Friday, December 8, 2017

From: Niagara Coalition for Good Governance
To: Premier Kathleen Wynne, Minister Kathryn McGarry, Minister Chris Ballard and Minister
Bill Mauro
Cc’d to: MPP Cindy Forster, MPP Jim Bradley, MPP Wayne Gates, MPP Sam Oosterhoff
Re. Action is needed to return the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority to fulfilling
its mandate in a transparent, accountable, well-governed manner
Dear Premier Wynne and Ministers McGarry, Ballard and Mauro:
As you are well aware, citizens, municipalities and Provincial politicians from all parties
have raised concerns in our Region, and in the Provincial legislature, about the Niagara
Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA).
We are appreciative that the Auditor General will be conducting a full financial audit of
the NPCA, however, concerns about the NPCA go beyond the scope of the audit and must be
addressed through changes to the Conservation Act.
This brief will outline the main concerns that have been raised and recommend seven
possible courses of action to address the issues.
Our concerns include: accountability; loss of credibility; conflicts of interest;
questionable hirings; malfeasance as an employer; incompetence and misinterpretation in
carrying out their mandate under the Conservation Act; bad faith as local authorities in their
interactions and communication with the public and municipal Councils and; financial
mismanagement in terms of the awarding of contracts and possibly in the operation of the
NPCA’s Charitable Foundation (NPCF).
As an arm of the Government, Conservation Authorities in Ontario, and the Niagara
Region Conservation Authority in particular, can benefit immensely from major changes on how
the organizations are run and managed.
The Niagara Coalition for Good Governance is a non-partisan coalition of citizens who
advocate for transparent, accountable, responsible, responsive and respectful decision-making in
our Region. As well, we advocate for many issues in Niagara including the conservation and
enhancement of Niagara Region’s ecological systems and biodiversity, and the green infrastructure
benefits they provide.
The Issues:
Lack of Accountability
One of our greatest concerns is that currently Conservation Authorities are publiclyfunded
bodies that are not accountable to the taxpayers who fund them and aren’t accountable to
the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR). Complainants to the MNR about the NPCA have
been told to take their concerns to the Region of Niagara, however, because of the current
interwoven relationship between Regional politicians, the board of the NPCA (11 of 15 members
are Niagara Region Councillors) and the board of NPCF (all three NPCF board members are
Regional Councillors and NPCA board members), there is a “fox in charge of the henhouse”
effect and no easily identified avenue for accountability.
As well, the Niagara Regional Council has clearly demonstrated a lack of ability to police
themselves, much less the NPCA. This is a Regional government that has had no integrity
commissioner and no rules about what its members can expense to taxpayers.1
We ask that immediate action is taken to increase accountability. Please see our
suggestions at the end of this report.
Loss of Credibility:
Many questions have been raised by municipalities and citizens around the financial
workings of the NPCA and its Foundation. Because the organization has not been forthcoming in
answering these questions, the NPCA has lost credibility with the municipalities and the people
it serves.
This loss in credibility is demonstrated by the fact that nine municipal Councils in the
NPCA’s watershed, including the City of Hamilton and the City of St. Catharines, have called for a
forensic audit to be conducted on the NPCA, as have Niagara’s Liberal, NDP and Conservative
On November 29, 2017, the Port Colborne Council voted in favour of the Province
appointing a supervisor to oversee NPCA operations.1 This followed public calls for the
Provincially-appointed supervisor to be put in place from MPPs Cindy Forster and Wayne Gates,
as well as Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) president Warren (Smokey)
Thomas and regional vice-president Lucy Morton.2
St. Catharines’ city council has also tried to bring about changes at NPCA through
several recent motions. In December 2016, council passed a motion asking the province to step
in and audit NPCA. In January 2017, it asked all Niagara politicians sitting on the NPCA board
to launch a third-party investigation into the organization. It called for an overhaul of the way
members are appointed to NPCA’s board on March 6 2017, supporting a previous motion by
Pelham’s town council, asking for citizen appointments on the board with expertise in
environmental and conservation issues.3
The City of Hamilton voted for a “thorough” investigation of the NPCA in December 2016
with Councilor Johnson noting: "Serious questions have been raised about the financial and
human resource management of the NPCA." 4
Hamilton is also in the process of appealing a conservation levy increase of $945,000 that
the NPCA made without warning in 2015. The city also asked the province take control of the
administration of the NPCA in February 2015.5
As previously mentioned, the four local MPPs, from all three Provincial parties, Cindy
Forster, Jim Bradley, Wayne Gates and Sam Oosterhoff, have raised concerns in public and the
legislature about the NPCA, calling for an audit of the organization in response to many complaints
from citizens. Bradley has also joined with Forster and Gates in asking the current board to be
removed and a Provincially-appointed supervisor be put in place.6
The organization has also lost credibility because of its behavior toward the public,
community groups and its own staff. Nine local nature/environmental organizations have also
lost faith in the organization. This is partly because the clubs have been concerned by the firing
of very experienced and highly-regarded staff coupled with a cancellation of partnership
programs with environmental groups without notice (Trout Unlimited).7
As well the NPCA invited the public to participate in a review of the Strategic Plan, only
to inform — just days before the event — more than 25 members of environmental and
community groups who had registered that they couldn’t attend “due to overwhelming interest”
that had filled the session. After it was discovered that only seven people attended the session, a
public outcry resulted in the NPCA convening a second session where members of
environmental groups were allowed to attend.
A shocking move by the NPCA to remove all representation from environmental groups
from the Community Liaison Advisory Committee (CLAC) is just another example of the
unexplainable leadership decisions taking place within the NPCA. In June 2017, the
environmental community was sent letters asking for nominations to CLAC. The nature clubs
including the Bert Miller Nature Club, the Niagara Falls Nature Club, the Peninsula Field
Naturalists, the Hamilton Naturalists Club, Hawkwatch, The Preservation of Agricultural Lands
Society, Trout Unlimited, Friends of One Mile Creek and the Niagara Land Trust responded
asking that Albert Garofalo, a well-known and well-respected local conservationist be
reappointed to represent their voice in the “environment” seat. Albert had indicated that he
would like to serve another term and was told he would be considered if at least one of the
groups nominated him. Despite the unanimous support of the area’s nature clubs, the NPCA
committee appointed a former local municipal candidate and business owner who is said to be on
very good terms with NPCA Chair Annunziata. The formerly named representative of
environmental sector position on the CLAC has been renamed “representative of conservation
sector.”8 So, while seats on the NPCA’s liaison committee are guaranteed to agriculture,
landowners and development and industry, the environmental sector has been silenced. In
response, Niagara’s nature clubs issued a sharply worded rebuke to this action through Joyce
Sankey, conservation director, Niagara Falls Nature Club, who said: “the NPCA is moving
further away from what should be its mandate of environmental protection. Those in Niagara
who love natural spaces and want to preserve habitat for our wildlife species are left without a
For these and many other reasons Niagara’s MPPs, municipal Councils, nature
organizations and citizens feel a bond of trust has been broken between them and the NPCA.
This is an organization that is deaf to the public they are supposed to be serving and whose board
lacks diversity and expertise.10
Incompetence and Misinterpretation in Carrying Out Its Mandate
Under the Conservation Act
The Conservation Authorities Act (Sections 20 and 21) enables a very broad mandate for
Conservation Authorities to undertake watershed-based programs and activities deemed to be
vital to the “conservation, restoration, development and management of natural resources”.
Conservation Ontario notes that Conservation Authorities are the delivery agents for Integrated
Watershed Management which is an approach that requires managing human activities and
natural resources, together, on a watershed basis to ensure the sustainable and resilient ecological
and socio-economic well-being of Ontario.11 The discussion paper released by the Province
about changes to the Conservation Act said: “Collectively through their local programs,
conservation authorities play an important role in resource management and environmental
protection through stewardship, conservation, land acquisition and management, recreation,
education, and science and research.”12
Reading this, one would think that Conservation Authorities are expected to have a broad
range of roles and responsibilities making them capable of responding to the unique needs of
their watersheds. However, that is not how the current board interprets their mandate. Earlier this
year, Annunziata, the chair of the NPCA, told the Town of Lincoln’s Council that his agency
needs to focus on its sole mandate: “responding to hydrology issues and the effects of surface
water on such things as erosion.” He added, “We are not an environmental protection agency.”13
He reiterated this stance at a recent St. Catharines Council meeting where he said the
Conservation’s mandate was to prevent flooding and erosion and furthermore that “conserve”
didn’t mean “preserve”.14
One wonders how the NPCA will be able to fulfill even these limited goals given that
they continue to shed frontline staff. Over the past three-and-a-half years, there has been a 60%
turnover in staff.15 Many of the employees who were let go were long-term staff with deep
knowledge of the local environment and frontline staff charged with fulfilling the Authorities’
mandate. For instance, in September 2017, two planners from watershed management, three
watershed restoration workers, two ecological technicians and one event coordinator were let go
by the NPCA.16
It has become apparent to citizens that the NPCA has become focused on issues that
facilitate private developers at the expense of their broader mandate. In fact, their current
strategic plan has, as one of the five priorities, “Streamlined, efficient delivery of development
approvals process.” The emphasis on improving the development process performance and
balancing conservation with economic development is mentioned over and over again in the
NPCA’s Strategic Plan documents that fail to mention, even once, how the NPCA is planning for
the impacts of Climate Change or how they intend to protect vulnerable species.17
Furthermore, the NPCA's eagerness to experiment with the scientifically unsound concept
of "biodiversity offsetting", to allow for the destruction of Provincially Significant Wetlands, to the
benefit of developers, leaves citizens questioning whether the NPCA cares about what their
Provincially-directed mandate is.18
Failure to Protect
While NPCA has been concentrating on helping developers, it has been failing in what
should be its core mandate. The infilling of a Provincially Significant Wetland at Coyles Creek
and the draining of a wetland in Drapers Creek, both acts committed by developers, have gone
unaddressed and unremediated despite numerous complaints by the public.19
As well, the NPCA granted permission for the limited tree removal on a forested track
adjacent to the Two Sisters winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake. When the landowner instead clearcut
the entire forest, no action was taken.20
Finally, the NPCA has failed in its primary responsibility which is to manage the
watershed. The NPCA’s 2017 draft Water Quality Report shows 47 watercourses in the
watershed are in poor condition, 18 are in marginal condition, 7 are in fair condition and only
two are in good condition.21
Mismanagement of the NPCA’s Foundation
Questions have also been raised about how the NPCA’s Foundation (NPCF) is being
managed. In 2013, before the current board took over, the foundation raised more than it spent
($80,069 vs $73,455); kept its management and administration costs to 5% of expenses; kept
fundraising costs to 39% of expenses and provided $39,802, or 54% of its expenses, as gifts to
other registered charities and qualified donees. By 2016, under the new board, the foundation
was spending more than it earned ($142,786 vs $136,637); had increased its management and
administration costs to 23% of expenses; spent $96,233 or 67% of its expenses on fundraising
and provided only $13,500 or 9% of its expenses as gifts to other registered charities and
qualified donees.22
It seems that this registered charity is currently falling far short of its stated mission
which is to raise “awareness, funds and resources to support the important work of Niagara
Peninsula Conservation Authority, and other local environmental organizations. The Foundation
provides funds for restoration projects, education, conservation area enhancements and
community events”.23 Again, because the interwoven nature of the Regional Councillors being
members of the NPCA board and members of the NPCA board being members of the NPCF,
there is no authority with whom citizens can raise concerns.
Bad Faith as Local Authorities in Their Interactions and Communication with the Public,
Community Groups and Municipal Councils
There are numerous examples of the NPCA dealing with others in bad faith. For instance,
according to Order MO-3489 from the Information and Privacy Commissioner, Ontario, the NPCA
stated: “The NPCF's tax filing shows no employees because the organization was dormant and
did not have any employees in 2015.” 24 However, The Canada Revenue Agency records show
that the organization filed as an “active” organization for 2015 25; that its revenue was $212,836;
that it paid $10,594 in management and administration fees; that it spent $79,029 on fundraising
and that it gifted $100,000 to other registered charities and qualified donees 26 — hardly a
dormant organization.
An example of the NPCA acting in bad faith with a municipality is NPCA Board Chair
Sandy Annunziata telling St. Catharines Council that the auditor general had not offered to do an
audit of the Authority when it had.27 Indisputable proof of this can be found in this video of the
NPCA board meeting on January 18, 2017. The following link takes you directly to the
applicable part of the meeting.28
An additional example occurred on January 27, 2016 during a meeting on “biodiversity”
offsetting at the Balls Falls Conservation Centre. With close to 200 people in the room, board
members and senior staff of the NPCA insisted that the organization’s eagerness to be a test case
for “biodiversity offsetting” had nothing to do with a proposed development at Thundering Waters
in Niagara Falls, an area containing a significant amount of Provincially Significant Wetlands.
They insisted that it was the Province that was pushing the concept of biodiversity offsetting not
the NPCA. Subsequently, citizens were made aware that, in fact, the Thundering Waters
Development was the proposed focus of the NPCA’s biodiversity offsetting plan. Furthermore,
citizens came into possession of a document, signed by the NPCA’s CAO Carmen D’Angelo,
hiring a firm to lobby the Province on behalf of biodiversity offsetting. Citizens have also
uncovered documents showing the NPCA board member and Mayor of Niagara Falls, Jim Diodati,
has lobbied the Province to move the Thundering Waters ahead, despite the fact his municipality
has not voted to approve it.29 30
Other signs of bad faith, on the NPCA’s part, include refusing requests from citizens,
including MPP Cindy Forster, as well as the OPSEU Health and Safety representative, to make
presentations to the board; refusing to comply with FOI requests; charging exorbitant sums to
provide information sought through FOI requests; attempting to hide information sought during
FOI requests by claiming that the information belonged to the NPCF and thus was not “public”
Questionable Hirings and Contracts
In October 2013, Carmen D'Angelo, a NPCA Board member representing Hamilton, took
a four-month leave of absence from the board in order to complete the "HR restructuring" project
as per the NPCA Strategic Plan. His company, DPM Consulting had been awarded an
untendered $41,000 contract for this work. The NPCA Board of Directors Policy Handbook, Reg
#2 section 10.1, defines a conflict of interest in part as “using a [Board] member’s position or
confidential information for private gain or advancement.” Citizens questioned whether the
contract awarded to D’Angelo represents a conflict of interest. In July 2016, a Freedom of
Information request (FOI), was submitted to the NPCA requesting any documents relating to this
contract. The FOI request was originally denied. After an appeal to the Privacy Commissioner,
the NPCA revised their decision with a statement that "a search was conducted and no records
were found". We believe that in terms of questionable NPCA contracts, this is likely just the tip
of the iceberg.
On March 19, 20I4 D'Angelo again took a leave of absence from the Board, for "personal
reasons". While on this second personal leave he was awarded the newly vacated position of
CAO of the NPCA starting in May 2014. Thirty-one people had applied for the position. Citizens
wondered whether an over-lapping trail from Board member to paid consultant to CAO
constituted a conflict of interest.31
In another instance concerning to citizens, in December 2013, Regional Councillor Dave
Barrick who, at the time, was serving as a NPCA board member, was given the job of Manager
of Operations overseeing the authority’s 37 conservation areas — a job that was never publicly
advertised and for which he never applied. Since then he has enjoyed several promotions and is
currently Senior Director of Corporate Services.32
Malfeasance as An Employer
Since 2014, 60% of the organization’s staff have left or been let go.33 At a minimum, this is
a symptom of an organization in turmoil. As many suspect, it is more likely a symptom of an
organization that has decided to remove and/or punish any employees who do not demonstrate a
sufficient amount of loyalty to their board and the revised “development-focused” goals they have
As well, a recent survey by Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW),
a multidisciplinary health clinic funded by Ontario's Ministry of Labour, conducted at the request
of the OPSEU health and safety unit, found a majority of NPCA employees surveyed agreed that
the NPCA tolerates behaviour that is harmful to mental health (87%); they had witnessed
offensive behaviours such as undesired sexual attention, threats of violence, bullying, and
discrimination (80%); had experienced bullying in the last year (68%) - more than twice the
Canadian average of 31 per cent.34
34 For full study details go to:
No Tolerance for Criticism or Dissent
The NPCA has made it clear that, although they receive more than $10 million in
taxpayer funding, they will tolerate no questions about how they operate. Whether those
questions come from local MPPs, their own CLAC members, former employees or the public.
The most concerning evidence of this is the lawsuit the organization launched against St.
Catharines’ citizen Ed Smith, a retired Major in the Canadian Armed Forces who has been a
tireless community volunteer and who, in his spare time, helps build schools in Cameroon. Smith
became engaged in issues involving the NPCA after confirming the organization was not being
truthful about biodiversity-offsetting plans for Thundering Waters. Based on FOI requests, he put
together a report outlining several questions about potential conflicts of interests and other
questionable practices at the NPCA. Instead of answering the question raised through the FOI
requests, the NPCA launched a lawsuit against him. Citizens see this as a disturbing sign of what
lengths the NPCA will go to silence critics and it has made many afraid to speak up about their
own concerns.35
It is important to note that Superior Court judge Ramsay dismissed the defamation suits
against Ed Smith on Thursday, November 23, 2017. His sharply-worded decision read in part that
NPCA is “a body that has had trouble finding its way,” and that its response to Smith’s report
was not in keeping with the value Canada places on free speech. “I share the defendant’s
disappointment at this treatment by the authority,” Ramsay wrote in his decision. “A private
citizen, he raised questions about the governance of the authority. He was met with a public
accusation of forgery and the threat of litigation from ‘his own government . . . There are many
places in the world where I might expect such a thing to happen, but not in our beloved
Dominion.” 36
The NPCA is embroiled in a number of other lawsuits including suing a former staff
member who spoke out about harassment and violence by senior management in the workplace.37
In another example of the NPCA’s intolerance for dissent, a respected member of the
Board, Bill Hodgson, former Mayor of the Town of Lincoln and now Regional Councillor from
Lincoln, who was standing up for citizens who were demanding more accountability and
transparency from the NPCA, resigned from the board in May of 2017 after being subjected to
"bullying and harassment" by fellow board members. 38 Hodgson had been in the board’s
crosshairs for a number of months after objecting to the NPCAs focus on furthering development
rather than conservation. 39 As well he had called into question the hiring of two former board
members into high-profile and well-paid positions with the authority. He told the CBC at the
time: "When they're prepared to hire someone off of their board, without work experience and
[without] the right professional accreditation, it's the canary in the mine for me," "If someone's
prepared to do that — and not see that as a problem — you have to worry about what other
judgment is involved." 40 Hodgson resigned after being censured by the NPCA board that alleged
“improper” involvement in the agency’s request for proposals process to select an auditor to
review the authority’s operations — based on a report that the board has refused to make
public.41 It now appears that the alleged report may not actually exist.42
The NPCA board’s attempt to stifle dissent, including from board members, was made
clear when they proposed a draft a code of conduct which included a loyalty oath. It read that
board members were to “demonstrate unconflicted loyalty to the interests of the NPCA” and if
not they “will be sanctioned or removed from the board”. The draft code continued: “This
accountability supersedes any conflicting loyalty such as that to advocacy or interest groups and
membership on other boards.”43
NPCA board members, and their fellow Regional Councillors, also try to stamp out
questions and concerns about the organization by telling people to “shut up”. Councillor Bob
Gale responded to an emailed question from Ed Smith about Councillor Hodgson’s censure with
this: “I would strongly suggest that you and MPP Forster as well as anyone that wants to weigh
into this – shuts up – until all the evidence is presented to the public.” Please remember that no
evidence was actually produced in the matter because the NPCA refused to make the report on
Hodgson public. MPP Forster noted: “What they are clearly doing is trying to gag anyone who
disagrees with what they are doing. I have never seen a public board move in this kind of
direction.” 44
Since many citizen’s feel the NPCA board is deaf to their concerns, and since it has
eliminated their ability to make their voices heard by turning down requests to speak at board
meetings, by getting rid of the environmental group’s chosen rep on the CLAC and through the
threat of lawsuits, citizens have taken one of the few options remaining to them — they regularly
stage lawful, and peaceful, public protests outside of NPCA events and board meetings.
However, the public was warned during the October 16th 2017, St. Catharines Council meeting
by new NPCA CAO Mark Brickell that these protests were “inappropriate and unacceptable”
and “cannot continue”. Coming from an organization that has demonstrated a propensity for
suing people, citizens took this statement as a threat meant to stifle their right to free speech and
freedom of expression. 45
1. Since the current Board of the NPCA has lost credibility with the citizens and the
municipalities in Niagara, a Provincially-appointed supervisor needs to be appointed to
head the NPCA until a new board can be constituted.
2. Bill 136, the Conservation Authorities Act must make it implicitly clear that supervisors
can be appointed to Conservation Authorities if needed.
3. The Province needs to take back the power to appoint a percentage of Provinciallyselected
members to the board and;
4. Bill 136 needs to require that a percentage of board members be selected from qualified
citizens of the communities the board serves. Qualified citizens means they have
expertise in biodiversity, biology, hydrology, climate science, landscape restoration or
other related natural science fields.
5. Bill 136 needs to require that the percentage of Provincial appointees and community
members are the majority of the board with local/Regional politicians being in the
6. Bill 136 needs to prohibit members of Local or Regional Council from being employed
by Conservation Authorities.
7. Since Regional/Local politicians will continue to serve on Conservation Authority
Boards, the new Conservation Act needs to clarify what constitutes a conflict of interest
for these politicians when it comes to their board duties.
In conclusion, Conservation Authorities have been “mandated to ensure the conservation,
restoration and responsible management of Ontario’s water, land and natural habitats”, 46
however, citizens, community groups and municipalities in the area managed by the NPCA have
lost confidence in the organization’s current board to carry out this mandate. There is a lack of
accountability; a loss of credibility; demonstrated incompetence in carrying out their mandate
and stated misinterpretation of what the NPCA’s mandate is; a failure to protect the lands and
waters within the watershed; bad faith in the NPCA’s interactions with the public, community
groups, the municipalities they serve and with other authorities/agencies; questionable
management practices relating to hiring and firings and the awarding of contracts; malfeasance
as an employer and a proven intolerance for accepting criticism or even questions without threats
of legal action.
For all of these reasons, we welcome the auditor general’s audit of this organization but we
plead with the Premier and the relevant Ministers to do more. Please give serious regard to our
suggestions and then take action to return the NPCA to good governance and good relations with
its community.
Linda Babb: 5941 Delaware St., Niagara Falls, ON, 905-358-5784, L2G 2R4
Liz Benneian: 3150 Culp Road, Jordan Station, ON, L0R 1S0, 905-562-3819, email:
Ed Smith: 140 Dalhousie Ave. St. Catharines, ON L2N 4X4, 905-935-7028, email:
Susan Erskine-Fournier: 620 Vine St., St. Catharines, L2M 3V5, 905-646-5266, email:
On behalf of Niagara Citizens for Good Governance
Niagara Coalition for Good Governance