“The City of Port Colborne respectfully requests the Premier of Ontario to immediately appoint a Supervisor to take over the operations of the NPCA.” – from the motion passed this November 27th by Port Colborne City Council
A News Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted November 28th, 2017 on Niagara At Large
Niagara, Ontario – Three tries this October and November, and finally we have a municipal council in the region that voted in favour of calling on the Ontario government to appoint a supervisor to take control of operations at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority.
St. Catharines’ City Council entertained a motion first a provincially appointed supervisor for the NPCA, but this October put it off in favour of asking its staff to study questions and concerns many Niagara citizens have raised about the way the run-amok Conservation Authority does business first.
Earlier this November, the Council for the Township of Wainfleet considered a similar motion and chose to put off giving it any further consideration until Ontario’s auditor general takes a look at the NPCA’s books.
Then this November 27th, the Council for the City of Port Colborne voted five to three in approval of a motion for a provincially appointed supervisor tabled by Port Councilor and a former NPCA board of directors member Barbara Butters and seconded by Councillor Angie Desmaris with some strong words of support from other councilors, most notably Yvon Ducet and Dave Elliott, who (in Elliott’s case) scolded representatives of the NPCA for – to this day – failing to answer questions and concerns Niagara citizen Ed Smith, with the backing of many other area citizens, MPPs and area councilors, put to them more than a year ago!
The motion was approved by a majority on the Port Colborne council with numerous area citizens looking on and with Sandy Annunziata, NPCA board chair and Fort Erie regional councilor, NPCA CAO Mark Brickell, NPCA communications strategist Krystle Caputo and Port Colborne Mayor John Maloney, appointed to sit on the NPCA’s board of directors by Niagara’s Al Caslin’s administration of regional government, there to witness it.
The motion reads, in part;
WHEREAS Port Colborne City Council is concerned that a recent decision to reduce staff will have a negative impact on the NPCA’s ability to protect, preserve and rehabilitate lands in the watershed area;
AND WHEREAS Port Colborne City Council has lost confidence in the current Board and management of the NPCA;
AND WHEREAS each of the Local Area Municipalities contributes funds through the levy in Niagara to the NPCA, and therefore a high level of accountability to the citizens of Niagara is expected;
THEREFORE THE COUNCIL OF THE CORPORATION OF THE CITY OF PORT COLBORNE RESOLVES AS FOLLOWS:
THAT the City of Port Colborne respectfully requests the Premier of Ontario to immediately appoint a Supervisor to take over the operations of the NPCA; and
THAT if said Supervisor is not appointed within sixty days, the board be dissolved and be replaced by directors appointed by the members of the lower tier municipalities, based on skill set, not politics or political ties, and that Niagara Region develop the process with stakeholders, to be in place after 2018 Municipal Election.
Prior to the motion being passed, Ed Smith, a St. Catharines citizen and retired Canadian Armed Forces officer Ed Smith, who this past November 23rd saw an Ontario court judge dismiss defamation lawsuits filed against the NPCA and former NPCA CAO Carmen D’Angelo for raising concerns in a document he produced about the way the Conservation Authority does business with millions of dollars of our tax money, told the council about a focus on economic needs of the region creeping into the Conservation Authority’s mandate, a purging of individuals with an environmental focus from the NPCA’s staff and the hiring a private consultant with public money to support the interests of a private developer.
Albert Garofalo, a Niagara residents with an environmental background who was recently let go by the NPCA as the only representatives for nature clubs in the region on one of the Conservation Authority’s advisory committees, showed the council a number of examples of places in Niagara where natural areas had been stripped for development where, he said, the NPCA should have played more of a role in attempting to save as much of them as possible for the wildlife they hosted.
Caputo, recently hired to the NPCA’s communications team, countered that NPCA is a “healthy organization” and an “organization of integrity” and she said she has found it “disheartening” that so many negative stories about it are posted by the local media.
The NPCA, she added, is subjected to a “ridiculous amount of media scrutiny” and is a target of mis-information, some of it included in the document that Ed Smith produced, that was the subject of the NPCA’s failed court action – a comment that raised some jeers from citizens packing the council chambers.
Brickell, Annunziata and NPCA-hired consultant Todd MacDonald all took turns at arguing that the NPCA is running much better than it did four or five years ago when some of them and their contemporaries on the board and occupying management positions at the Conservation Authority began taking what they described as a weak and poorly run organization and began turning it around.
Councillor Dave Elliott asked why, if the NPCA is now as open and transparent as it claims to be and after all of this time, it still hasn’t gotten together with citizens like Ed Smith and directly answered his questions and concerns.
“Everything I hear from you has been push back,” said Elliott to Brickell and the other NPCA representatives in the room. Why not just “answer the peoples’ questions?”
Councillor Angie Desmarais added that she continues to read reports about an NPCA “run amok” and an NPCA that, according to the recent Ontario court’s ruling “has lost its way,” and those now in charge of the body have had more than enough time to do something about that. The problems and lack of public confidence now plaguing the NPCA are going to continue, she added, until municipal councils across the Niagara region stop deferring motions for the province to call in a supervisor and a supervisor is finally brought in to make things right.
“The citizens of Niagara don’t trust you guys any more,” added Port Colborne councillor Yvon Ducet. “You are doing work for us and if you don’t have our trust, you can’t do the work.”
Barbara Butters, the Port Colborne councilor who initially tabled the motion for a supervisor, grew angry about statements the NPCA has continued to make since the Ontario court case that Smith is deliberately circulating misinformation. She said the NPCA has made the charges while failing to point out that Ontario Court Judge James Ramsay ruled that Smith has not behaved with malice and was doing the best he could to raise concerns and ask questions about the NPCA with the information he was able to get.
Toward the end of her remarks, Butters read a couple of paragraphs from Judge Ramsay’s November 23rd ruling she said everyone should give careful consideration to. They read as follows –
“I share the defendant’s disappointment at his treatment by the Authority. A private citizen,” wrote the Judge, “he (Smith) raised questions about the governance of the authority. He was met with a public accusation of forgery and the threat of litigation from “his own government,” as he put it, together with a demand that he issue a written apology, undertake never again to publish “the document” which contained many things that are not said to be actionable, and reveal his sources. There are many places in the world where I might expect such a thing to happen, but not in our beloved Dominion.”
Reading those words from the Judge about a body that should be serving the public and open to its questions and concerns “choked me up,” said Butters. “It brings me to tears.”
Shortly after Butters read those words, her motion calling on the Ontario government to bring in a supervisor to run the NPCA passed.
She and others are now hoping that other local municipal councils across Niagara will pass a similar motion and that Premier Kathleen Wynne and her Liberal government will finally step in a do something about a matter that has been a focus of growing public service going on at least two years now.
Like many others, Niagara At Large will be watching and reporting. Stay tuned for more on the NPCA controversy in the days and weeks ahead.
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