Still Looking Like ‘the Same Old, Same Old’ at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority
A Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted January 15th, 2019 on Niagara At Large
There’s an oft-repeated lyric in song by the rock band The Who that goes like this; “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
The lyric is from a song called Won’t Get Fooled Again’ and the 12 members Niagara’s Regional Council appointed to the board of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) might do well to keep the title of that song in mind.
They might do well to remember it because citizens across Niagara spent the past four years fighting for openness and accountability, and for an NPCA that puts conservation first – a Conservation Authority that is a strong, unwavering voice for our natural heritage – and they are not about to be fooled by a new board that behaves like the old one.
Sad to say, there are growing numbers of citizens out there – you can hear them if you really want to – who are already losing hope that this new board is going to be very much different or that it has the will, the sense of urgency and that courage to make the changes needed to get our voice for what is left of our natural heritage back.
Some citizens are already saying that they want a supervisor with an expertise and dedication to conservation and environmental protection brought in to run this agency as soon as possible, and that they want an all-citizen board of directors to replace the politicians on the board who should be making their compromising on a municipal council – not on a body we need to be that one, singular voice in the governance sphere for wetlands and woodlands.
Why are citizens already beginning to question the resolve of this new board to get this desperately voice for our natural heritage back?
Here is a brief summary of the board’s record so far –
More than a month has passed since the Region’s new council, at its December 6th inaugural meeting appointed 12 members of the council to sit on a new NPCA board.
These members were appointed with directions from the Region’s council to hold a first meeting of the NPCA’s new board no later than December 12th – a date that came and went while members of the old NPCA board waved a 25-year-old Order in Council from the province to argue that this arcane document, which an Ontario government official had already confirmed was “null and void,” – not only gave them the right to stay put, but to have a say in who gets appointed to any new board.
It finally took the smarts and chutzpah of a citizens group called A Better Niagara to do what somebody in our government could have done.
The group hired a good lawyer from Toronto named Erin Pleet – the only lawyer in recent times who has demonstrated any real competence around out-manoeuvring those who have been throwing up obstacles at the NPCA, by the way – to obtain a ruling from an Ontario Superior Court Judge to confirm what people of sound mind already knew – that the new board is, indeed, the board, and that the old one is done, as in out of there.
Yet even after that, and while citizens across the region were wondering why Niagara’s new board members were not using the quorum they have by virtue of their numbers, to over-ride any further stalling tactics from hangers-on at the NPCA, it took another ruling from the same court that the citizens group had engaged in the first place to lock January 7th for a meeting.
And some meeting it was, with about three quarters of it – a full three and a half hours- held behind closed doors.
Members of the public, including members of the Better Niagara group that helped make the meeting possible, were left standing on the other side of glass doors with paper taped over them and a sign reading; “Meeting in closed session,” just like all the times, not so long ago, when the doors were papered over while the old board was running the show.
Then, just in case anyone out there was still wondering when a new era of openness and accountability might arrive, there was a story posted by The St. Catharines Standard this January 11th, noting that when a reporter for the newspaper asked the NPCA who the lawyer was that the new board met with to discuss human resources-related issues during the closed session, the Conservation Authority refused say.
“NPCA director of communications Krystle Caputo said on the advice of the agency’s lawyer, she would not disclose who the HR lawyer is or who at the NPCA authorized his hiring,” reads the newspaper report. “However, The Standard has learned that acting CAO David Barrick authorized the hiring of Mark Mason, an HR lawyer from the Toronto firm of Hicks Morely.”
In other words, more than two and a half months after a sizable number of Niagara voters went to the polls in municipal elections, wanting an end to this kind of secrecy, and more than a month after Niagara’s new Regional Council appointed new members to the NPCA board, we still have an agency, funded with our tax dollars, that is unwilling to identify the name of a lawyer, who is being paid for with our tax dollars, and who is meeting with a group of municipal politicians elected by the people of Niagara.
We still have a Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority that is, in effect, saying through a reporter, to the people of this region; ‘We’re not telling you. It is none of your business.’
This is the way of doing business that citizens and reporters came to expect from the NPCA when the old board was in place, and here it is, still going on under a new board.
It is a way of doing business that – to use a word that Ontario Superior Court Justice James Ramsey used in December to the describe the situation at the NPCA – is “intolerable.”
At the time Justice Ramsey used that word, members of the old board and whoever else was and may still be running the NPCA at the administrative levels could be blamed.
Well, the old board isn’t there anymore.
We have a new board now and the longer this manner of doing business goes on at this public agency, the more that the new board members and the Regional Councillors who appointed them are going to own it.
Meet the new board. Same as the old board?
We shall see, and one thing is for sure. After everything the citizens of this region have been through with the NPCA, it is not very likely that they will be fooled again?
The new board is scheduled to convene again – this time for the NPCA’s Annual General Meeting – this coming Wednesday, January 16th, starting at 9:30 a.m. at the Ball’s Falls Centre.
We’ll be watching.
For more on all of this, click on – https://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/news-story/9082335-exclusive-barrick-fired-by-npca-rehired-appointed-as-cao/
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