Meeting Date follows recent Ontario Court’s ruling that continued chaos at Conservation Authority cannot be tolerated
By Doug Draper
Posted December 28th, 2018 on Niagara At Large
Niagara’s new Regional Council has directed 12 council members it appointed to the board of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority to hold a special meeting as soon as possible to get going with the business of addressing what has been described as the “chaos” at the Conservation Authority.
“While Council recognizes the need for prompt action, the earliest possible date a Special Meeting could be held allowing for proper public notice required under NPCA by-laws and to ensure transparency is Jan. 7, 2019,” reads a statement released by the Regional Council following a closed-door session this December 28th.
The Regional Council went behind closed doors to discuss what direction to the council should give the Region’s lawyers when matters involving the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority are scheduled to be addressed in an Ontario court in Welland this coming January 2nd.
The January 2nd date was set earlier this December by Ontario Superior Court Judge James Ramsey following an application filed to the court by A Better Niagara, a citizens watchdog group in the region, to deal with attempts outgoing NPCA board members have made to continue in power, and to dictate who and how many individuals can sit on the new board.
At a December 21st court session, Judge Ramsey ruled that the 12 that the Region’s council appointed to the board earlier in the month are members of the new board, and all 12 Niagara members of the old board (which also has two members from Hamilton and one from Haldimand County not included in the judge’s ruling) are out.
Before the Region’s council went into closed session, Wayne Fertich, a new regional councillor for Grimsby, stood to praise the citizens group A Better Niagara for going to the provincial court over the matter.
“I would just like to thank the Better Niagara group for putting a fire under our backsides and everyone else’s,” Fertich said. “I think they have done a fabulous job.”
After the closed session got underway, two directors of the citizens group, Liz Benneian and Ed Smith, questioned whether it was necessary for the Region’s new council, which has promised a new era of transparency, to hold so much of the discussion over how many members Niagara can have on the NPCA board and related matters behind closed doors.
A Better Niagara may have more to say about that later as it too awaits the next court date with Judge Ramsay.
Benneian and Smith said he hope the judge finds that, according to the Ontario Conservation Act, Niagara and its 12 local municipalities could collectively have as many as 27 members on the NPCA board given the populations of the municipalities.
The Better Niagara directors both noted that a board with that many members on it would probably not be manageable, but they would like to see the number 27 recognized anyway. They said their ultimate hope is that Niagara representatives can sit down with representatives from Hamilton and Haldimand, who earlier this month insisted that Niagara can only have five members on the board, and Hamilton and Haldimand can have four and two respectively, and come to a reasonable compromise.
Jeff Burch, the Ontario NDP representative for the Niagara Centre Riding, attended the open session of Regional Council this December 28th.. He told reporters later that he has discussed ongoing questions and concerns around the NPCA, its old board and its management, with Ontario’s Environment Minister Rod Phillips, who assured him he is keeping an eye on what is unfolding and wants to see a satisfactory resolution.
Burch said he doesn’t believe the province wants to step in unless it is absolutely necessary.
“It is always better if local people can resolve local issues rather than have the provincial government come in with a heavy hand,” Burch said.
Niagara At Large will have much more commentary on where we go from here with the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority right after the New Year and before the January 7th special meeting.
For the record, here is a full text of the information Niagara’s Regional Council released following the December 28th meeting –
Statement – Niagara Regional Council resolution regarding A Better Niagara court application
“At their Special Council Meeting on Dec. 28, 2019, Niagara Regional Council passed the following resolution:
- That the Region of Niagara CONFIRMS SUPPORT for the relief in the Application commenced by A Better Niagara;
- That the NPCA representatives appointed by the Region of Niagara CALLa special meeting on January 7, 2019 for purposes of:
- Electing a Chair and Vice Chair;
- Reviewing current status and requesting updates from NPCA staff regarding operations, including HR organizational changes and other ongoing matters; and
- Receiving advice from NPCA’s legal counsel regarding HR matters;
- That Staff BE DIRECTED to seek the cooperation of Hamilton, Haldimand and NPCA Staff regarding the special meeting;
- That Staff BE DIRECTED provide administrative and operational support for the special meeting if required;
- That Legal counsel BE DIRECTED to seek direction from the Court on January 2ndregarding the procedural aspects of the special meeting; status of financial and legal assets and liabilities of NPCA and status of current CAO;
- That Staff PROCEEDas directed in closed session.
While Council recognizes the need for prompt action, the earliest possible date a Special Meeting could be held allowing for proper public notice required under NPCA by-laws and to ensure transparency is Jan. 7, 2019.”
For the record, here are the full names of the interim members Niagara’s Regional Council appointed to the NPCA board this December 6th, along with the local municipalities they represent –
Members of the interim board include West Lincoln Mayor Dave Bylsma, Welland Regional Councillor Pat Chiocchio, Lincoln Regional Councillor Robert Foster, Niagara Falls Regional Councillor Barbara Greenwood, St. Catharines Regional Councillor Brian Heit, Pelham Regional Councillor Diana Huson, Grimsby Mayor Jeff Jordan, Port Colborne Mayor Bill Steele, Thorold Regional Councillor Tim Whalen, Fort Erie Regional Councillor Tom Insinna, Wainfleet Mayor Kevin Gibson and Niagara-on-the-Lake Regional Councillor Gary Zalepa.
To read a news commentary Niagara At Large posted this past December 21st on an Ontario Court ruling over who now legitimately sits on the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority board, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2018/12/21/ontario-court-upholds-niagara-regions-appointment-of-12-new-members-to-npca-board/ .
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