The Ford Government Would Do Well Not To Turn This Important Agency into just another Gift Shop For Its Partisan Pals
A Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted November 9th, 2018 on Niagara At Large
Toward the end of an address that the Niagara Park Commission’s current Chair, Janice Thomson delivered at a public meeting this past October, detailing robust state the NPC now finds itself in financially, and as a steward of the Niagara River corridor and a tourist draw, she had this to say –
“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.”
I would love to believe that these are not Thomson’s farewell remarks as Niagara Parks chair, but I fear they will be.
Thomson, a resident of Niagara-on-the-Lake who also serves as executive director of the town’s Chamber of Commerce & Visitor and Convention Bureau, was first appointed Chair of the NPC’s board by the province’s former Liberal government in 2011, is now only days away from finding out if she will be re-appointed by Ontario’s current Fort government or replaced (this November 15th) by someone else.
And that is where my nightmare begins.
My nightmare is that after more than five years of watching the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) transformed from a respectable conservation agency where a majority of its board members and senior staff demonstrated a real dedication to using the tools and rules and regulations available to them to protect and preserve our region’s natural heritage to something quite the contrary, we are now going to see the same thing happen at Niagara Parks.
In recent months, and weeks before Thomson delivered her address to members of the public and Niagara Parks’ board and staff that October 19th meeting, I have been hearing one rumour after another about some of the people now department from Niagara’s regional council – members of the so-called infamous cabal at the Region – and some of their friends and associations cut from the same partisan (mostly Conservative Party) clothe, interested in positions opening up at the Niagara Parks Commission this November as the terms of current board members and others expire.
I heard these rumours over and over again from people who are well placed to find out what is coming around the corner in political circles that it was hard not to take them seriously. “Keep an eye on Niagara Parks,” I was repeated told.
Then this October, I found out that Sandie Bellows, a St. Catharines city councillor who was running for and recently won a seat on Niagara’s regional council, was in the process of getting appointed to Niagara Park’s board, and had already appeared before an all-party standing committee on government agencies at Queen’s Park as part and parcel of having her candidacy for an NPC board position review.
Bellows’ appointment to the Niagara Parks board (while not yet officially announced), has since been confirmed, which is no real surprise.
Niagara Parks is a provincial agency, after all, and a Conservative government is now in power at Queen’s Park and in full appointment mode.
Bellows told the standing committee she always “been non-partisan” as a city councillor, and that may be true, but she also ran for the Ontario Conservatives and lost in the St. Catharines riding in the 2011 provincial elections, when Tim Hudak was the party’s leader, and ran and lost again in this past June’s Ontario elections with Doug Ford as the party’s leader.
In 2015, Bellows was also one of 13Niagara area individuals, including then federal Conservative MP Rick Dykstra from St. Catharines, Niagara Falls regional councillor and former Ontario Conservative MPP Bart Maves, then NPCA CAO (now Niagara Region’s CAO) Carmen D’Angelo and others of mostly Conservative stripes, who signed a memo to The St. Catharines Standard’s then corporate owners, charging that the newspaper was engaged in “anti-conservative writing” and in “attacks often consisting of unfounded, derogatory and defamatory inferences, using terms liker conservative cabal.”
Now Bellows is a newly elected member of Niagara’s regional council who has just been appointed to a position on Niagara Parks’ board where a number of other positions are open for appointments before the end of the year.
And most if not all of these positions can be filled by a Conservative government with a premier and a leader in Doug Ford who, in the weeks leading up to last June’s provincial elections, was caught on a video, telling a group of developers that, if he wins enough seats to form a government, he would be prepared to sell off “chunks” of Ontario’s environmentally protected Greenbelt for development – a declaration he quickly tried to run away from when the video surfaced.
Many across Niagara, including this reporter, watched with increasing concern over the past number years as the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority – first with Maves serving as chair of its board, then Bruce Timms, a St. Catharines regional councillor who also once ran as a provincial Conservative candidate, taking a turn in the chair’s seat, and finally Fort Erie Sandy Annunziata – showed the door to several dedicated environmentalists and conservationists on its staff , and lost the confidence of the public as a voice for conservation and environmental protection.
It would be nothing short of a tragedy of the commons if Doug Ford and his self-described “Government for the People” turned a world renown and vitally important agency like the Niagara Parks Commission – founded 133 years ago to do as much as possible to protect and preserve the natural beauty of the Niagara River corridor – into a gift shop for political partisans and risk having it beome a tragic joke like the NPCA.
If you wonder what I am worried about, just go and read or re-read the lengthy report Ontario’s Auditor General, Bonnie Lysyk, released this past September, with page after page on how badly things have fallen down at the NPCA.
We should not let that happen to the Niagara Parks Commission and those of us who care about the Niagara River corridor and the important work this agency does as its steward should contact our Provincial Members of Parliament as soon as possible and tell them we won’t tolerate Ford’s government doing an NPCA number on the NPC.
Nothing less than an agency we need to look after one of the world’s most beautiful and spectacular river corridors is at stake.
To read a piece Niagara At Large posted this October , featuring the full text of Niagara Parks Chair Janice Thomson’s address to members of the public and her board, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2018/10/31/in-less-than-10-years-ontarios-niagara-parks-has-progressed-from-financial-losses-to-surpluses-and-to-an-ever-brighter-future/
To read a full transcript of Sandie Bellows’ appearance before an all-party standing committee of the Ontario legislature over her candidacy for a seat on Niagara Parks’ board, click on – https://www.ola.org/en/legislative-business/committees/government-agencies/parliament-42/transcripts/committee-transcript-2018-oct-02#P78_3734 .
To read Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s special report on the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, click on – http://www.auditor.on.ca/en/content/specialreports/specialreports/NPCA_en.pdf
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