Citizen Members on Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority Among Those with Targets on their Backs
News from Citizens at City Hall, a Hamilton, Ontario-based citizens watchdog group
Posted March 19th, 2021 on Niagara At Large
Nearly all volunteer citizen representatives are being forced off the boards of Conservation Authorities across Ontario as further impacts of last December’s provincial legislation take effect.
The Ford government now has proclaimed the governance section of Bill 229 that amended the Conservation Authorities Act and which now requires that a minimum percentage of members of Conservation Authority (CA) boards have to be mayors or councillors.
Many current boards include significant numbers of volunteer citizen members who fully share in the decision-making of the CAs. But the new provincial rules say as of 2023 municipalities must select elected politicians for at least 70 percent of their allotted seats. One of the effects will be fewer persons of colour on these boards.
The specifics of the legislation mean that the percentage of citizens will be much lower than 30 percent although it will vary across the boards of the province’s 36 conservation authorities. As a result the new rules appear to accomplish most of the complete citizen elimination originally specified in the draft legislation of the Ford government.
The 70 percent requirement was a late amendment to Bill 229 and appeared to respond to widespread outrage from citizens, municipal councils and Conservation Authority boards all 36 of which opposed the provincial legislation.
Forty municipalities passed resolutions against weakening the powers of Conservation Authorities and shifting them to a provincial cabinet minister.
But by a mathematical trick, the Ford government has achieved pretty much its original objective of eliminating all citizen members.
That’s because the 70 percent rule applies to the appointments of each individual municipality, not to the resulting boards as a whole.
Conservation Authority boards are based on watersheds not political boundaries. Each is composed of appointees from all municipal governments which fall within the watersheds covered by that board.
For example, four different Conservation Authorities have jurisdiction over waterways within the political boundaries of the City of Hamilton, so Hamilton representatives sit on all four CAs.
For two of those CA boards, Hamilton’s share is less than four members so none of those appointees can be citizens. For allocations less than four members, any citizen appointment would mean councillors composed less than 70 percent.
Hamilton currently appoints one person to the Grand River Conservation Authority and two to the Conservation Halton board. All three are citizen representatives, but would have to be replaced by politicians once the new rules kick in at the beginning of 2023.
Small numbers of citizen members could still be appointed by Hamilton City Council to the other two local Conservation Authority boards. Hamilton currently has four seats on the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority which covers Hamilton lands drained by the Welland River and Twenty Mile Creek. At present two of the four are councillors, but that would have to increase to at least three to meet the new 70 percent rule.
Haldimand County has three seats on the NPCA, one of which is a citizen, but the new rules mean all three will have to be councillors. Niagara Region has the remaining dozen seats on the NPCA board, and currently has selected citizens to fill nine of those positions.
One of the advantages of citizen appointments is the chance for greater diversity. At least two of the NPCA citizen board members are persons of colour.
The new rules mean only three will be allowed and that may drop further because there is concern that the current NPCA board is too large. That could mean Hamilton going down to three with all having to be politicians, and Niagara being unable to appoint as many citizen members.
Conservation Halton’s current board has twelve councillors plus seven citizens. Five of the latter must disappear since they all come from municipalities with fewer than four seats. That would force Hamilton, Peel and Puslinch to replace their citizen members with councillors.
There are fourteen Halton seats on the Board, and twelve are already politicians. The regional government could bump up citizen representation to four from the current two, but that would mean reducing current councillor members which may not be in the cards.
The Hamilton Conservation Authority has eleven board members, ten of which are appointed by Hamilton City Council. Five of those are currently citizens, so that would have to fall to no more than three. The other current HCA board member is selected by Puslinch Township and is a citizen volunteer, so he would also have to be replaced by a politician.
CATCH (Citizens at City Hall) updates use transcripts and/or public documents to highlight information about Hamilton civic affairs that is not generally available in the mass media. Detailed reports of City Hall meetings can be reviewed at hamiltoncatch.org .
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Find this article on the CATCH website here (https://hamiltoncatch.us20.list-manage.com/track/click?u=8ffda5515733a1dd97a7b21fa&id=8428dbd4e8&e=a31ab29d46) , along with the full archive of CATCH articles.
A FOOTNOTE from Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper –
Of the 20 individuals currently sitting on the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s (NCPA) board of directors, seven are elected municipal council members from Niagara and from areas of Hamilton in the western, upstream reaches of the Niagara watershed.
A total of 13 are non-elected members and a majority of them are volunteer citizens who do not currently hold staff positions on any other government bodies.
Countless thousands of citizens across this Niagara region spoke out and fought hard to make sure we had a critical mass of citizens represented on NPCA’s board. They did so after watching the board that was in place prior to the 2018 municipal election that was dominated by elected politicians, most of them with ties to the so-called cabal at a Niagara Regional Council then chaired by Al Caslin, and by politicians with a record of favouring controversial development plans over protecting and conserving our natural heritage.
So the Ford government’s move to purge the NPCA and other Conservation Authorities in the province of most of its citizen members is a triple slap in the face in an Ontario that is supposed to be about democracy and encouraging citizen participation in public affairs.
It is a slap in the face to the many citizens who fought to see that citizens outside of elected politicians had an opportunity to serve on these public boards.
It is a slap in the face to the citizens who are investing the time and interest to serve on these boards.
And it is also a slap in the face to all of our local municipalities who encouraged citizens in their towns and cities to apply for a position on the Conservation Authority board, and to the duly elected members of the councils of these municipalities that were ultimately responsible for reviewing the applications and choosing citizen board members for their communities.
What makes the actions of the Ford government to now dump citizen board members more reprehensible – outside of the obvious desire to remove voices that may be more inclined to speak out for conserving nature – is that the province contributes to less than 10 per cent of a Conservation Authority’s total budget.
A large sum of the funding comes from municipalities through taxes we pay as property owners, and yet this Ford government has the audacity to diminish the role of municipalities and local citizens in an issue as vital as conservation anyway.
It is another reason why this Ford government has GOT TO GO!
Doug Draper, Niagara At Large
For a complete list of current Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority board members, click on – https://npca.ca/administration/board-members .
For related information on the Ford government’s assault on Conservation Authorities, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2020/12/12/despite-blow-from-ford-government-niagaras-conservation-authority-determined-to-soldier-on/
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