After a Long, Cold Winter of Chaos, Spring Has Finally Arrived at the NPCA

New Interim CAO Gayle Wood Sets Problem-Plagued Agency on Path to Renewal

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

Posted March 20th, 2019 on Niagara At Large

Veteran Conservationist Gayle Wood, appointed interim NPCA CAO only three weeks ago, already making a positive mark on the troubled agency

Spring did not officially begin until 5:58 p.m. this March 20th, but for member of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s (NPCA) board, its staff, and for members of the public who were there, it began more than six hours earlier at the board’s latest monthly meeting.

For the first time in at least six years, there were smiles on the faces of almost each and every person around the big room at the Ball’s Falls Centre for Conservation where the board meetings are routinely held.

For the first time in just as many years there was a feeling in the air  that everyone, including members of the public and the media who, in recent years, have felt the need to say and to write things critical of the Conservation Authority’s senior staff and board, were welcome to attend.

And much of the reason for the end of what has been a very long and cold winter, and the arrival of spring with a real promise of renewal for this bruised and battered agency can be summed up in two words – Gayle Wood.

Gayle Wood, a professional conservationist with a history in the field that goes back decades  to her days at the NPCA before moving on to  the Ontario Ministries of Environment and Natural Resources, and other Conservation Authorities in the province, has been brought on by the NPCA’s recently appointed board  to serve as an interim CAO for a number of months to help clean what has been described as the chaos and the controversy that has rocked this agency up.

Interim CAO Gayle Wood, seated at head of table to the left of NPCA board chair Dave Bylsma in middle, responding to board members’ questions at her first meeting this March 20th

She replaces David Barrick who (to repeat a word an Ontario Supreme Court Justice applied in a courtroom last December to Barrick’s status at the agency) “allegedly” was the NPCA’s acting or interim CAO after he was fired last November from his former administrative job at the Conservation Authority,  then re-hired by members of an old NPCA board that refused to stand down until the same Ontario judge, James Ramsay, ruled that their time on the board was through.

Barrick was still carrying on as the NPCA’s acting CAO until late last February when the new board, made up of members from Hamilton and Haldimand County, and 12 interim members appointed from and by Niagara’s Regional Council, approved something called a “mutual separation agreement” as a way of seeing him off.

Gayle Wood began this March 20th by greeting members of the public inside the front doors of the Ball’s Falls Centre with handshakes and an offer of coffee and muffins as she took time to discuss their interests and concern around the conservation work the agency is mandated to do.

David Barrick, who was the NPCA’s “acting CAO,” left the agency this past February after something called a “mutual separation agreement” was negotiated with him. Some members of the public say they want to know how much this agreement cost taxpayers.

That, alone, stood in stark contrast to so many times over the past number of years where members of the public were greeted with sheets of paper tapped over glass doors while the NPCA’s board was meeting in closed session.

Once the meeting this March 20th got started, Wood rose to offer her assurances that she will work to see that the agency is “open and accountable to the public that basically drives the Conservation Authority with (funding from) their tax dollars.”

Later in the meeting, when one board member made reference to “a very nice SUV” that the agency had some form of lease or rental agreement for the last CAO to drive around, Wood informed the board that “the nice SUV is no longer with the Conservation Authority,” and that she is driving her own vehicle. She said she will be filing for mileage when she uses it for work and will not be taking monthly $1,000 vehicle allowance that the last CAO and other administrators who (as of a few weeks ago) are no longer at the agency.

Last but not lease, Wood took some time this March 20th to say some positive words for what remains of the rank-and-file staff at the NPCA which she called “hard working” and “dedicated” people who “have been deeply impacted by what has transpired here” in recent years.

In her first few weeks as interim CAO, Wood has taken the time to sit down and meet with members of the staff to discuss their concern and to talk about what they can all do together to get the NPCA back on positive tracks again. Sources this reporter has had at the NPCA over the past number of years – and I mean rank-and-file employees there who have been through hell – have, in recent days, said things to me like; “It’s like a brand new day” and “Thank God for Gayle Wood.”

Stuart McPherson, a respected watershed restoration projects worker at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, has been rehired after he was suddenly fired – a move that angered members of the public – earlier this year.

Niagara At Large has also had it confirmed from good sources that a highly respected watershed restoration projects worker with the NPCA, Stuart McPherson, who was suddenly let go, much to the outrage of many citizens, while Barrick was still there as acting CAO, has been rehired.

What good news that is. McPherson is exactly the kind of employee an agency that is supposed to be restoring and protecting our watersheds needs. We have lost to many skilled and dedicated people like him, thanks to a group of individuals who more or less held this important agency for our environment hostage over the past five or six years.

And speaking of the chaos and controversy of the past five or six years, Wood and the new NPCA board has invited a special guest to its next meeting in April, and members of the public who care about this agency may want to attend this one to.

The guest is Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk who, after many months of investigation, last September released a scorching report on the NPCA’s operations under those who were overseeing the agency at the time. The report is loaded with recommendations the new board and staff have been presented with to make the NPCA work better for the public that funds it.

Stay Tuned to Niagara At Large for more as the NPCA’s board and management work to get this agency back to a place where it is an effective body for environmental protection and conservation.

To watch the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s March 20th board meeting, click on the screen below –

To read a story Niagara At Large posted this February on the hiring of Gayle Wood as the NPCA’s interim CAO, click on – .

To read a story Niagara At Large posted this past February about public anger around the sudden firing of NPCA employee (now rehired) Stuart McPherson, click on – .

For a story Niagara At Large posted last September, 2018 on the Ontario Auditor General’s report on NPCA operations, click on – .

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


2 responses to “After a Long, Cold Winter of Chaos, Spring Has Finally Arrived at the NPCA

  1. I agree wholeheartedly that CAO Gayle Wood is making the operations of the NPCA much better and giving confidence to those working and will work there. But she has a different mandate to the NPCA board. She does not decide when or if committees meet, what they do or how hard they work. The governance committee was named Jan 16th in the 9 weeks following they met once. I think the board is brave having the AG Rep show up next month. So far none of her recommendations have been implemented. I wonder how many will be April 20th.? Based on past performance, I expect none. But truly hope to be wrong. The NPCA board has seemingly been hiding under the sterling reputation of Gayle Wood


  2. This article about the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, returning to important responsibilities in various water related environmental and land-use responsibilities, was a pleasant relief after four years of despair about an organization gone bad. I have a particular appreciation for Conservation Authorities all over Ontario and I will be looking for them to work on actions to support responses to threatening climate change.
    Climate change staff have been added to municipalities and the Conservation Authority will be an ally in developing water ,shoreline and land-use policies.
    I remember Hurricane Hazel (1954) and how the number and the responsibilities of Conservation Authorities were ramped up then to deal with shoreline and flood-land areas. I had been away from the Toronto-Niagara area, hardest hit, during Hurricane Hazel. I was on the shore of Lake Huron at Ipperwash. That evening i saw wind tossed waves like I have never seen again. My most vivid memory is seeing a 9 metre pleasure craft that had been tossed from a river at Grand bend up and onto the nearby Highway.
    I have come to appreciate how important it is for Canada–a northern country– to be particularly conscious of climate change effects. I spoke to an Ontario Legislative Committee (February 1991) about the added concerns and required-actions necessary in northern countries to plan-for the worst of climate change.
    I have many environmental interests. Now with the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority back in good-order I will be looking to them to become valued partners in dealing with the effects of pending weather patterns of climate change caused storm severity and unusual seasonal variables. There is no longer room for climate change deniers or delayers.
    Led by the Conservation Authority legislative and policy directives we in NPCA territory will know we are doing our best to be prepared.

    Don Alexander


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