Accountability at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA)
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WHEREAS there is a perception of a proclivity to favour developers at the expense of conservation and the NPCA’s official mandate; despite irrefutable, documented evidence, the NPCA has neglected to enforce conservation regulations when the infraction involves a developer.
WHEREAS the Board has demonstrated favouritism to friends, and fellow Board members, by awarding untendered contracts to under-qualified individuals replacing professional, well trained, fully qualified employees; The Board has further engendered a toxic environment for employees, and Board members, who disagree with their actions by threatening action in the event of perceived "whistle-blowing".
WHEREAS we feel the only way to stop the uncontrolled destruction of our green spaces in the name of development is to dissolve the Board of Directors of the NPCA and appoint a caretaker board.
- We demand Premier Wynne show some leadership in this urgent issue and stepin to that end;
- We demand the municipalities which contribute to the NPCA immediately recall their representatives until such a time as a complete forensic audit is completed;
- we recommend any future board comprise at minimum half citizen representatives with relevant specializations to be selected after an application process;
- we recommend any future board be prohibited from stacking mayors as it is perceived to be a conflict of interest.
For more information or to contact the Save Thundering Waters Forest crew, email us at: email the STWF6 crew at: email@example.com
Some highlights of recent controversy include, though are not limited to:
- Member of the Board of Directors, Mayor Frank Campion, is on tape stating he believes the board should resign and questions whether there should be a criminal investigation of the NPCA. https://youtu.be/lEpBYJ5IUds
- An employee of Niagara Region has come forward alleging that Regional matters are improperly discussed and strategy agreed on, out of public view, in closed-door meetings among the mayors and CAOs of Niagara’s municipalities. Together, the region’s mayors, make up 12 of the 30 votes on Niagara Regional Council and 5 of the 15 votes on the NPCA board.
This is a clear conflict of interest and violation of Ontario Municipal Act, 2001, c. 25, s. 239 (1). http://www.thevoiceofpelham.ca/private-meetings-among-niagara-mayors-called-out/
- The NPCA is using public funds to sue a citizen, Ed Smith, claiming defamation after a citizen lead investigation, through the Freedom of Information Act, resulted in the publication of a report “A Call for Accountability at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority”. The report, circulated in October 2016, was critical of the way NPCA operates and accused the agency of being rife with conflicts of interest issues; the NPCA has yet to deny, or respond to, most of the allegations contained within. http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2017/03/27/activist-counter-suing-npca
- The NPCA has refused to enforce provincial regulations when the complaint is made by a citizen against a developer nor force remediation of the land.
3.1 A citizens complainants regarding potential development and past infilling of a Provincially Significant Wetland (PSW) at Coyle Creek in Welland. Requests by Welland MPP Cindy Forester for an update as to an enforcement plan for the developer to remediate this PSW remain unanswered; the NPCA state the matter is closed.
3.2 At Draper's Creek in Welland a drainage pipe was installed in the middle of a PSW. The drainage pipe was reported by an adjacent landowner to the City of Welland and to the NPCA. The city of Welland staff verified the existence of the illegal drain pipe, tracing it to the end point, verifying that the swamp was being drained into the city's drainage system. An appeal was filed by the adjacent landowner to have the developer forced to remediate the land by simply removing the drainage pipe, the NPCA has refused. nr-escribe.esolutionsgroup.ca/FileStream.ashx?DocumentId=13446
- The NPCA used public funds to hire lobbyists to actively promote biodiversity offsetting, and “compensation”, in furtherance of their development agenda. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/niagara-conservation-authority-1.3941312
- On June 19th, 2017, the chair of the NPCA told Lincoln town council his agency needs to focus solely on water and the effects of water. “We are not an environmental protection agency”, Sandy Annunziata. https://www.niagarathisweek.com/news-story/7388863-chair-paints-a-pared-back-picture-of-npca-s-role/
- In January, 2017, a majority of Niagara’s municipal councils, Hamilton council and all four Niagara MPPs called for an audit of the agency. The board initially declined an offer by the provincial auditor general to do an audit at no cost to the Board. In April, the Board changed its mind, cancelling its bidding process to hire an auditor. According to the Auditor General’s official Twitter account, no audit is scheduled. https://www.hamiltonnews.com/news-story/7404893-niagara-peninsula-authority-chairman-waits-for-auditor-general-to-conduct-audit/
- There exists a culture of fear within the NPCA:
7.1 On February 8, 2017, OPSEU release a statement regarding recent lay-offs. “In a workplace with 32 bargaining unit employees, there are over 20 managers. Currently there are 10 active grievances, all at arbitration – about one grievance for every three unionized employees. Instead of working with the union to settle grievances in early stages, NPCA senior staff routinely spend public money on expensive arbitration hearings.” - Warren “Smokey” Thomas, President OPSEU. http://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/NPCA-must-halt-valentines-day-layoff-opseu.html
7.2 On July 19, 2017, OPSEU released the results of a stress survey, conducted in cooperation with OHCOW, which asked them to evaluate the psychological climate in their workplace. Almost 90 per cent of NPCA employees completed the survey, Two-thirds of NPCA employees indicated they have experienced workplace bullying, while 70 per cent say they have witnessed “offensive behaviours”. https://opseu.org/news/npca-workplace-unhealthy-survey
- A culture of questionable ethics/behaviours continues to exist:
8.1 On June 12, 2017, Sandy Annunziata, chairman, asked that a video of the board’s January meeting be edited to remove footage of two board members appearing to give a Nazi salute. The video shows Welland Mayor Frank Campion and Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati making the gesture; Mayors Campion and Diodati verbally apologized; the video was removed from YouTube and edited before being reloaded. The mayors were not censured nor was further action taken. http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/mayors-nazi-salute
8.2 By comparison, board member Bill Hodgson, of Lincoln, had been urging the Board to take steps to reassure the public of the agency’s integrity in the wake of the “A Call for Accountability” report (see items #4 and 5). On April 26, 2017, in a special meeting, behind closed doors, the Board voted to censure Mr Hodgson, refusing to release any further information. A two-thirds majority of 12 members would require eight members to vote in favour of a motion.The public vote to confirm the decisions made in confidential session was seven in favour and four against; the motion passed in contravention of the requirement. Amidst allegations of bullying and harassment, after being improperly censured, Councillor Hodgson has since resigned. http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2017/05/04/npca-on-witch-hunt-forster-says
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