing program at a respectable college or university that would teach that. If I told a reporter something like; ‘We’re not answering your questions because you only write bad things about us anyway,’ while I was doing communications work for Great Lakes United or some of the other organizations I once worked for, I know damn well I would be called on the carpet and given a warning, if not let go.
Having said that, I don’t take the kiss-off note for the NPCA party personally. Others got it.
Indeed, Welland Riding MPP Cindy Forster, who got received an invitation not from another source, not the NPCA, too (can you imagine not sending an invitation to a Niagara area MPP when you are getting some of the money for your budget from the provincial government?), told me she got the same kiss-off message when she tried registering.
And speaking of Cindy Forster, let me finish off with a few more words about that call from the all-party legislative committee at Queen’s Park for the Auditor General to thoroughly review the NPCA’s books.
In that news release the NPCA put out on October 26th, outlining those bold new initiatives it announced at its love party, the Conservation Authority’s current board chair, Sandy Annunziata, declared that the board “was pleased to learn that the Auditor General has agreed to audit the NPCA.”
“We are grateful for the news that the Boards request to invite the Auditor General to conduct a value for money Audit of the NPCA has been approved,” added Annunziata.
Come on! Give us a frigging break. That is Donald Trump stuff.
The NPCA’s board only finally approved sending a request to the Auditor General to do the audit after Niagara area MPPs from all three parties, Liberal, NDP and PC, put out an open letter calling on them to do so, and after several months of citizens across the region and a majority of the local municipal councils in Niagara and Hamilton calling for a full audit of the Conservation Authority.
The Auditor General’s office actually put out a statement saying it wasn’t going to audit the NPCA after it got the request a few months ago from its board, and not one member of the all-party Public Accounts Committee said this October 25th that they should call on the Auditor General to do the audit because the NPCA requested it.
The committee made the unanimous call on the Auditor General to move forward with an audit after Cindy Forster outlined the case for doing it during the committee meeting.
No wonder so many people across this region have had it with this body and want the provincial government to call a special supervisor in to replace the board and management.
I hope the NPCA’s board members and managers, and all of those who are helping to legitimize and normalize the nonsense going on, by attending this love party, enjoyed themselves on our dime, because if there is any sanity left in the world, it won’t last.
P.S. – Just an apology to all of the Niagara At Large readers out there who are possibly getting more tired than I am of reading about the NPCA, and who look and subscribe to Niagara At Large for news and commentary on other topics of interest and concern.
I promise you that we will get back to all the other things in the days ahead. – Doug Draper
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