Just When Some of Us Thought Our Long, Dark Journey with a Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority in Chaos Might Finally be Over
A News Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted April 5th, 2019 on Niagara At Large
Just as some of us thought we have turned a corner for the better at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority NPCA) with the appointment of a new acting CAO many have respect for, we have the following to look forward to.
Ontario’s Ford government, which isn’t exactly proving to be a friend of environmental conservation, has circulated a news release this April 5th that it is now going to work on plans to reform the legislation governing the NPCA and more than 30 other Conservation Authorities across the province.
So what on earth is that going to mean for Conservation Authorities we need to restore, protect and restore our region’s precious watershed?
All I advise at the moment is that those of us in this region and others who care about environmental conservation and who have fought so hard in recent years to rescue our dysfunctional NPCA from a group of hijackers and get it back on track, had better get engaged and be ready to raise our voices loudly if the Ford government does anything to further weaken or damage these bodies.
That is not to say there aren’t changes the Ford government could make to the province’s Conservation Authorities Act that would make bodies like the NPCA operate in ways that are more effective, open and accountable.
The government could start by making at least one to the act that the former Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne failed to – provide the government with the powers to appoint a special supervisor to take over the operations of a Conservation Authority if necessary, just as it has had the powers for years to appoint supervisors to run other agencies like hospital boards and the Niagara Parks Commission, if they are believed to be in a state of crisis at the administrative level.
Second, the government could set the same requirement for Conservation Authorities that is there for other public agencies and institutions across Ontario and make it mandatory for them to identify all those earning salaries of $100,000 or more per year for inclusion on the province’s annual “Sunshine List.”
A number of Conservation Authorities in other regions of the province decided to submit information to the Sunshine List anyway. But earlier this year, when Niagara Region’s Chair, Jim Bradley, asked the NPCA’s now departed acting CAO, David Barrick; “Why wouldn’t you publish them (the names of employees with six-digit salaries) anyway, just to have our own sunshine in the Niagara region,” Barrick replied that under the current legislation, the Conservation Authority doesn’t have to.
“The public will be frustrated with that answer,” Bradley said.
The Ford government should also reform the legislation to ensure that the Conservation Authority is just as accountable as other boards and agencies, including police and affordable housing, are when it comes to answering to municipal councils for how it spends money it receives from municipal coffers.
Indeed, at the same Regional Council meeting this winter where Barrick told Bradley and his councillors that the NPCA was not required to participate in the Sunshine List, he told them that the Conservation Authority was not required to provide detailed answers to questions about how it spends the millions of municipal dollars it receives from municipalities each year either.
So as much as the NPCA’s recently appointed interim CAO Gayle Wood promises to make the body far more open and accountable than it has been in recent years (and I have no reason not to believe her) at least some reform is certainly in store.
What we have to watch for is any move by this provincial government to change the Conservation Authorities Act and any other legislation Conservations work with, like the province’s Clean Water Act, in ways that could weaken them.
Those of us who care about environmental protection and conservation need to do everything we can as citizens to make sure the Ford government does nothing to compromise Conservation Authorities’ ability to restore, protect and preserve what is left of our natural heritage for present and future generations.
Niagara At Large will be closely watching what unfolds here and so should all of you.
Now here is the news release that the Ford government circulated late this Friday afternoon which, by the way, is a time of the week that governments sometimes choose to release information they hope few people will notice or pay any attention to –
Improving Ontario’s Conservation Authorities
April 5, 2019
Consultation to Focus on Increasing Transparency, Improving Delivery of Core Mandate Ontario’s government is working for the people to ensure conservation authorities focus and deliver on their core mandate of protecting people, property and natural resources from the threats and impacts of extreme weather and flooding.
“Conservation authorities help protect our people and their property from extreme weather, preserving sources of drinking water and conserving our province’s natural resources,” said Rod Phillips, Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.
“The people of Ontario need our conservation authorities to be focused on dealing with the impacts of climate change and we must be certain that resources are being directed to programs and services that have the greatest impact on our communities while ensuring effective use of public funding.”
As committed to in its Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan <https://www.ontario.ca/page/made-in-ontario-environment-plan>, the province is consulting stakeholders and the public <https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/013-5018> to ensure taxpayer dollars are being used effectively, and as extreme weather, particularly flooding, becomes more frequent due to climate change, that conservation authorities remain focused on their core mandate.
“Our government is putting people first to help communities and families prepare and respond to climate change,” said John Yakabuski, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry.
“Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of our regulations is a critical component of our government’s strategy for strengthening Ontario’s resiliency to extreme weather events.
“ Ontario is also looking at updates to the Conservation Authorities Act, an act introduced in 1946, to improve public transparency and consistency:
- * update how conservation authorities use municipal levies to pay for programs and services;
- * streamline and standardize the role conservation authorities play in permitting and municipal planning, reducing overlap and making approvals faster and less costly; and
- * improve conservation authorities’ governance and accountability.
These recommended changes are part of Ontario’s commitment to support conservation and environmental planning and improve Ontario’s resilience to climate change.
- * Ontario has 36 conservation authorities – 31 in Southern Ontario and five in populated areas in Northern Ontario. Over 90 per cent of Ontarians live within the jurisdiction of a conservation authority.
- * Conservation authorities undertake a wide range of local resource management programs and services, with significant programming diversity amongst conservation authorities. They have a legal mandate to take action to protect sources of drinking water.
- * Losses associated with flooding and other natural hazards in Ontario are lower than those experienced in other jurisdictions due to Ontario’s prevention-first approach, achieved in part through the planning and regulatory approaches delivered by conservation authorities.
- * Learn how a carbon tax is not the only way to fight climate change <https://www.ontario.ca/page/protecting-our-environment>
- * Read the Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan <https://www.ontario.ca/page/made-in-ontario-environment-plan>
For a story Niagara At Large posted this past February on the NPCA’s former acting CAO, David Barrick, appearing before Niagara Regional Council where he provided few answers to questions about how the Conservation Authority was spending our municipal taxdollars, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2019/02/01/when-it-comes-to-the-npcas-budget-niagaras-regional-government-gets-to-pay/
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