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Time to repair NPCA board: Smith

24 Oct 2018
by Allan Benner
The St. Catharines Standard

After decades as a Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority board member, outgoing St. Catharines regional Coun. Bruce Timms says he would like to continue working with the NPCA — this time as a community representative.

"I would be interested in doing that," said Timms, who also served as NPCA board chair for five years. "Yeah, I would."

But St. Catharines activist Ed Smith said there's now potential NPCA will head along a better path as a result of sweeping changes brought to the authority board due to Monday's election.

And reappointing members of the previous board won't help accomplish that goal, he said.

"Anybody who had a hand in getting the conservation authority into the situation that it's in now is not of the proper mindset. You dug the hole. You've got to get out of it so others can start filling it in and repairing it," Smith said.

"We're talking about restoring public trust in that organization and you don't do it with the same cast of leadership."

Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati and Welland Mayor Frank Campion are the only elected officials from Niagara on the NPCA board to hold onto their jobs following Monday's election. The rest, including board chair and Fort Erie regional Coun. Sandy Annunziata, either lost their re-election bids or didn't run.

Smith said the NPCA board that will replace them for the next term of council should include experts in conservation as opposed to politicians.

"They've got to do their due diligence and get some subject matter experts on the conservation authority board," he said.

For instance, Thorold has been represented by Dominic (Micky) DiFruscio on the board since 1993.

"Micky's the only one for the Niagara region," Smith said. "With all due respect to Micky … he needs some help. It's great to have a civilian member on there, but we need subject matter experts — people who understand the policy around conservation authorities and the mandate of conservation authorities, and don't just make it up."

Timms, too, said the incoming Niagara Region council may want to appoint more residents to the NPCA board, rather than politicians.

But he warned against overdoing it.

"I would caution against giving it entirely to the citizens, because the authority to establish a levy — the bill for conservation activities — is entirely up to the board. Regional council has no say," Timms said. "It is a board that needs to have some balance of taxpayer representative on it."

Timms, instead, suggested the board comprise a 50/50 split between elected officials and community representatives.

After successfully defending himself against a lawsuit after he authored and distributed a report that was critical of the organization, Smith said he feels vindicated by the election results and impact it had on the NPCA board.

But he said the work isn't done, yet.

"The bigger prize is getting a real conservation authority in place. It feels like we're on the edge of getting there, but there's still a couple of critical steps that have to be taken," he said. "There were a lot of lives that were destroyed by that board. A lot of good people were fired and there's a lot of mending that has to be done."

But despite the controversy that has surrounded the organization, Timms said even the scathing report by Ontario's auditor general, Bonnie Lysyk, noted improvements made by the organization.

"Despite all the bad things the auditor general had to say, she did in her summary start off saying significant improvements have been made since 2012, and they're continuing," said Timms, who headed up the organization from 2012 to 2017.

"We're improving, and we recognize that her recommendations are clear and should be followed. We were headed in that direction. We just got a little tangled up in some overreaction to some of the criticism that was coming our way."
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