The Problems at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority Demand Urgent Attention
Niagara’s Taxpayers and Natural Heritage Deserve Far Better Than What We Are Getting Here
Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter & publisher Doug Draper
Posted January 29th, 2019 on Niagara At Large
In my view, Peter Gill is almost always spot on with the images he produces to spotlight the many messes in municipal governance that are in need of urgent redressing across this Niagara region.
However, I have a wee bit of an issue with one of the images that Gill -a retired Niagara Regional Police who unfortunately lost his bid last fall for a seat on Niagara’s Regional Council, posted on social media this January 29th.
I am re-posting the image for you here, and then I’ll tell you why –
Did you see the snail that Peter Gill pasted on the flag flying in front of the Region-owned building in Welland where the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) has its headquarters.
The problem I have with attaching a snail to that flag to depict the status of efforts to clean up the monumental mess at the NPCA is that at least snails, like sloths or turtles, move forward.
The current board of director at the NPCA – made up of 12 Niagara Regional Councillors and of anywhere between three and six, depending on how many the councils for Hamilton and Haldimand County collectively decide to include on the board – has shown no demonstrable movement at all when it comes to dealing with problems that have been plaguing this publicly funded body long before Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk detailed them again, in a scorching report her office released last September.
Niagara’s 12 members were appointed by the Region’s council last December 6th to what is supposed to be an interim three-month period before the 12 local municipalities in the region each appoint a member for the remainder of the four year term.
Those members had enough of a quorum that they could have held a first meeting of the new board the very next day. But they allowed themselves to get caught in the headlights by remnants of the old board and a handful of NPCA administrators who horsing around any way they could to conserve, not trees or wetlands, but the status quo of the past four years.
It took a citizens group called A Better Niagara to hire a lawyer and go to an Ontario Superior Court judge to have it validated for the new board members that they were the new board and that the old board was out.
And it took the same citizens group to go back to the court a second time to have a date for a first meeting of the new board set for this past January 7th where the board members ushered in a new era of openness and a accountability by spending about three and a half the roughly four members they were in session behind closed doors.
As closed as the doors were for that meeting and for another lengthy period during one of two others later in the month, we already witnessed enough of a group that, when it isn’t getting the direction it seems to need from the courts and a citizens group, is being led around by the nose by administrators who have recently been promoted to more lofty positions in the NPCA by whoever is running the agency now.
During one of the three meetings the new board has held so far, members of the public were even treated to the spectacle of board members receiving some input from a lawyer who, more than a year ago, was part of the legal team the NPCA hired in an unsuccessful lawsuit against citizen activist Ed Smith.
The same Ontario Superior Court judge, James Ramsey, who recently made the ruling over who constituted the new board and when it should hold a first meeting, was the judge in the court more than a year ago that slammed the NPCA’s case against Smith as an attack on his constitutional rights as a citizen to raise questions and concerns about the way this body has gone about doing business with millions of our tax dollars.
Yet here were members of this new board, earlier this month, accepting input from a member of the legal team involved in that case.
This same new board is also now an oversight body for a continued lawsuit against a former employee who I won’t identify by name here because enough damage has been done to the person and their family over the course of this ongoing ordeal.
Suffice to say, shame on this new board for not simply tabling a motion as soon as possible to drop this costly lawsuit against a person long respected in the conservation field.
But then this board has not even done something as simple as agreeing to go back to the old practice from decades gone by, to hold the NPCA’s board meeting in the evening so that more members of the public who work during the day can more easily attend.
Even a snail would have moved further ahead by now than this board has.
There may be some well-meaning people on this new board but collectively, as a group, they are not acting with the urgency they should have begun demonstrating from the first day of their appointment to address the seriousness of the problem we have here.
For the sake of an agency we need in this region to conserve and protect what is left of our natural heritage, and for the sake of the good rank-and-file employees working for this agency, this state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue.
Something urgently needs to be done and the work should have got underway last December 7th – the day after Niagara’s new board members were appointed.
Niagara At Large will have more commentary on this sorry mess in the days ahead.
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.
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