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Sunday, May 26, 2024
NPCA governance issue to be resolved by next Regional council

At the final meeting of Regional council last Thursday, traditionally held after an election to allow outgoing members to say their goodbyes, the controversy of Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority governance was left to the new council to debate. 

The last term of the 15-member board included 12 politicians. Only three members were citizens, one from Thorold and two from Hamilton, which also falls within the NPCA jurisdiction.

An auditor general's report released about a month before the Oct. 22 municipal election was critical of the board make-up, suggesting the heavy reliance on political appointees was at the root of some of the issues that have alarmed the public and caused a loss of trust in the agency.

Elected officials have overly involved themselves in day-to-day operations of NPCA, the report said, and expenses increased while funding of conservation services dropped. 

While the board composition falls within the provincially legislated framework, the report said, “the board’s policies and practices are not aligned with leading governance practices, which has limited the effectiveness of the board’s oversight of the NPCA.”

The agency's board members, the report went on to say, confirmed “they act primarily on behalf of their municipality when making NPCA board decisions.” The report cited the recent controversy over the Thundering Waters development of wetlands in Niagara Falls as an example of elected board members having “difficulties balancing their competing municipal and NPCA interests and responsibilities, compromising their ability to make objective decisions in the NPCA’s best interest.”

The report recommended the NPCA board should have more appointees with the appropriate skills, experience and training to oversee the agency's activities effectively.

At the last meeting of Regional council before the election, Pelham mayor Dave Augustyn hoped to make a motion that would reconfigure the NPCA board, with a heavier weight on qualified citizen representatives over elected officials, but the meeting ran late with a closed-door session and the motion was not brought to the floor.

Augustyn's motion, read by Regional Coun. Kelly Edgar at last Thursday's council meeting, said that Niagara residents deserve openness and accountablity regarding how their tax dollars are spent by the NPCA, and how effectively the region's natural environment is being protected by the agency. Since appointed politicians on the board may not have conservation and environmental expertise, the motion said instead of offering the appointments to Niagara regional councillors and mayors, each municipality should advertise the board position and make recommendations based on candidates with appropriate skills, with the change in the appointment process to take effect following the 2018 municipal election.

Edgar suggested the auditor general's report “pretty well says it all”  — that there is a need to include qualified citizens on the NPCA board.

But before the discussion of reforming the NPCA board make-up could continue, a motion was made by St. Catharines Regional Coun. Tim Rigby to defer the decision to the incoming council.

Answering a question from Walter Sendzik, mayor of St. Catharines, D'Angelo assured councillors he didn't see a problem with scheduling that discussion to occur before the Dec. 13 appointments of councillors to Niagara agencies and committees.

Gary Burroughs, Niagara-on-the-Lake's outgoing Regional councillor, voted against the deferral, and said he was disappointed the decision hadn't been made before the end of the term; Pat Darte, on Regional council as lord mayor of NOTL, voted for the deferral, which was approved by a vote of 13 to 10.


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