With Apologies to the late, great Rolling Stone magazine journalist Hunter Thompson, who first coined the term “fear and loathing” for circumstances that provoke anger and distrust, just like this
A Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted February 8th, 2019 on Niagara At Large
Very rarely in my almost 40 years as a journalist have I grown so angry over something I have been covering that I have had to stop before I wrote any more about it and said to myself; “Doug, you are filled with a little bit too much fear and loathing to write about this now. You better wait until you settle down.”
I find myself feeling that way now about the rancid mess that the once proud Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) has become over the past five or six years.
Twenty or 30 years ago, I never would have believed that one day I would feel so down on this public agency. During those years, as an environment reporter at The St. Catharines Standard, I spent much of my time covering industries that were discharging poisons to our Great Lakes, or leaking toxic waste dumps or woodlots and wetlands being cut down and paved over for more low density sprawl.
I knew back then that I could always give myself and my readers a break from these disturbing stories by turning to some of the good work conservationists at the NPCA were doing to protect and preserve natural heritage in our region. Our Conservation Authority always gave us plenty of stories that were truly positive and uplifting to report on.
Contrast that to the past seven days alone where, on the last evening of January, we had NPCA representatives make a shameful presentation – bereft of vital financial details – before Niagara Region’s budget review committee where they came not to ask, but to tell Regional Councillors how many millions of our tax dollars they were told them must turn over to the agency this year to cover the cost of its operations.
Then this February 5th, we learn that, according to a statement from a spokeswoman from the Niagara Regional Police, a complaint was called in to the police from someone at the NPCA, claiming “messages perceived to be targeted and threatening towards an individual at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (its alleged “acting CAO” David Barrick)” were posted on social media by a citizens group in the region called A Better Niagara.
The police rather quickly came to the conclusion that the information the group posted – information that was critical of Barrick’s performance during that aforementioned budget review committee meeting at the Region, contained no threats and no grounds of laying any charges.
This latest nonsense comes four months after Ontario’s Auditor General, Bonnie Lysyk, released a highly critical, scorching report on the way this Conservation Authority has been conducting business with our tax dollars over the past four or more years, and two months after Niagara’s newly sworn in Regional Council appointed 12 of its own members to the NPCA’s board to begin cleaning the operations up.
I am sure that more than half of those 12 individuals the Region’s council appointed to the board will not agree with me, but I am also sure many residents will agree when I say that things have not gotten any better at the NPCA over the past two months.
If anything, what I have taken to calling the rear-guard antics by what passes for upper management in the face of any efforts to fix this organization, have only gotten worse. And for this reporter and tax-paying resident of this Niagara region, that February 5th call to the police, so clearly aimed at stopping a citizens group from exercising its constitutional rights in this democracy to speak out when it feels government is not doing its job, was the last straw.
I have pretty well reached a point now where I believe that this Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority is beyond fixing, and needs to be abolished and replaced with a new body that will carry on with a conservation and environmental protection mandate in our region.
Apparently there are sections in Ontario’s Conservation Act that make it possible to close down a Conservation Authority if enough municipal councils in our region (possibly as few as three or four) vote to approve such a move.
We could then take the eight to nine million dollars a year we invest in this mess and use it to build a new conservation agency for Niagara, with the help of the good rank and file employees (and there are good, dedicated people still there) at the NPCA to make it happen.
We could build a conservation agency for Niagara and tell the City of Hamilton and Haldimand County that apparently don’t like being part of the NPCA anyway, to go off and do their own thing within their jurisdictions.
Some people may think this suggestion is a little drastic, but think about it this way.
Think about an old car that you have and that served you well for years, but now it keeps breaking down and breaking down. It gets to a point where it becomes too costly to keep trying to fix it. There is simply no percentage left in it.
It’s time to buy a new car.
It could very well be that we have reached that point with the NPCA. It is time to start all over again, with a new conservation agency for our Niagara region.
And one that is more answerable and accountable to our elected councillors and to us for its funding and operations.
Now I am going to go back to where I started with this commentary and come back to this in another few days, when I have had a little time to settle down from that disgraceful presentation to the Region’s budget review committee and that damn call to the police.
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