The NPCA’s New Board and Management Team has dropped a controversial lawsuit against former Conservation Authority employee Jocelyn Baker and is now partnering with her to pursue a key environmental designation for the Niagara River watershed
A Brief Foreword from Doug Draper, Niagara At Large, followed by statements from the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority
Posted May 6th, 2019 on Niagara At Large
From Doug Draper –
And thank God for this great news about a conservationist who is highly respected on both sides of the Canada/U.S. border and is an decent, honest principles person who never deserved the nightmare she was put through by managers and an old board of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) that are now mercifully gone.
Jocelyn Baker, a conservationist and watershed expert who was fired by NPCA managers three years ago for reasons that never made sense to those she worked with at the regional, provincial and federal government levels, then slapped with a lawsuit two years ago by those running the NPCA for emailing a Niagara area MPP about a “culture of harassment” rank-and-file employees inside the body were enduring at the hands of then senior managers.
“NPCA frontline staff and middle managers continue to work in unsafe and dangerous conditions. This will continue until (the province’s Minister of Natural Resources – then Liberal government minister Kathryn McGarry) steps in and stops it,” wrote Baker in a 2017 email that now retired Niagara Centre MPP Cindy Forster received her permission to read in the Ontario legislature.
Shortly after Baker’s note about harassment of employees at the NPCA was aired, she was sued for breaching a non-disclosure clause in her walking papers by those managing the NPCA at the time and by a board of director, then chaired by then Fort Erie regional councillor Sandy Annunziata, and dominated by a number of other Niagara regional councillors, including April Jeffs from Wainfleet and more recently appointed co-chair of the Niagara Parks Commission board of directors by Ontario’s Ford government, Bruce Timms from St. Catharines, Brian Baty from Pelham and Tony Quirk from Grimsby, who either did not run or lost their seats in last October’s municipal elections.
Last October, Ontario’s Auditor General, Bonnie Lysyk, released a scorching report about operations at the NPCA under the old managers and board, following several months of investigations by a team from her office. Among many other things, Lysyk’s report confirmed Baker’s charges of high rates of harassment in the NPCA workplace, and calls from area politicians and citizens for the suit against her to be dropped intensified.
Two years after the lawsuit was slapped against her, it finally took a new NPCA board and new management, headed up by interim CAO Gayle Wood, who came on board two months ago, to work with Baker and her lawyer to bring this sorry episode, which included a countersuit Baker felt necessary to file against the NPCA, to a close.
In a statement from the NPCA’s interim CAO Gayle Wood, released this May 6th, Baker’s many supporters received the good news –
“The NPCA is pleased to share that the pending lawsuits of NPCA v BAKER and BAKER v NPCA have been jointly resolved and that neither party wishes to pursue these matters.”
And then, in an accompanying news release, the new NPCA and Niagara Restoration Council announced plans to hire Jocelyn Baker to “continue research on the Ramsar Designation for the Niagara River.
In a broader sense, for millions of people living on both sides of the Niagara River and throughout the Great Lakes region, this news outweighs the good news about justice finally being done for Baker.
This designation, which Baker has already been working on in partnership with institutions on the Niagara, Ontario side like Niagara College and Brock University, and with partners on the U.S. of the river, would, if it is approved by senior levels of government in Canada and the U.S., see the Niagara River recognized internationally as an ecologically significant wetland for the benefit of wildlife and human populations, alike.
This April, it was announced that support for the designation has already been received by Niagara Falls, New York, Buffalo, New York and 11 other municipalities on the American side of the Niagara River watershed. Unfortunately, efforts to win similar support on the Ontario side weakened when the NPCA’s old board and managers let the effort fall by the wayside.
Thankfully, work on getting full binational support for the designation is back with the new NPCA board and managers, and Niagara At Large will have more to say about this important project in the days ahead.
For now, here is the news release the NPCA issued this May 6th on the Ramsar designation effort –
NPCA AND NIAGARA RESTORATION COUNCIL CONTINUE RESEARCH ON RAMSAR DESIGNATION FOR THE NIAGARA RIVER
The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) and Niagara Restoration Council (NRC) are pleased to announce that NRC has hired Ms. Jocelyn Baker to continue research on the Ramsar Designation for the Niagara River.
In the early part of the 19th Century, the Niagara River was considered the most degraded place in North America. Decades of cross-border remediation and collaboration between Canada and the United States have changed the ecological character of the Niagara River, from severely impaired to an ecosystem worthy of global recognition.
To acknowledge this achievement of a cleaner, healthier river, a community group is leading the process to have the Niagara River designated as a Ramsar Wetland of Importance.
“The Niagara River Corridor is one of the most ecologically diverse communities in North America,” says Ms. Jocelyn Baker, Ramsar Designation Project Manager. “I am excited to be a part of this collaboration, working with our community partners toward our shared goal of changing the narrative of the Niagara River, from historically degraded to globally celebrated.”
If successful, the Niagara River would be the first bi-national and transboundary Ramsar site in North and South America. This designation will heighten international awareness of the river’s global contribution to biodiversity and its role in building stronger, healthier and more resilient communities.
“The Niagara Restoration Council is overjoyed to be able to work with Ms. Baker— someone so well qualified, who has such a depth of understanding of the Niagara River and its natural features,” adds Dr. John Bacher, NRC Chair. “We hope that the speedy obtaining of a Ramsar designation will further attract positive attention to this great wonder of nature, which is a refuge for countless native species. As Chair of the Public Advisory Committee on the Niagara River Area of Concern, I am delighted to see how the overdue understanding of the significance of the Niagara River’s wetlands will help in getting the action needed to foster its ecological restoration.”
“Ms. Baker is a dedicated environmental professional with valuable experience on the complex issues related to the Niagara River,” said Gayle Wood, NPCA Interim CAO. “The NPCA is
pleased to be part of a partnership to recognize the Niagara River, as its restoration is a high priority.”
For more information about the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, please visit http://www.npca.ca. Follow on Facebook and Twitter for updates.
The NPCA manages the impact of human activities, urban growth, and rural activities on the Niagara Peninsula watershed with programs and services that help keep people and their property safe from flooding and erosion, while retaining the safety of our drinking water.
NPCA manages 41 Conservation Areas, including Ball’s Falls, Binbrook, Long Beach and Chippawa Creek. These lands are held in public trust for recreation, heritage preservation, conservation, and education. NPCA’s Conservation Areas marry nature, culture and adventure to create limitless opportunities for discovery.
The NRC is a non-profit, non-government environmental organization that runs “in the ground”, large-scale projects utilizing volunteers from all sectors of the Niagara community.
The Niagara Restoration Council is committed to the development and implementation of restoration, naturalization, and reforestation projects. In doing so, the NRC aims to encourage ecosystem improvement, environmental education and awareness.
For a related story Niagara At Large recently posted on the Ramsar designation, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2019/04/19/niagara-river-corridor-one-step-closer-to-receiving-new-recognition-as-wetland-of-international-importance/ .
For a relate story on the lawsuit, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2018/12/08/niagara-mpp-urges-new-npca-board-to-drop-lawsuit-against-former-employee-for-speaking-out-about-alleged-cases-of-workplace-harassment-at-conservation-authority/
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