Is the NPCA’s New Board a Washout?

Unfortunately, It Sure Looks That Way & Niagara Deserves A Much Better Voice For Our Environment Than This.

A News Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper

Posted January 23rd, 2019 on Niagara At Large

It was just a month ago that a Superior Court Justice, James Ramsay, stated in an Ontario court in Welland that the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) was in a state of “chaos” and that circumstances inside this public agency were “intolerable” enough that new board members, appointed by Niagara’s Regional Council, needed to meet as soon as possible to address what is wrong.

Almost two months after  Niagara’s new Regional Council appointed 12 new members to the board of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA), how much of what an Ontario Superior Court judge called “chaos” at the NPCA has the new board really addressed?

Well, thanks in no small part to efforts a citizens group called A Better Niagara made in that court,  a new board of the NPCA has now met a total of three times – much of those times behind closed doors with little to show in the way of real change.

“I have lost faith in this board,” said Liz Benneian, A Better Niagara’s executive director, when those doors were closed on the board’s third kick at fixing the NPCA can this January 23rd.  

Sorry to say, it has lost the confidence of this reporter too – so much so that, like many others, I have gone from celebrating the Niagara Regional Council’s appointment of 12 new members to the board during its December 6th inaugural meeting (all of them elected members of the Region’s council), to concluding that they must stand aside and make way for citizen appointees just as soon as their three-month, interim terms on the board are over this March. – if not sooner!

As much as a few of these 12 Niagara members seem to be trying to make the changes that so urgently need to be made at the administrative level of the NPCA – changes that should already have been made at least weeks ago for the sake of this agency , its rank and file employees and, most of all, for what is left of our precious natural heritage it is entrusted to protect and preserve on our behalf.

One would think that the findings in a scorching report Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk released on the NPCA last September would be all the information a new board would need to take urgent action.

Unfortunately, what one  sees and feels while attending this new board’s meetings, to the extent the meetings are open at all, is a general lack of vision (nothing even approaching a fulsome statement from the chair on where the board is determine to go) and a lack of will and courage to move forward with the urgency required to right all of the wrongs here.

One wonders how many on this board have even taken the time to read and fully digest the findings in a report that Ontario’s Auditor General, Bonnie Lysyk released last September, after several months of investigating the way this agency has gone about doing business.

With the exception of a few of the new appointees, like Brian Heit, a regional councillor from St. Catharines, and Barbara Greenwood, a regional councillor from Niagara Falls, and maybe a handful of others, one sees no demonstrable sense of urgency at work here.

It looks more like just one more group that has found another sandbox to play around in, even while it is being lead around by the nose by a handful of people in administrative positions that they have recently risen to through some process that the rest of us apparently have little or no business knowing anything about.

Never mind that among other things, the Ontario Auditor General flagged hiring practices as a serious problem at this agency.

At the first meeting of the new NPCA board, these doors to the meeting room were closed to the public for more than three hours. At its January 23 meeting, the doors were closed again for more than two hours. Shortly before the board went into closed session, one of its members held up a brown envelope he said contained allegations about someone inside. What in hell is going on here?

This new board is depressing to watch and it is hard to imagine that anything as lethargic as it is would ever be tolerated it the NPCA was a private company rather than a public body funded with our tax dollars. If this was a private company, the shareholders would give members of this board the boot before they had time to say repeat words; “Now we’re going into closed session.”

Indeed, if this was a private corporation that received a report on its operations as scorching as the one the Auditor General tabled, there would have been a complete house-cleaning in the upper management of this organization months ago.

This new NPCA board is not doing the job, and Niagara’s Regional Council and the councils of Niagara’s 12 local municipalities need to get to work to appoint citizen members – people who are as tough as they are intelligent and dedicated to a conservation mission  – to the NPCA board as soon as possible.

The late Doug Elliott and one of the founding members of the NPCA. It is hard to imagine what he would think of the state of this Conservation Authority today.

I think about so many of the people I came to know and respect at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority  as an environment reporter at The St. Catharines Standard more than two or three decades ago – passionate conservationists like Doug Elliott, Gord Harry and Andy Burt and so many others like them – and  their dedication serves as a reminder that this agency – this important voice for our region’s natural heritage –  deserves far better than what it is getting in the way of leadership now.

Niagara At Large will have more to say about this in a news commentary we will post on this site this January 24th and in in the days and weeks ahead.

Stay tuned.

NIAGARA AT LARGE encourages you to join the conversation by sharing your views on this post in the space following the Bernie Sanders quote below.

A reminder that we only post comments by individuals who also share their first and last names.

For more news and commentary from Niagara At Large – an independent, alternative voice for our greater bi-national Niagara region – become a regular visitor and subscriber to NAL at www.niagaraatlarge.com .

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

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