Total Board Count Swells to 21 when Haldimand and Hamilton Reps are taken into account, with not one young person or millennial represented
Niagara Region’s Council has chosen West Lincoln’s Dave Bylsma, Lincoln’s Robert Foster and Port Colborne’s Bill Steele to sit on Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority for remainder of this four year term
A News Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted July 19th, 2019 on Niagara At Large (This is a corrected and updated version of this news commentary. Please delete any earlier version you may have.)
As of this July 18th, the number of representatives Niagara will have sitting on the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s board of directors jumps from 12 to 15.
It makes for a total board membership 21 on a Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) that is just beginning to get back on a positive track after six or seven years of bad when the two representatives from Haldimand County and four from Hamilton are taken into account.
Niagara’s regional council voted this July 18th to directly appoint three members from its own council ranks – West Lincoln Mayor Dave Bylsma, who began sitting as an interim member and chair of the board since last December, Lincoln Regional Council Robert Foster, who has also been sitting as an interim board member, and Port Colborne Mayor and Regional Councillor, and another interim member since this past December, Bill Steele – to join 12 other Niagara representatives, appointed by the local municipalities.
Byslma, Foster and Steele were selected from a field of seven regional councillors, including St. Catharines’ Brian Heit and Laura Ip, Niagara Falls’ Barbara Greenwood and Wainfleet’s Kevin Gibson, in a runoff the Region’s council carried out by secret ballot.
The decision to appoint three more members from Niagara follows negotiations Niagara Regional representatives held with representatives for Haldimand County and the City of Hamilton after those municipalities moved unilaterally late last year to increase their membership on the NPCA board from one to two for Haldimand, and two to four for Hamilton.
That move had both politicians and citizens across Niagara talking about putting more members from this region on the board since the bulk of the Niagara watershed, with headwaters starting in Haldimand and Hamilton and which the NPCA has jurisdiction as a conservation steward over, flows through Niagara.
A ruling a Niagara citizens group called A Better Niagara received from an Ontario court judge noted that, according to the way the Ontario Conservation Act calculates board membership per municipalities and their populations, Niagara could have as many as 27 members – a number almost everyone engaged in this issue agreed seemed way too unwieldy to make the board do its job effectively.
So total figure of 15 for Niagara was finally settled on, leading to the regional council’s move this July 18th to appoint three more on top of the 12 members form the region already there.
The Region’s council also concluded that since most of the funding for NPCA’s annual budget of about $10 or $11 million comes from regional coffers, it should have some direct representation on the board to help make sure that money is spent responsibly.
There are a few critical notes on all of this though.
First, not everyone on Niagara’s Regional Council liked the idea that the Region was moving to increase its seats count from 12 to 15, on an NPCA board that already has a total of 18 members.
St. Catharines Mayor and Regional Councillor Walter Sendzik said before the three new appointments were made this July 18th that the size of the board seems “ridiculous” and “beyond the pale” for a body that handles a budget that is relatively small compared to many other government bodies in the region.
To give Sendzik’s point a little context, a board of 21 members compares to a total of 13, 13 and nine elected members (including the mayors) sitting on the councils of Niagara’s three largest municipalities – St. Catharines, Welland and Niagara Falls, respectively.
And this journalist will leave you with a few other points, and the first one is this.
The decision by the Region’s council to add three more elected politicians to the NPCA board is based, at least in part, on an assumption that you need at least a few more elected politicians there to ensure that our tax dollars are being spent in a responsible, accountable way.
It is an assumption, I would suggest, that is open to debate given a checkered history of fiscal responsibility on the part of elected bodies in the past. One could make a strong case that there are many talented, non-elected people across this region that could be counted on to handle our tax dollars responsibly.
Finally, the compliment of 21 we now have on the board , most of not all of them for the remaining three and a half years of this municipal term, includes only four women – Diana Huson from Pelham, Donna Cridland from Wainfleet, Leah Feor from Fort Erie and Brenda Johnson from Hamilton – and no one below the age of 35
In other words, there is not one single member from the millennials – a generation that will have to live longer than most of the rest of us with our actions or lack thereof when it comes to protecting and preserving what is left of our natural heritage.
It has been one of the long-time failings of our regional government in Niagara that it hasn’t worked enough to get younger people engaged in decision making that will shape our communities and theirs for decades to come.
Having said that, this is our NPCA board and for the sake of the health of our Niagara watershed and our environment as a whole, let’s wish them the best and work with them to fulfill this important body’s conservation mandate.
The board members can certainly count on one thing.
After the nightmare the people of Niagara, Hamilton and Haldimand have been through with the last bunch that ran this agency, the publicly will be watching group – closely!
People want their Conservation Authority back and working as it should be – on protecting, restoring and preserving our our precious waters and green places.
Please don’t let them down.
Along with Dave Bylsma, Robert Foster and Bill Steele, you can find out more about who is sitting on the NPCA board now by clicking on – https://npca.ca/administration/board-members
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