Thank you for taking the time to meet with me for more than two hours on October 26th. NPCA has committed to building a new level of dialogue with its various stakeholders – a dialogue based on respectful communication, seeking first to listen to and understand the other and second to convey that understanding to the other. This does not mean that we will always agree about a specific given matter but it does mean that NPCA staff and Board Members will strive to understand diverse viewpoints. As I mentioned to you during our meeting, I believe you raised a number of valid points related to the need for consistency and fairness.
While I am unable to comment on specific cases, particularly those before the courts, I would point out a few general factors to provide further context. NPCA is a regulator of Provincial legislation. NPCA does not make the laws nor does NPCA designate for example, wetlands. NPCA simply regulates and enforces Provincial legislation. With respect to enforcement, it is always NPCA’s preference to bring about voluntary compliance, as opposed to laying charges. This approach has been successful in reducing conflict and bringing about preferred ecological outcomes.
The NPCA of today promotes dialogue and problem-solving and strives always to be fair and consistent. I do understand, Preston, that you do not share this viewpoint, at this time. However, most of the cases you reference go back several years, and it is possible that things were done differently. As I indicated to you during our meeting, I will be reviewing all outstanding legal matters in the coming weeks to see what lessons can be learned. How are you making out with the ongoing Willie Wakulich Case? Check out the 'Smoking Gun' article where the developer is allowed to skate while the home owner is currently under NPCA orders! Is this what you call following provincial guide lines? Total Corruption!
During our discussion, you also asked me to point out any inaccurate or untrue statements in your article titled, “A Study in Corruption”. Setting your sensational title aside for a moment, I would point out to you that the NPCA Board of Directors would be the envy of most organizations. All our Board Members are local community leaders. They are passionate and thoughtful supporters of the NPCA who give generously of their time and talents. However, for certainty, unlike municipal councils, NPCA Board members do not vote on planning or permit applications. These matters are handled by our expert staff directly and the staff recommendations are forwarded to the appropriate municipality or applicant for consideration or action, as is required. I'm sorry Mark but the Board is there to keep the executive on the straight and narrow! Surely you are not talking about board members that give a Nazi Salute and/or tell lies on social media?
Continuing, you point out that Welland Mayor and NPCA Board Member called for a Criminal Investigation of the NPCA. As the CAO of this organization, I spoke to Mr. Campion about his remarks and asked him point blank if he was aware of any criminal wrong-doing at the NPCA, as I would have it investigated immediately. Mr. Campion said he was speaking in line with a Motion brought forward by his Council, in requesting the investigation but went on to confirm that he was not aware of any criminal wrong-doing at the NPCA. Oh please Mark, are you saying that Welland Mayor and NPCA Board Member Campion did NOT call for a criminal investigation. You seem eager to rely on an assumption that Citizens cannot prove their concerns.
On the second page of your article, you refer to the “Niagara Peninsula Corruption Authority”. I am not aware of the existence of such an organization and certainly if it does exist, it does not do so with the approval of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA). These entities should not be confused to be one and the same. Please make that factual correction at your earliest convenience. During our 2.5 hour meeting I asked you to define 'corruption'. You indicated that it referred to illegalities. I pointed out to you that, as with Computer corruption, it means not functioning properly. The term "Niagara Peninsula Corruption Authority” NPCA is predicated on our 'Study in Corruption' which clearly points out many incidents of the NPCA not functioning properly.
On the third page, you refer to “judge shopping”. I have no evidence to suggest that NPCA has ever gone “judge shopping”. If you have such evidence, please share it with me. As with the conduct of the NPCA we citizens have no ability to garner the inner workings of the Courts but what I can tell you is that of the 65 justices functioning in our 'Central West Region' of Ontario where our Citizens are being attacked by the NPCA there seems to be only a special few Justices that meets a certain predilection. This is a situation that deserves official investigation.
Further on pages 3 and 4 of your article, you seem to suggest that NPCA is out to “destroy The “Thundering Waters” Provincially Significant Wetlands”. While I am aware of the many discussions that have taken place with respect to Thundering Waters, I will state very clearly that the NPCA under my leadership will only be commenting with respect to Provincial legislation. As a regulator, NPCA is neither for or against development, NPCA staff simply comments as per Provincial legislation. Municipalities are mandated to make decisions as to whether a development proposal is approved or not. Mark, your remark 'under my leadership' was the same assurances that was spouted by your predecessors.
Further down on Page 4, you state, “under the direction of the NPCA board of DIRECTORS we have `wetland designation’ placed on valuable properties for insiders to pick up cheap!” Once again, I must point out that the NPCA Board of Directors have nothing to do with the designation of wetlands, and in this case, I have no understanding of your reference to “insiders” picking up land cheap as NPCA almost never sells land. There are Niagara Citizens that can attest to exactly to this scenario! That's why a proper in depth forensic audit is needed!
Below that, you refer to the NPCA claiming “authority over all home owners”. The NPCA makes no such claim. NPCA’s mandate and jurisdiction comes from the Conservation Authorities Act and other related Provincial legislation. NPCA values all people and stakeholders within the Niagara Peninsula watershed and seeks to build a better dialogue with all parties. I witnessed this claim. Here is evidence to how the NPCA applies Provincial legislation. Moving on to Page 5. You state that “Under the NPCA board of DIRECTORS we have lost an astonishing amount of our natural environment!” There is no evidence to support this claim whatsoever. The Niagara Peninsula watershed is the wettest, greenest watershed in southern Ontario. The NPCA and its current land holdings (approximately 7,500 acres) contribute significantly to bio-diversity throughout the watershed. And recently, NPCA announced its plans to plant a further 1 million trees, 3 million native species and acquire 25,000-40,000 acres of land to further enhance bio-diversity and to undertake substantial conservation and restoration works throughout the watershed. This is part of the biggest, boldest, most robust initiatives ever to be undertaken by the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA), in its 60-year history. Mark, this is the 'biggest, boldest, most robust' empire building in NPCA history!
Next on Page 5, you state that “the NPCA has extortionists on payroll!” While the over-the-top language is highly provocative, I will simply state that this statement is unequivocally false. Please correct the record immediately. If there are Citizens who can attest to extortion, will you resign?
Below that on Page 5, you state that “under the direction of the NPCA board of Directors, NPCA employees trespass without notice!” To be clear, NPCA Board members do not provide such direction. Generally speaking, NPCA staff members usually notify and seek permission to enter onto a property. However, their rights to enter onto a property are spelled out in Section 28 (20) of the Conservation Authorities Act.
The next point you raise on Page 5 is difficult to understand, I assume you are referring to slope stability. The Board does not direct such processes. The Board does approve rates. However, when one is attempting to build very near the top-of slope, a geo-tech assessment is required. If the geo-tech assessment suggests the slope is unstable for the proposed development, then alternative solutions need to be developed, on a site-specific basis. Citizens are reporting that after paying out $thousands they have their independent geo-tech assessment refused without explanation.
On Page 6, you suggest that “the Citizens Liaison Advisory Committee (CLAC) is avoided like the plague”. As part of its commitment to openness and transparency, the NPCA was among the first, of all Conservation Authorities, to establish such a Committee to be able to hear from various stakeholders on a regular basis. To date, the NPCA has had no difficulty recruiting members for this committee. Members do not sign a “Code of Secrecy” clause. They are, like for most Boards and Committees of this nature asked to be respectful of confidential matters. That is a very different matter. For your further information, the committee name has since been changed to NPCA Advisory Committee. Clac members where pressed hard to sign a confidentiality agreement at the 5/19/2015 meeting. There has been only one CLAC meeting so far this year 2017! Is that due to the Name Change?
Continuing on Page 6, you state, “Under the direction of the NPCA board of DIRECTORS the NPCA started holding their monthly meetings in locations other than their own venue in an attempt to avoid scrutiny.” Nothing can be further from the truth. The Niagara Peninsula watershed covers a massive territory. As such, from time to time, the Board convenes meetings in remote places to make it easier for other members of the public, to attend. The vast majority of Board meetings continue to be held at Ball’s Falls and all are live streamed. They NPCA even gave false directions to venues in remote locations such as the Port Colborne & District Conservation Gun Club!
On Page 7 you state that NPCA 2018 budget slashes 29% of workforce and I’m not certain of the other point you are making. NPCA has made some staffing changes impacting approximately 6% of its workforce. Changes were made due to budget pressures, discussions related to the MOU with Niagara Region, a program review and some minor restructuring. It has widely been reported that 8 staff members were let go (to be clear, not one for cause). Two of these team members have already been recalled. It is NPCA’s hope that a few others will be hired by Niagara Region as a result of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) discussions. As well, NPCA has recently hired two additional team members (represented by OPSEU) and will be hiring a third in the near future. Not widely reported on is the fact that NPCA reduced its number of Directors from 3 to 2 as part of the restructuring. For certainty, NPCA has not outsourced any of its core mandate. Info provided by OPSEU,
Next on Page 7, you state, “there is a $half-million dollar increase in salaries proposed for the CAO/Administration department. Once again, this is highly misleading. As stated above, part of the restructuring included the elimination of a Director-level position. As a result, the CAO now oversees Human Resources, Community Engagement, and the Communications Team, as well. These positions previously reported to the Director of Corporate Services. Adjustments to the budget simply reflect these changes in the reporting structure. Is this your explanation for the income increases for executives? I believe the the NPCA has morphed from Conservation into an income enhancement scheme.
Also on Page 7, you state that NPCA is “now battling a worker protective union!” NPCA values its employees and is not “battling the union”. Workers have a right to be represented by a union. Recent developments suggest those relationships have improved considerably. As long as they honor the NPCA non-discloser clause!
At the bottom of Page 7, you state NPCA changed their regular meeting times to avoid scrutiny. You have provided no evidence to support this claim nor have I heard anything that would support this claim. The NPCA is committed to accountability and transparency. All Full Authority Board meetings are live streamed. Very few other Conservation Authorities do so. How myopic! Your NPCA even held dozens of Citizens (STANDING) in the hallway at the beginning of a meeting for well over 1 hour while the NPCA (SITS) in camera. Do you need witnesses?
On to Page 8, no direction from the Board or staff has ever been given to turn down the speaker volume to prevent people from hearing NPCA proceedings. It is true that acoustics in the room are challenging. However, anytime anyone asks for the volume to be turned up. The request is granted immediately. As CAO, I will attempt to bring about a more reliable solution. Are you saying that the repeated silencing of the gallery speaker was accidental?
To address your point re: land confiscation, I will need more information. We have it recorded!
Continuing on Page 8, I have never witnessed a near meltdown at the site of an audio recorder. I assume the recorder was there for a public session of a meeting and not a closed session, is that correct? Either way, I will require more information if I am to respond further. Click Here for more information. Mark you are sitting to the far right in the picture! You refused to give your presentation if recorded! Why?
Also on Page 8. The NPCA has never stalled on a request for an audit of this organization. The very first time the Board voted on this matter, they approved an independent audit being undertaken. Due to Board member interference in the process, the Board canceled the process and asked the Auditor General to conduct an audit. Originally, the Auditor General declined this opportunity but recently procedural matters at the Legislature have allowed the audit to move forward, a decision that I and the NPCA Board Members enthusiastically welcome. There are a great many people who disagree with you.
Moving to Page 9. As stated above, I am unable to comment on specific cases. The building of the Centre for Conservation at Ball’s Falls was subject to a rigorous planning process and indeed required NEC approval. Owning important properties is one thing, sustaining them over time is another. The Centre for Conservation is a LEED building that greatly enhances the visitor experience at Ball’s Falls. Many people support the Idea of having a conservation agency but do not understand empire building including the taking ownership of our important environment properties or the selling of resources.
Finally, in closing you state, “Never in the history of Canada have so many been deceived by so few!” The facts do not support your claim whatsoever. This whole written response from you is proof positive and fully supports our claim!
As I said above, I think you raise some interesting points with respect to the need for consistency and fairness. If you are genuinely interested in developing a meaningful dialogue that promotes understanding and works to problem-solve, I am more than willing to participate. If your motives are something else, there’s not much more I can offer. The impetus for our 'Study in Corruption' is predicated precisely on the fact that the NPCA denies meaningful dialogue as in your denial for the NPCA Board their opportunity to give their side of our story.
Thanks again for taking the time to meet with me. I found the time to be productive and hopefully the first step in a new conversation. Is this 'New Conversation' the reason that you reneged on your promise that if I gave up my delegation status on October 23rd you would allow me to appear before the NPCA Board on November 15?
Thank you for your written assessment of our 'Study in Corruption'.
However, your written assessment leaves a lot to be desired so much so that we are even more interested in getting the NPCA board member's version and assessment.
The NPCA board members may not want to give their version and assessment but you are denying them that right.
The question is WHY?
From Mark Brickell
I have reviewed your article and indeed taken time to meet with you to discuss your article. I have also provided you with a detailed written response to your article which clearly demonstrates that there are a number of inaccurate, misleading and sometimes completely untrue statements contained in your article. Further, your article casts unsubstantiated aspersions onto our Board members. As such, I find this article to be libelous and as such speaking to it, would be slanderous. As I have indicated to you previously, the NPCA welcomes respectful and constructive dialogue. I have further indicated to you that you have raised good points with respect to the need for fair and consistent treatment of all stakeholders. Should you wish to focus your remarks on those specific points, please provide an updated summary of your remarks, and I will give your request further consideration. Otherwise, your request to bring delegation to the NPCA Board of Directors, on November 15th, is denied. I have copied Chair Annunziata on this e-mail to inform him of my decision.
Should you wish to appeal this decision you may do so by securing a Mover, a Seconder and Two-thirds vote of the Board, at the November 15th meeting.
As illustrated in my request (below) to present my self before the Board is predicated on garnering the board's side of the story. My request was approved for October 25, 2017 but now it is denied for November 15, 2017. It appears that your request for a face to face discussion was an insincere ruse.
Predicated on the article ‘A study in Corruption’ I have been accused not coming to the NPCA for the NPCA’s side of stories.
Without naming names I would like to set the record straight.
I am ready and willing to listen to the board’s side of any and all of our stories.