Fear and Loathing at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority

  • 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.”

Things haven’t got much better, in fact, an argument could be made that they have only gotten worse since this old NPCA board went away.

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.

Niagara Regional Police recently received a complaint, reportedly from someone at the NPCA, about criticism posted on social media by a citizens group over the recent appearance  of the NPCA’s “acting CAO” David Barrick at a meeting of the Region’s budget review committee. Police looked at the criticism the group posted and concluded there were no grounds for charging it with anything.

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.

NPCA’s new chair Dave Bylsma (centre) appears to be checking the time on  watch at a recent NPCA board meeting with Barrick to his left and another administrator, Krystle Caputo to his right. Maybe it is time to just shut this whole agency down and start a new one. How much more time and money are we going to waste trying to fix this mess?

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.

Stay tuned.

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

5 responses to “Fear and Loathing at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority

  1. Doug
    You have let this issue… and a few others
    … consume you to the point that you are turning people away from possibly legitimate concerns

    Patrick O’Hara

    A brief reply from Doug Draper, Niagara At Large – You are certainly right, Patrick, in the sense that this clown show, continuing at great expense to the people who live and pay taxes in this region, has continued to take up far too much time. That is why I am saying, let’s consider shutting this body down, moving all of its functions into our existing regional and local municipal framework, so that we can get on with all of the other important issues – proper urban planning, long-term care for our seniors, affordable housing, public transit, keeping our infrastructure in repair and all of the rest.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The impression one gets over time is that this agency that’s supposed to protect nature has changed its mission to promote profitable private development.

    Like

  3. I agree the old board and David Barrick were interested in profits. I don’ t think private developers were the ones they hand in mind. Thanks

    Like

  4. yes, this is a sad situation in Niagara. I feel your pain as I too have sat back, astounded. And, you are also right, there are many good people, with good hearts & good intentions here in Niagara. Together we can & will make Niagara a wonderful place to work, live & play. “Together we can change the world”

    Like

  5. I agree your idea has merit.
    I doubt it will happen

    You are a person who speaks with Councillors some of which are on the Board. Based on these quotes. Why are non board Councillors sharing the frustration they hear from their constituents.

    Pat said “I am frustrated,”
    “These things are distractions. As a board, we are working to put governance in place and hire a new CAO. There are times I ask for information, and I don’t get it. I get roadblocks. There are other times I get answers, and I am not completely sure they are the right answers.”

    “It would be nice to have someone in that role we could actually have confidence in,” said Jordan, who believes NPCA is changing too slowly.

    Barbara Greenwood said Barrick should have “been gone a long time ago.”
    “There are people on the board, not just myself, that feel the same way,” she said in a Wednesday interview.

    “He has become a DISTRACTION to tending to the work that needs to be done at the conservation authority.”

    Huson said she did not know why the 2019 budget approved by the previous board has not been released in detail.

    Bill Steele
    “We have to do things properly, be it hiring or parting ways with staff.”

    The npca press release after the Monday meeting quoted David Barrick
    I remain steadfast in supporting this Board’s commitment to improving governance by providing any and all documentation they request to facilitate their process,” said Interim CAO David Barrick.
    It looks like Barrick has lied again.

    Can the region lobby the board to fire barrick for cause.? Out of 18 members are there too many timid minds to take action.?
    Thank you

    Like

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