Ontario Court Rules That Niagara Can Have Up To 27 Members On NPCA Board

Superior Court Justice James Ramsey Rules in Favour of Motion Put Forward by the citizens watchdog group, A Better Niagara

“Now, it’s up to the three municipalities (Niagara, Hamilton and Haldimand County) to decide how many members each municipality should have. It’s important for all of Niagara’s citizens to know what we are entitled to given that all of our population and all of the Region’s land is within the NPCA.”         – from a statement released by A Better Niagara

Ontario Court Judge renders ruling on how many people Niagara can have represented on this Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority board. File photo by Doug Draper

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

Posted May 13th, 2019 on Niagara At Large

Liz Benneian, executive director of A Better Niagara, the citizen watchdog group that one the ruling from the Ontario court. The group has been keeping a close eye on operations at the NPCA

As members of A Better Niagara stated on its website this May 13th, “it’s settled.”

And it only took Ontario Superior Court Justice James Ramsey about five minutes in a Welland courtroom earlier this May 13th to rule in favour of A Better Niagara’s contention that, under the province’s Conservation Act, Niagara Region and its 12 local municipalities can have up to 27 individuals sitting on the board of directors of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NCPA).

That was the ruling Judge Ramsey came to that fast, and despite requests from lawyers for Niagara Region and the City of Hamilton, which along with Haldimand County has representatives on the NPCA board, for an adjournment so the councils for Niagara and Hamilton would have more time to consider their positions in the case.

After the case was over, Liz Benneian, executive director of A Better Niagara, stressed in a brief interview with Niagara At Large a point that the Niagara-based citizens watchdog group has been making clear since Niagara, Hamilton and Haldimand made appointments to what is overwhelmingly a new board of the NPCA more than four months ago.

It is not that the group wants to see 27 people from Niagara on the board, said Benneian, because such a large number could make the board, which now has 12 members from Niagara, four from Hamilton and two from Haldimand (compared to 12 from Niagara, two from Hamilton and one from Haldimand during the last four year term), would be less manageable or more unwieldy with that many individuals seated around the table.

Veteran St. Catharines Regional Councillor Brian Heit, who sits on the NPCA board now as one of its 12 interim members for Niagara, has repeated said as far back as last December that Niagara could, by law, have up to 27 members on the board. Some may not have wanted to hear it, but this May 13th’s Ontario court ruling proved Heit, as well as the A Better Niagara group, to be right.

But if Hamilton and Haldimand continue to insist, as they have since late last year, that they should have four and two members respectively, and Niagara, which contributes the bulk of the funding to the NPCA’s $10-million-plus annual budget, then it is good to know that, by law, Niagara could insist on having as many as 27 individuals on the board, she said.

Niagara’s regional government and its 12 local municipalities have never gone on record – at least not in recent years – asking for more than 12 members to sit on the NPCA board. The issue of board numbers only came up last year when the City of Hamilton was first out of the gate saying that it should have four rather than two, that Haldimand should have two rather than one, and that Niagara should have a total of five rather than the 12 that usually serve from each of the local municipalities.

However, as Judge Ramsay agreed in his court ruling this May 13th, a formula for board membership , contained in the Ontario Conservation Act and based on of how many municipalities are representative on a given Conservation Authority board and what the populations of those municipalities are, as many as 27 people could serve on the board of the NPCA.

In his ruling, the Judge concluded that he would leave it to the three regions that the NPCA serves in the Niagara watershed – Niagara, Hamilton and Haldimand – to agree on actual board numbersl.

In a further statement A Better Niagara shared with Niagara At Large following the Judge’s ruling, Benneian summed up the current status of the NPCA board issue, from the citizen group’s perspective,  this way –

“It was important to get the issue of Niagara’s entitlement settled before negotiations between the three municipalities on board composition  begin,” Benneian said. “You can’t have fair negotiations that result in a just outcome unless each municipality clearly understood what they are allowed. Hamilton had been continuing to insist, as did the previous NPCA board, following the election, that Niagara was only entitled to five members.”

“It’s also important for Niagara’s citizens to know what we are entitled to given that all of our population and all of the Region’s land is within the NPCA. Also, Niagara Region is the single biggest funder of the organization, paying more than 4x more than the City of Hamilton. Niagara deserves to have fair representation on the NPCA board.”

And, Benneian added; “It’s also important to note that Hamilton and Haldimand unilaterally doubled their membership on the board at the start of this term. It was 12 Niagara, 2 Hamilton and 1 Haldimand in the previous term. The result of a fair negotiation would either see Haldimand and Hamilton agree to less members or agree that Niagara should appoint more.”

“In any case, let the municipalities get on with it. Start negotiating. Then Niagara will also have to decide how board members are appointed. More on that soon.”

On the issue of the NPCA board’s composition, a total of 12 Niagara board members, who all but one from Thorold happened to be mayors and other elected members of Niagara’s regional council last term, became a matter of concern and controversy for many citizens over the past four years.

In a special report she released on NPCA operations last year, Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk raised concerns that a board dominated by municipal politicians may lead to conflicts of interests when it comes to a Conservation Authority carrying out its core conservation mission.

It was also raised as a concern by Ontario’s Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk in a highly ciritial report she tabled in September of last year on the NPCA’s past operations, and in observations Lysyk outlined again at an NPCA board meeting she attended earlier this May.

Lysyk concluded that a board made up of all or mostly all municipal politicians may leave open a potential for conflicts of interests between what the elected mayor or councillor feels they need to do to represent their municipalities and what they need to do to support the NPCA’s mandate as a body that focuses on conservation issues.

At the new Niagara regional council’s inaugural meeting last December it appointed a total of 12 mayors and directly elected regional councillors to serve on the NPCA board for an interim period of three months before members were appointed for most or the remainder of this four year term of council.

There was a desire expressed by many citizens across Niagara at all or most of the members finally picked would be citizens from the region who are not currently elected politicians and who have some expertise in conservation or science-based fields relevant to conservation and environmental protection, and other relevant expertise to bring to the table.

As of the date of this posting, the three-month stint the 12 Niagara mayors  and regional councillors were initially appointed to last December, is now going into its sixth month, and a decision on what the composition of Niagara’s members on the board should be for the remainder of this term has yet to be decided by the Region’s council.

Benneian said A Better Niagara will be watching developments in this area closely, and so will Niagara At Large.

As the citizens group said in its statement, Niagara At Large will have “more on that soon” on this news and commentary site. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, this May 13th was the third time since last December that A Better Niagara has been in Judge Ramsay’s court for a rulling on matters to do with the NPCA, and so far it has batted a thousand.

When the old NPCA board, including Sandy Annunziata, a former Fort Erie regional councillor who lost his seat in last October’s municipal elections and who was the Conservation Authority board’s chair, continued to hang on to their board positions into December, A Better Niagara went to the Ontario courts to win a ruling that their time on the board was over.

The first time was last December when the group won a ruling from the Judge that the 12 former NPCA board members from Niagara, including then board chair and Fort Erie regional councillor Sandy Annunziata and past chair and St. Catharines regional councillor Bruce Timms, were no longer the board (despite some arguments for their corner that they planned to continue on) and that Niagara Region’s newly appointed board was in.

In a second appearance before Judge Ramsay at the beginning this January, the group also won an order from the Judge for the NPCA’s then upper executives to finally hold a meeting of the new board that month.

A Better Niagara was organized during the last term of Niagara regional council to encourage citizens across Niagara to vote for positive change in last October’s municipal elections.  The group has since continued on as a watchdog organization, similar to one in the Hamilton area, on municipal affairs.

For more information on A Better Niagara, visit its home page by clicking onhttps://www.facebook.com/betterniagara/ .

To view a PDF copy of Ontario Superior Court Justice James Ramsay’s May 13th ruling (if you can open a PDF copy on your computer settings), click on file:///C:/Users/owner/Desktop/Judge%20Ramsay’s%20ruling%20May%2013%202019.pdf .

NIAGARA AT LARGE encourages you to join the conversation by sharing your views on this post in the space following the Bernie Sanders quote below.

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For more news and commentary from Niagara At Large – an independent, alternative voice for our greater bi-national Niagara region – become a regular visitor and subscriber to NAL at http://www.niagaraatlarge.com .

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


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