In Less Than 10 Years, Ontario’s Niagara Parks Has Progressed From Financial Losses To Surpluses  – And To An Ever Brighter Future

Niagara Parks Commission chair Janice Thomson

“In 2016, we generated a surplus of $12 million on $97 million in revenue and a surplus of $17 million on $110 million in revenue in 2017. And again this year, we are projected to see a surplus of over $11 million on $121 million in revenue. All surplus funds are directed to environmental initiatives, cultural events, new capital projects and deferred maintenance.” – Janice Thomson, Chair, Niagara Parks Commission Chair

An Address from Janice Thomson, Chair of Ontario’s Niagara Parks Commission to the NPC’s board and members of the public

Delivered at a Public Meeting, Niagara Parks Commission
School of Horticulture, Friday October 19, 2018

Posted October 31th, 2018 on Niagara At Large

(A Brief Foreword from Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper –

This November marks the finish of Janice Thomson’s current term as chair of the Niagara Parks Commission and her re-appointment to this key position is totally at the discretion of Ontario Premier Doug Ford and his government.

Ford and his government – a government and a Conservative Party that professes to care about and to want public agencies that run efficiently and save taxpayers money – would do well to appoint Janice Thomson to another term as the NPC’s chair.

I don’t know if Janice Thomson is a partisan or member of a political party, and I don’t care, and neither should Premier Ford and his government. Partisan politics should play no role in who gets appointed to any position at Niagara Parks.

All that should matter is that Niagara Parks has not bee run this well in at least two decades now and Janice Thomson has played a key role in its recent successes. She deserves another term in the job.

If you feel so inclined, you may wish to contact your Ontario member of parliament -MPP- and let him or her know that you would like to see Janice Thomson re-appointed chair of the Niagara Parks Commission so she can continue to build on the successes of the past 10 years.)

Now here are Janice Thomson’s October 19th comments to the NPC’s board and members of the public – 

“The Niagara Parks Commission was founded in 1885, 133 years ago. In all of those years, the organization has been served by many thousands of employees, but only 11 General Managers or Chief Executive Officers.

“Today, I have the bittersweet task of recognizing the dedicated efforts of one of those 11 organizational leaders and outstanding public servants, Reegan McCullough, as he prepares to depart Niagara and Niagara Parks to assume a community CAO role in Alberta.

In two short years, Reegan has embraced the core values of the NPC and has helped us translate future potential into actual plans with clear strategies. His vast experience and respect for organizational excellence has moved the NPC along a continuum that will position the agency to deliver on its mandate — to preserve and enhance the natural beauty of Niagara Falls and the Niagara River corridor as a public green space…..at no cost to taxpayers.

Reegan’s inclusionary leadership style and the work of the Commission’s Governance, Ethics and HR Committee, ensures that we have a solid succession plan in place, with a team of senior directors backed by experienced staff to deliver on the established strategic plan.

David Adames, the current Chief Operating Officer, who has been working alongside Reegan for the past two years, is serving as Acting CEO and will ensure continuity and momentum is maintained moving forward.

With over a dozen key projects underway, ranging from redevelopment of the Table Rock facility, stabilization and repurposing of the power plants to implementation of an overall Master Plan to guide the ongoing management, programming and development of the lands within Queen Victoria Park, NPC is delivering on its mandate in a measured, responsible manner, with no assumption of debt.

Prudent fiscal management continues to be a critical element in our success, as we direct 100% of surpluses to environmental initiatives, cultural projects and re-investment in deferred maintenance and capital projects.

Reegan, thank you for your service to the NPC. We will wish you well closer to your departure date of Nov 2, but I wanted to take this opportunity at today’s public meeting to share the Commission’s complete satisfaction with the results you have generated during your time with us. Your professionalism and enthusiasm for the important work of the NPC has been well noted and appreciated by everyone who has collaborated with you.

Thank you for working with us to deliver outstanding results for the owners of these magnificent properties…the people of Ontario.

As Chair of NPC since Nov 2011—and in fact just the 14th Chair of NPC since 1885–I have had many occasions to recognize the work of NPC staff through recognition and retirement events.

The constant elements on all of those occasions have been dedication, joy and pride. With over 1700 individuals employed throughout Niagara Parks, many families are impacted by the successful stewardship of NPC.

Whether it’s students working to cover costs of education, apprentices learning the skilled trades of culinary or horticulture, or staff members fulfilling a long term career with a well-earned retirement, there is a common denominator of immense pride in the achievements of Niagara Parks.

Cycling along the shores of the Niagara River on Niagara Park’s trails

It’s impossible to single out or even name every department or division – from Police to Forestry to Culinary, Retail or Attractions–everyone carries the same Niagara Parks pedigree of caring, integrity, hospitality and accountability.

Two weeks ago, Vice Chair Andrew and myself attended an annual session held jointly by Ontario’s Conflict of Interest and Integrity Commissioners, the Honourable Sidney Linden and the Honourable David Wake, an opportunity for Agency Ethics Executives to share challenges and receive advice.

Vice Chair Andrew and myself were very proud when it was noted that only ten agencies in the Province, out of 159 public bodies or groups of public bodies, have adopted rules for conflict of Interest and conduct that exceed legislated requirements and are approved by the Conflict of Interest Commissioner.

Inside Niagara Parks’ Butterfly Conservatory

NPC had our rules approved in 2011, an important control for an organization that functions as an operational enterprise.

On that same day, we received confirmation from the Integrity Commissioner that we continue to be 100% compliant with regard to expenses incurred by Commissioners and staff. Annually, The Office of the Integrity Commissioner has the discretion to determine which agencies, boards and commissions will have its expenses reviewed.

Currently, 18 public bodies have been selected for a review and audit of expenses and NPC has successfully passed six quarterly reviews since October 2016, with 100% compliance.

Those are important measures of good governance and I certainly appreciate the combined efforts and dedication of our Commissioners and staff to uphold the high standards we have adopted.

For more than a century, Niagara Parks has been a key steward of the corridor lands along the Canadian shores of the Niagara River, from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. Niagara Parks’ Whirlpool Golf Course is visible here, above the tree-covered gorge of the Lower Niagara River.

As my current term as Chair comes to an end  in mid November, I have been reflecting on our combined accomplishments and I am immensely proud of the current state of the NPC.

We have gone from annual losses of $5 million on total revenues of $76 million just seven years ago to increasing our revenue and generating surpluses. In 2016, we generated a surplus of $12 million on $97 million in revenue and a surplus of $17 million on $110 million in revenue in 2017.

And again this year, we are projected to see a surplus of over $11 million on $121 million in revenue. All surplus funds are directed to environmental initiatives, cultural events, new capital projects and deferred maintenance. We have been whittling away at deferred maintenance and improvements are visible throughout the Parks, but over $150 million in maintenance is still to be managed.

These investments will enable the NPC to remain as a leading tourism attractor, a major driver of the local and provincial economy and a generator of jobs, while fulfilling the all-important mandate to preserve and conserve, at no cost to taxpayers.

In fact, The Niagara Parks Commission pays its share in the community.

Janice Thomson speaking to Niagara Parks board at October 19th public meeting. Photo by Doug Draper

Our budget of over $4 million for Policing is covered by NPC, with no cost to the Regional taxpayer; we have established fair and measurable Payments in Lieu arrangements with the three adjacent municipalities, concluded an agreement with the City of Niagara Falls whereby the NPC contributes $1million annually to the city portion of the WEGO system and we’ve collaborated with event organizers to host and contribute financially to Fireworks, Falls Illumination, New Year’s Eve and Winter Festival of Lights.

How could one not be proud?

The turnaround for NPC has been quite a journey to this point, with recognition due to many individuals–past Chair Booker, retired GM John Lohuis, the professional Ministry of Tourism officials and staff, the Assistant and Deputy Ministers who served as Commissioners as we transitioned the agency to its current position of strength, Vice Chair Andrew, Committee Chairs Ian Nielsen-Jones and Lois Giles, fellow Commissioners and staff members and, of course, the thousands of individuals–tourism stakeholders, visitors, members of the media and the public–who have taken the time to provide valuable feedback and input to the organization.

Fireworks at the Falls

The establishment of our commercial relationship with Hornblower was a major turning point for NPC. We are now in year six of a thirty year lease agreement and the negotiated lease terms are enabling NPC to upgrade facilities and services, resulting in a vast uplift in the level of customer service and guest satisfaction.

We also procured a long-term lease for the zipline and adventure course – the first new outdoor attraction at Niagara Parks in 100 years. This was not entered into lightly, there was extensive consideration given to locations and impact on views, and we sought both public and expert input from George Stockton of Moriyama & Teshima – the authors of the 100 Year Plan for NPC.

Then there’s the joy ….

– The joy that we witness visitors experiencing the first time — and every time — they visit Niagara Parks.

– The joy that all of us feel when we deliver on our goal of maintaining the pre-eminence of the Niagara Parkway as a continuous environmental and cultural corridor, characterized by spectacular natural elements including the Niagara Glen, the Niagara River Gorge and the Canadian Horseshoe Falls.

When we see the lands stewarded by Niagara Parks being maintained in a natural state for the enjoyment of future generations;

  • – When we see a silver lining emanating from the devastation of an event such as the ash borer disease that has taken more than 6,000 ash trees from NPC to date, when the felled trees are used—along with recycled Christmas trees–to create new marine coastal wetlands for marine habitat along the river’s edge;
  • – When we see young people benefit from NPC facilities, like the Special Olympics athletes we recognized this morning;
  • – When we can contribute to positive local economic development, as seen when GE’s decision to locate in Welland was supported by NPC creating a grassland habitat for the bobolinks that had to be relocated;
  • – When we see cultures from around the world celebrating with music, dance and cuisine on the lands of the NPC in an open, inclusive and safe environment.

These are not farewell remarks, but I did want to take this opportunity at a public meeting to comment on our current positive state and recognize the dedicated efforts of all staff and Commissioners that brought the organization to this point and will lead it to great heights in the future.

The NPC is on a positive trajectory and I want to thank each of you for the critical role you play in the success of this wonderful public trust – the NPC.

Niagara Parks Commission chair Janice Thomson

About JANICE THOMSONJanice Thomson is Executive Director of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce & Visitor and Convention Bureau. She has over 30 years of senior management experience including extensive marketing, public relations, conference planning, market research and sales training experience gained primarily in the import automotive industry, most recently as National Sales Manager for BMW Canada for six years, following a 13 year career with Jaguar Canada Inc. and Saab Canada. Representing Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Destination Marketing Organization and 500-member Chamber of Commerce as Executive Director, Ms. Thomson serves on regional and provincial tourism committees and is presently co-Chair of the Tourism Partnership of Niagara and Chair of the Niagara Parks Commission.

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

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