The public made it “very clear” in October municipal elections that it wants the Conservation Authority’s current board to “just go away.” – St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik
By Doug Draper
Posted November 27th, 2018 on Niagara At Large
The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority needs a brand new board “as soon as possible,” said St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik as the NPCA’s CAO, Mark Brickell, sat in the city’s council chambers this November 26th, shaking his head ‘no’.
“I’m sorry Mark, but that old board has got to go,” added the mayor as he looked back and saw Brickell shaking his head with the recently defeated St. Catharines regional councillor and NPCA board member Bruce Timms sitting beside him.
The public made it “very clear” during this October’s municipal elections that it wants to see things change at an NPCA, Sendzik said.
“I think that it is very important that the old board just go away.”
The St. Catharines mayor’s remarks came just days after the Conservation Authority’s current board chair – defeated Fort Erie regional councillor Sandy Annunziata – circulated a memo on the board’s behalf to all Niagara area municipalities, claiming that language in a 1994 “Order in Council” from the province allows the current board to remain in place, at least until it plays a role in deciding who sits on the next board.
Sendzik dismissed the claim. “I think they are just playing games,” he said.
St. Catharines’ council then passed a motion, calling on the Ontario government to consider making provisions in its legislation that would give it the power to appoint a supervisor to take control of a Conservation Authority if there is reason to believe it is not being operated in the best interests of the public.
Earlier in its November 26th meeting, the council considered a motion, tabled weeks ago by one of its members, Carlos Garcia, urging the province to appoint a supervisor to take over operations at the NPCA now.
Garcia’s motion followed the release last September of a report from Ontario’s Auditor General, Bonnie Lysyk, detailing many problems with the way the NPCA has been doing business in recent years.
The motion was still on the table earlier this November when the council voted to send out an open invitation to members of the public with expertise and an interest in the conservation field to put their names forward for consideration as St. Catharines’ representative on a new NPCA board.
Garcia agreed to amend his motion after fellow councillor Mat Siscoe expressed concern that bringing in a supervisor now might “undercut” the efforts of a new board to get the Conservation Authority back on track.
During a brief presentation he made to St. Catharines’ council, Brickell insisted that the NPCA has already come a long way in addressing the concerns the Auditor General flagged in her report and “most of the stakeholders we are dealing with … feel really good about the Conservation Authority.”
Even if the province had the powers to bring in a supervisor, said Brickell, doing that now would be unsettling for NPCA staff.
“Our staff wants stability,” Brickell said. “It is time for the politics to settle down.”
St. Catharines councillors also heard from Ed Smith, a community activist who has been fighting for about three years now to make the NPCA more accountable to the public and who also found himself fighting and eventually defeating a lawsuit the Conservation Authority slapped on him for raising concerns about the way it does business.
Smith told the council there are still many questions and concerns around what the NPCA is and is not doing that is eroding public trust, including a wing of its operations, called the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Foundation (NPCF) that is supposed to be raising charitable funds for conservation projects.
In 2017 alone, said Smith, documents show that the NPCF raised more than $200,000 and most of that donated money was spent on galas and fundraisers. Less than $4,000 of it went to conservation activities that the foundation was set up to support.
There is no way that the same board and management that lost the trust of the public over the past four years can be counted on to rebuild that trust, Smith said.
A new board could be in place before the end of the year, and “let’s hope,” said Sendzik, “that this is the last time that the NPCA comes up like this (at a council meeting), and we start to hear all good things that the NPCA is doing” in the conservation field.
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