The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority Needs A Chair That Takes Climate Change Seriously

In 2020, Niagara’s Conservation Authority needs leadership that has a firm understanding of and unwavering determination to address one of the most serious threats  our ecosystem faces in the 21st Century

It’s Time for David Bylsma to Hang Up his Hat as the Conservation Authority’s Chair

Parent’s citizens group for climate action says it is time for David Bylsma to say goodbye to his seat as Chair of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s board of directors

A  Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher          Doug Draper

Posted January 11th, 2020 on Niagara At Large 

A new Niagara-based group of young people and their parents, calling themselves ‘For Our Kids Niagara’ and flagging a tagline; ‘Connecting Parents to Climate Change’, has publicly put out a call (along with a petition you can click on below) to members of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s (NPCA’s) board of director to not  re-appoint West Lincoln Mayor David Bylsma as the board’s Chair.

NPCA board chair David Bylsma’s Christian Heritage Party calls the the 2006 Academy Award-winning documentary on climate change, produced by former U.S. vice-president and Nobel Peace Prize winner and climate action activist Al Gore, an example of “seriously distorted propaganda campaigns.”

The key reason the group gives for making this call is that Bylsma, who is also president of Canada’s Christian Heritage Party (CHP), a fringe political party that openly discards any idea that human activities play a significant role in climate change, and that goes on to accuse those who make a case for human activities playing a role in climate change of perpetuating a  “phoney crisis.” 

“As party member and national president of the Christian Heritage Party (CHP),” states the group For Our Kids in its petition calling on the NPCA board to elect a new Chair, “Bylsma has stated publicly that CO2 emissions do not pose a threat to the environment, and that the science of the (United Nations’) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (the largest global collaboration of climate scientists) is illegitimate.”

In a world facing a  climate emergency that needs to be taken seriously by all of us, says the group. the NPCA and its board need a Chair “who is in touch with the realities of a changing climate. … We have no time left to play host to politicians who delay action on climate change,” insists the group. “We need leadership now!”

The group’s open letter and petition calling for a new Chair comes days before NPCA’s Annual General Meeting, scheduled for this coming Wednesday, January 15th where each year, the board’s  members (this year numbering 21) choose someone among them to serve as Chair for the next 12 months.

When the NPCA’s board of directors holds its Annual General Meeting this January 15th, its board members will be voting to decide who will serve as the board’s Chair for the next 12 months. A parent’s group for climate action is hoping it will be some who takes the science around the climate emergency our world faces seriously. File photo by Doug Draper

So the timing of the letter and petition is fortuitous for getting someone out of the Chair’s seat who embraces ideas about climate change that sound like they go back to a period before the Age of Enlightenment.

The timing is fortuitous, indeed, and as a father of a young person I want to see have a healthy, livable future on this planet, and as a veteran journalist who has spent close to two decades of my career as a full-time environment reporter,  I  join this group of young people and their parents in calling for Bylsma to be replaced  in that Chair’s seat with someone who embraces views about climate change that are compatible with the stark realities we face in this third decade of the 21st century.

Like  other citizens across Niagara, I found out that David Bylsma was president of a fringe political party that embraced some flat earth-like ideas about climate change after NPCA board members  elected him to serve as the board’s chair during their annual general meeting a year ago this January.

And like many of those same citizens, I had my concerns about a guy from a group with views that sound about as close as you can come to flat-out climate denial, chairing the board a conservation body that should be quite a bit about environmental protection.

Yet, David Bylsma seemed like a decent enough guy (and I have no reason, to this day, to think otherwise) and I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt.

In fact, only a few months ago, I went out of my way to approach Bylsma and thank him for appearing. on the surface at least, to put his views on climate change aside and sign an NPCA board-supported letter that embraces a position held by a majority of climate experts around the world  – that our planet and all life on it now face a full-blown “climate emergency.”

Then, in the wake of the group For Our Kids Niagara  issuing its call for a new board chair, Bylsma responded in one of Niagara’s daily newspaper and on a 610 CKTB (Heart Radio) program with some comments on climate change that reeked of the kind of screwball stuff you might get from conspiracy theorists, or from Trump supporters, or from Trump himself.

A host of the CKTB program tried asking him for a clear answer on whether or not he believed human activity and whether CO2 or carbon pollution in particular have anything to do with climate change, and Bylsma did such a convoluted dance around the question that the program host took a stab at asking again before the clock ran out.

Young people across Niagara, Canada and the world held strikes for climate action this past year, and the movement for action is expected to grow in the months and years to come.

“I don’t see CO2 as a pollutant,” he answered back. “We only have accurate data for approximately 25 years,” he went on. “I think we should be monitoring and collect data for a longer period of time.”

How much more time does  Bylsma and his ilk have in mind?

Until we have more continents like Australia catch fire?

Until we have suffered through more years of shoreline damage from record-high water levels in Lake Ontario and more houses and cottages washing off their foundations and disappearing into Lake Erie?

How many more years of  crop-destroying droughts and destructive wind storms do we need before we have enough data for individuals and organizations like David Bylsma and his Christian Heritage Party?

Yes I tried  to give David Bylsma the benefit of the doubt but what finally became a bridge too far for me was when he said for an article that appeared in the January 8th paper version of the St. Catharines Standard that there is an “industry” out there (he did not mention any one company in particular) that is promoting climate change to make “a lot of people a lot of money” on things like wind turbines which he called a “debacle.”

When I read this, one of the first companies in Niagara that came to mind for me was Rankin Construction Inc. whose co-founder and chief executive officer, Tom Rankin, has been a true believer in wind and other forms of green, renewable energy for many years, and whose company has built some wind farms in Ontario and other regions of the country.

For the second time in the past three springs, near record high waters in Lake Ontario flood shore areas in Port Dalhousie, St. Catharines, damaging property and costing hundreds of dollars, and making recreational areas unusable for weeks on end. File photo by Doug Draper

Some 15 years ago, I traveled with Tom Rankin and a group of regional engineers and political representatives from Niagara Region to the shores of Georgian Bay, to tour a wind farm his company built there. Already up and operating, it was an impressive facility, modeled after wind farms he and members of his company had  studied in Europe.

Rankin expressed a good deal of passion for this form of energy and when I asked him where that passion came from, one of the first things he talked about was his desire to build a world that was at least a little bit cleaner for a grandchild of his who suffered from asthma.

He wasn’t sure he wanted me to use the part about his grandchild in any story I might write though because it was something he seemed to want to keep personal, and I had to talk him in to letting me us it because I thought it made an important point about why we should all move in a green energy direction.

Rankin and his company may make some money building wind farms, but it is not like they need to. They have done well enough over the years building roads and bridges.

But now we have a Chair of the NPCA suggesting that there are industries out there using climate change as a “phoney crisis” to make money on wind farms and whatever else might mean putting a little less carbon pollution in the air.

I wonder how many developers out there would like it if anyone on this or any past NPCA board accused them of promoting the issue of jobs and economic growth to make money paving over more of what’s left of our region’s green space?

I could see members of the development industry picking up the phone to complain about any NPCA board member making an accusation like that faster than you or I could say the words “urban sprawl.”

So this was the last straw for me when it comes to David Bylsma sitting as the NPCA’s chair.

As far back as the 1950s, Niagara citizens and conservationists like Doug Elliott called for the creation of Conservation Authorities to serve as a strong voice for protecting and preserving what is left of our natural heritage, not to compromise what are left of our wetlands, woodlands and other natural places away.

In the 1980s and 90s, while I was working as a full-time environment reporter at The St. Catharines Standard, I had the chance to meet and interview some of the founding members of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, including a great guy named Doug Elliott who is no longer with us.

These were people who unabashedly called themselves conservationists and environmentalists in the 1950s, more than two decades before the first Earth Day. And to a person, they told me that they lobbied  governments to create Conservation Authorities  out of a belief that regions across Ontario needed at least one public body with a singular mission and voice for protecting and preserving what is left our natural heritage.

I think of  what those dedicated founders of Conservation Authorities told me every time I  hear some of our municipal representatives, including some who have sat on the NPCA board over  the last decade or so, insist that we need “balance” on the Conservation Authority board,  and that we can’t just have people on the board who are straight-up conservationists or environmentalists.

That is bunk!

If you want balance, we already have it on our municipal councils. What we need in a Niagara region  where we now only have about five or 10 per cent of the wetlands that were originally here left, is a Conservation Authority loaded with people who represent  strong, uncompromising voice for protecting and preserving what natural heritage we have left.

We already have enough public and private bodies that make a case for paving  more of it over.

And we certainly don’t need a Chair of the NPCA’s board who holds such primitive and scientifically discredited views about one of the most serious environmental threats facing us today – climate change.

The NPCA has been hijacked enough in recent years by politicians who have sat on its board and used the word  “balance” as thinly disguised code for compromising and corrupting the conservation mission envisioned by Doug Elliott and other original founders of Conservation Authorities in Ontario.

By removing Bylsma from the Chair’s seat and replacing him with someone  who more fully embraces a conservation and environmental protection mission – one that includes a science-based understanding of the causes of climate crisis and what needs to be done to address them – this Conservation Authority can begin the New Year and new decade  by taking another giant step on the road to restoring so much of the public  confidence it lost over too many of the past eight or so years.

Now here is a recent Call-Out from the citizens group ‘For Our Kids Niagara, that includes a link to the petition to the names of members of the NPCA board in your area of the Niagara watershed that you can call to press them for positive change when they hold their Annual General Meeting this coming Wednesday, January 15th –

The NPCA Needs Real Leadership on Climate Change

The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) must be a leader in mitigating and adapting to the realities of climate change.

Last year, the 18 board members (now 21) that comprise the governing body of the NPCA elected Dave Bylsma to the position of Chairperson, tasked with giving the authority direction by setting the agenda and acting as the front-line representative to the public, among a host of other responsibilities. Bylsma’s resume would suggest his qualification for this role: he has served as a Councillor in municipal government, and is the current Mayor of West Lincoln.

West Lincoln Mayor David Bylsma may be a nice guy, but he should not be chair of a publicly funded body we need to count on as a partner in the fight against climate change.

Bylsma is one among several new members to the board at the NPCA, which has recently undergone major changes to fix a long legacy of corruption. For those who have followed this case closely, the sweeping new membership has come as a welcomed reform to the authority’s governance. But there is still one major problem: David Bylsma rejects the science of climate change.

As party member and national president of the Christian Heritage Party (CHP), Bylsma has stated publicly that CO2 emissions do not pose a threat to the environment, and that the science of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (the largest global collaboration of climate scientists) is illegitimate. From the CHP 2019 Platform: “CO2 is a natural beneficial gas, not a pollutant; CO2 as the cause of climate change is an unproven theory.” (See the link for full platformhttps://www.chp.ca/about/2019platform/

Many of the 36 conservation authorities in Ontario have taken a bold position to confront the challenges of climate change. So have the municipalities here in Niagara (they have recently collaborated with Brock University to conduct research to better understand how Niagara can adapt to a changing climate). The NPCA should be in line with these perspectives and be actively working to construct strategies for dealing with climate change that are appropriate to its mandate.

We call upon the board members of the NPCA to elect a new chair; someone who is in touch with the realities of a changing climate, and with the ambition to steer the NPCA in a direction appropriate to the challenges that climate change presents to the Niagara Region. We have no time left to play host to politicians who delay action on climate change.

We need leadership now!

To further support: The election of the new chair will occur on Wednesday, January 15, 2020, at Ball Falls Centre for Conservation, 3292 Sixth Ave, Jordan Station, ON L0R 1S0. Take direct action by attending the general meeting at 9:30am.

Sign the Petition by clicking on – https://www.change.org/p/the-board-members-of-the-npca-the-npca-needs-real-leadership-on-climate-change-52719c0e-e84d-47b7-943d-c0c94e0fa0a4?recruiter=481590650&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=share_petition&recruited_by_id=2c847770-ca88-11e5-80d6-d5458defd090&utm_content=starter_fb_share_content_en-ca%3Av7

See For Our K ids Niagara’s Facebook page by clicking on – https://www.facebook.com/ryan.s.forster.50

To Listen to a recent 610 CKTB Radio interview with David Bylsma on this matter, click on – https://www.iheartradio.ca/610cktb/audio/mayor-of-west-lincoln-defending-call-for-his-resignation-as-npca-chair-over-climate-change-stance-1.10405823?mode=Article

To read a recent story in The St. Catharines Standard on the citizen group’s call for David Bylsma to step down as Chair of the NPCA board, click on –   https://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/news-story/9800406-parents-group-calls-for-npca-chair-to-resign-over-climate-change-beliefs/

For a list of current NPCA board members and their contact information, click onhttps://npca.ca/administration/board-members

 To read a section of the Christian Heritage Party’s platform that discusses climate change, click on – ahttps://www.chp.ca/platform/category/environment

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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7 responses to “The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority Needs A Chair That Takes Climate Change Seriously

  1. I encountered this sort of backward thinking amongst far-right-wing Christians when I worked as a reporter in Grimsby, Lincoln and West Lincoln many years ago and attended their events. It scared the **** out of me. To have a diehard CH member chairing the NPCA is just shocking.

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  2. No inclusion of the climate change motion, and action plan that was approved under his leadership?
    No mention of the NPCA stance on climate change released Thursday?
    No mention of his statement in the National Observer that he does believe in climate change, and that he doesn’t fully support his party platform?
    No mention that this group started their facebook page on Dec 22 and their first action was to go right to the press instead of looking for real answers?
    No mention that he is only one of 20 board members and does not have a veto?
    No mention that there hasn’t been one single indident where the Chair has abused his power to prevent the NPCA from moving forward on anything but a positive direction?
    No mention that this group has planned a protest at the very first meeting with our new CAO from TRCA, Chandra Sharma, who is very qualified to provide support to this issue?

    He may not be our next Chair, but let us not ignore blindly what was achieved in 2019 with this group of hard-working board members.

    Last i checked we live in a democracy, and the board of directors are not staff, they are not the subject matter experts, they rely on staff to provide science-based programs that the entire board votes on.

    The NPCA does not need residents being fed fear and mistrust on these important issues by groups who don’t bother to understand our role in watershed management, where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we’re going.

    We need to be united in developing a new plan of action that residents can support the NPCA on, and build this conservation authority into the one we all deserve to have and be proud of.

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  3. NPCA staff has worked so hard to restore credibility and efficacy of environmental/conservation issues after recent years of upheaval and misdirection. a climate change-denier at the helm un

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  4. GaiI I’ve been at this table for over a year. We went from crisis to stability. If we judge based on performance and how the job has been done than it’s been very successful.

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  5. Doug Youmans I think it’s fairly important you understand and support the goals of any organization you want to lead or be part of. Bylsma might have been fine when the job was getting the house in order, but the job has now changed to performing the responsibilities of a conservation authority. I can’t imagine being fundamentally opposed to everything the organization stands for is a benefit to anyone who would want to lead, unless your goal is to ensure the Authority is as ineffective as possible

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  6. Genevieve-Renee Bisson https://npca.ca/our…/post/npca-position-on-climate-change

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  7. The NPCA Board has chosen its new Chair and Vice-Chair. I am heartily sorry that some residents of Niagara were unwilling to trust the members of the NPCA Board to make sound decisions in the best interests of the organization and the watershed it serves. The increasing public harassment of Dave Bylsma over his opinions on climate change — rather than on any action he took or attempted to take as NPCA Chair on the strength of those beliefs — that occurred as a result of the actions of a new and totally unknown parents’ group, has been both regrettable and unnecessary. Concerns of the public over the direction of the NPCA and the makeup of its Board could and should have been expressed in a manner that preserved the dignity and respect of all those appointed by their municipalities to serve the organization.

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