Veteran Niagara MPP Jim Bradley Raises Concerns About Conservation Authority in Ontario Legislature

“There is a forensic audit (of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority) that is needed. Critics would say there’s drastic action that is needed now.”-  St. Catharines Riding MPP Jim Bradley

Some Introductory Comments from Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper followed by Excerpts from Bradley’s Statement in Legislature

 Posted December 6th, 2017 on Niagara At Large

St. Catharines MPP Jim Bradley. File photo

Niagara, OntarioOn the same day – this past Tuesday, December 5th – that Welland Riding MPP Cindy Forster stood in the Ontario legislature to say, among other things, that many constituents she represents in the Niagara region are fed up with the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) and the “petty politics” of its regionally appointed board of directors, another Niagara area MPP – veteran St. Catharines Riding Liberal government member Jim Bradley – stood up to raise concerns about the Conservation Authority as well.

Bradley was hardly as direct as Forster was this December 5th in calling on the Ontario Liberal government he is part of to take firm action – as in appoint a special supervisor to take over NPCA operations – possibly because, as he noted during his comments in the legislature, Forster “has a little more leeway than I have as a member of government.”

Nevertheless, Bradley, who over his many years as an MPP has held several cabinet posts and served as house leader for his party, may be taking advantage of about as much leeway as he can given that his political boss, the province’s Premier Kathleen Wynne, and her Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry Kathryn McGarry have, for whatever reason, done little to nothing in terms of responding to the many concerns raised about the NPCA by residents, local municipal councils and MPPs across the Niagara region.

So here, for the record, are excerpts from the remarks Bradley made in the Ontario legislature this December 5th about the NPCA –

Ontario Hansard – 05-December2017

Jim Bradley

Mr. James J. Bradley: … “I want to concentrate on the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority and the Conservation Authority part of this (Ontario Municipal Board) act, because … of what we’ve seen happen in Niagara. This is something that’s pretty widespread in terms of the concerns that are expressed, not simply a couple of people after the authority, and it’s a broad cross-section of the community who are expressing concern about it.

There was a call for an independent audit of the Conservation Authority. That was rejected for a long period of time. It’s not just the year-end audit that organizations normally have. They were looking for a forensic audit, as a matter of fact.

Finally, the Auditor General of Ontario will be at some time in the future doing an audit, as a result of a motion by the member for Niagara Centre (Cindy Forster) in the public accounts committee, approved by the majority in the public accounts committee at that time. So she was the one who had that initiated. …..

Lincoln regional councillor Bill Hodgson resigned from NPCA board in spring of 2017 after other board members moved to censure him.

One of the great concerns that, again, we have had is the bullying of anybody who disagrees. Unfortunately, I think of (Lincoln regional councillor) Bill Hodgson—when I said that you won’t find a nicer person than Bill Hodgson serving on regional council … Well, Bill essentially got bullied off the (NPCA) board by the other people on the board because Bill had been one of the people who wanted to see an audit taking place. It seems that anybody who has criticized the authority is bullied into the background, whether it’s members of regional council, members of the board of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority—whoever disagrees.

The Mayor of Pelham (Dave Augustyn), for instance, has been critical. So what happens? All of a sudden, some of the people from the Conservation Authority start turning their political guns on the Mayor of Pelham. They said, “Well, there must be some financial malfeasance. Let’s look into Pelham’s finances.”. …

By and large, as I say, anybody who seems to take an interest in it and express a concern gets bullied or sued. There were some regional councillors who got sued. … The mistake the mayor of Pelham had made, Dave Augustyn, was that he dared to be critical of the procedures and the policies followed by Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority.

Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn

This is why the member for Niagara Centre (Welland Ridng MPP Cindy Forster) and I—in fact, the four members – have expressed concern and wanted to see something in the legislation that would allow this to be addressed from outside if it couldn’t be addressed from inside.

There was another person by the name of Ed Smith—they sued him. He’s just a local citizen. The judge just dismissed the suit out of hand. I’m going to read some of it. As Ed Smith was critical of the Authority, they said, “Well, you’re casting aspersions on what we’re doing. We’re going to sue you for $100,000.” He’s an individual citizen. He has no real axe to grind. He’s simply interested in the affairs that are related to natural resources and affairs related to the environment.

In a decision handed down last Thursday (November 23rd, 2017), “Judge James Ramsay dismissed the $100,000 suit against retired Air Force major Ed Smith filed by NPCA and a $100,000 suit jointly filed by its former CAO, Carmen D’Angelo.” Carmen D’Angelo is now—believe it or not—the chief administrative officer of the Niagara region. He was, at that time, just at the Conservation Authority. …

“In his decision, Ramsay said NPCA failed to demonstrate its case had any merit. The judge also said the NPCA, as a government agency, had no right to sue a citizen for criticizing it.”

Heaven knows, those of us in this House, if we sued everybody who criticized us—and there are sometimes legitimate reasons to do so—we’d be in court constantly.

Niagara citizen and retired Canadian Armed Forces officer Ed Smith, File photo by Doug Draper

Ramsay, the judge, “found that NPCA is ‘a body that has had trouble finding its way,’ and that its response to Smith’s report was not in keeping with the value Canada places on free speech.”

“‘I share the defendant’s disappointment at this treatment by the authority,’ Ramsay wrote in his decision. ‘A private citizen, he 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” … 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,’” said the judge. …

The judge went on to say, “In a free and democratic system, every citizen must be guaranteed the right to freedom of expression about issues relating to government as an absolute privilege, without threat of a civil action for defamation being initiated against them by that government. It is the very essence of a democracy to engage many voices in the process, not just those who are positive and supportive.” …

I do want to say that I commend Ed Smith; I commend all those who are contacting all four members (of provincial parliament, including Bradley, Forster, Niagara Falls Riding MPP Wayne Gates and Niagara West-Glanbrook Riding MPP Sam Oosterhoff) for the Niagara Peninsula about this. I am really concerned when I see some of the people who have been bullied into submission by others.

I want to compliment the minister (McGarry) on putting in the bill some provisions which would allow for more intervention or more supervision on the part of the provincial government. I know AMO (the Association of Municipalities of Ontario) was not in favour of appointing a supervisor, that ability, but I personally, at the committee, along with the member, was supportive of that being placed in the bill. It ultimately was not, but I think it could have been justified, in my personal view.

There is a forensic audit that is needed. Critics would say there’s drastic action that is needed now. They would say there should at least be an outside investigation taking place. The Ontario Public Service Employees Union made an excellent submission to the minister, and a submission, by the way, to the committee.

We look at all of these things that are happening. The member for Niagara Centre mentioned previously in a two-minute intervention that they’ve been trying to find out how much the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority has spent on lawyers, on legal fees, suing people who disagree with it, and I think that is fine as well. ….

….. The member for Niagara Centre (Cindy Forster) has been in the forefront of dealing with the issues related to the Conservation Authority here. She has a little more leeway than I have as a member of government. … I want to commend her, as I do, as she will join me in commending the local media, who have given a lot of coverage to this particular circumstance. A good, strong media—even when we disagree with it, and we do from time to time—is essential in our democracy.

Lastly I want to say, as she did, my commendation to Ed Smith, who took this upon himself and paid a significant penalty for being involved in this issue. I thank him very much, Speaker.” – end of Jim Bradley’s statement.

To watch  Welland Riding (Niagara Centre) MPP Cindy Forster make her statement about the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority in the Ontario legislature this December 5th, click on

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 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

 

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