Municipal Affairs critic and local MPP calls for NPCA chair to restore faith in agency

In an open letter, Niagara Centre NDP MPP Jeff Burch is urging the new chair of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority to restore faith in the embattled agency.

Burch, who is also the the Municipal Affairs critic for his party, highlights issues surrounding the agency's 2019 budget, staff members calling police over a social media post and the lack of accountability in the appointment of Acting CAO Dave Barrick. 

Burch goes on to say restoring the public's trust in the NPCA cannot be successful if it's haunted by the actions of its previous administration. 

It was revealed at the Region's Budget Review Committee meeting earlier this month that the NPCA's 2019 budget was approved in November by the outgoing board which consisted of several regional councillors who were defeated in October's municipal election. 

Burch will join CKTB's Matt Holmes at 1:30 about his letter. 

The full text of his letter can be read below:
 

February 11, 2019                               Open Letter

 

Mr. Dave Bylsma, Chair

Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA)

250 Thorold Rd

Welland, ON L3C 3W2

 

Mr. Bylsma:

 

I’m writing firstly to congratulate you on your new position as Chair of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) and secondly to raise some concerns I have regarding the governance and sustainability of the NPCA.

 

I appreciate the work being done to reform an organization that has been scrutinized by citizens and embroiled in controversy. My responsibility as an elected Member of Provincial Parliament is to ensure the voices in my community are heard and to work across partisan lines to ensure that advocacy becomes action.

 

As chair, your new role provides you an opportunity to restore faith in the NPCA. I imagine it is difficult to move forward when the board is interim. Throughout the tenure of this new board I have remained concerned as we have seen very little improvement in the governance of the NPCA.

 

Earlier this week it was revealed that the NPCA’s 2018 operating budget was $8.87 million, with $6.53 million in spending and no accounting of the remaining $2.52 million. I understand there is an upcoming budget presentation that seeks to account for this hole. However, it does lead me to question why the figures for 2019 do not include a full account of budgeted spending.

 

Last week, senior members of the NPCA staff called the police over a Facebook post. The post did not contain any threats towards any members of the NPCA or its staff. Police cannot be used to intimidate critics, and I am disappointed that once again the NPCA has used extreme measures in an attempt to silence dissent.

 

It is clear the NPCA is having difficulty moving forward, and it needs a fresh start. David Barrick, the interim CAO has been at the centre of controversy since assuming the position. He was fired by the NPCA, then rehired by the new acting CAO, and then appointed as the replacement CAO. To this day it remains unclear who signed off on the hiring of Mr. Barrick.

                                                                                               

The successful implementation of the Auditor General’s recommendations requires that the permanent CAO undergo the proper hiring process. This organization cannot be successful if it is still haunted by the actions of the previous administration.

 

New board members are faced with the daunting task of repairing ongoing issues of governance, accountability and severely damaged public trust. The new board must also implement the multitude of Auditor General Recommendations handed down last September. The resolution to these issues requires dedication, time and a stable environment.

 

I will work with the office of the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks to ensure recommendations aimed at the Provincial level to improve operations at the NPCA including financial accountability are implemented.

 

To echo the words of Justice James Ramsay “the governance of the conservation authority cannot remain in chaos.”

 

Sincerely,

 

Original Signed

 

Jeff Burch, MPP

 

Copy: Board Members of NPCA

        Jim Bradley, Niagara Regional Chair

        Interim CEO David Barrick