Forster slams NPCA at Legislative Assembly
Cindy Forster is a New Democrat MPP from Welland
Welland NDP MPP Cindy Forster delivered a comprehensive and blistering critique of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority in the Ontario legislature this week, and received cross-party support from fellow Niagara-area MPPs in the process.
Monday, Forster spoke to the legislature about concerns over the NPCA during a discussion on Bill 139, Building Better Communities and Conserving Watersheds Act, according to the Hansard transcript of the session.
She ended up once again asking the government to appoint a supervisor to oversee the activities of the NPCA
Forster is concerned with giving more flexibility to conservation authorities in managing their affairs. She said, although not all conservation authorities are the same, she does not trust the NPCA having increased authority based on the record of its management in recent years.
St. Catharines Liberal MPP Jim Bradley and Niagara West-Glanbrook PC MPP Sam Oosterhoff expressed support for Forster’s concerns regarding governance at the NPCA. Oosterhoff commended Forster, adding this issue impacts all Ontarians and should not be about political parties.
Forster described the NPCA as a conservation authority that has “gone rogue,” according to the Hansard transcript, and described a long list of issues including mass layoffs, concern over its pro-development stance on sensitive wetlands, hiring practices, questionable contracts, its failure to have a forensic audit done despite broad public and local municipal support for it, and more.
She said that description of the NPCA as an authority that has “gone rogue” was not her own, but “are actually the words of some conservation authority members that I’ve talked to outside of the Niagara region.”
She said the mission of conservation authorities has been to balance the interests of the environment with the interests of development. But under the proposed legislation that would change.
“I’m very happy to see that there is a purpose clause finally in the Conservation Authorities Act,” she said. “It’s very clear that it is to ‘provide for the organization and delivery of programs and services that further the conservation, restoration, development and management of natural resources and watersheds in Ontario,’ and there is no mention of balancing that with development, with private development.”
That approach has not been followed by the NPCA, she said.
Forster criticized the authority for the ongoing Paradise development near Thundering Waters in Niagara Falls. The land in question is 196 hectares, which is mostly wetlands, she said. China-based GR Investment Company bought the land for a proposed billion-dollar development. During Monday’s session Forster criticized the NPCA for the continued lobbying for the project to move forward despite environmental concerns.
“It seems to me that although we’re getting these letters from MNR (Ministry of Natural Resources) about how this project doesn’t meet the requirements that would be needed to develop this, we’re not vocally hearing this stuff,” said Forster. “Although we’ve heard from the NPCA that they agree, that they’re going to follow the mandate and do all those kinds of things, this is still rolling along with people lobbying to try to get this project forward.”
Anyone who has expressed concern over the conservation authority’s actions has been silenced, said Forster.
One such person Forster mentioned is St. Catharines resident Ed Smith, who is being sued by the NPCA. Smith has spoken publicly about his concerns with the Thundering Water development and released an anonymous third-party report critical of the authority.
“There are a number of lawsuits going on,” she said.
Forster also criticized the organization for reports of workplace harassment. A recent survey conducted by OPSEU found that 86.5 per cent of the workers surveyed reported they had been harassed in the workplace.
Forster read an email from former NPCA employee Jocelyn Baker, who said she experienced harassment and supervised employees who experienced “workplace violence and harassment.”
“Harassment and violence at the NPCA is real. I have experienced it,” Baker said in the email Forster read to the legislature.
Bradley commended Forster for her remarks and the work she’s done on the NPCA.
“She mentioned questionable contracts that were let; controversial land deals that have taken place; cronyism and unconventional hiring practices; environmental people sent packing and replaced by more development-friendly people in staffing; workplace harassment; and the need for an audit,” Bradley said. “But what has happened - she pointed this out - is that whenever anybody is critical of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, they get threatened and bullied. That includes the member for Welland (Forster), who has been threatened and bullied publicly and privately because of the stand that she has taken.”
Oosterhof said he hopes to see the NPCA move forward soon with an independent audit, and stressed the need to keep partisanship out of the debate.”I think it’s due to the incredible representation like that of (Forster) that they have felt that pressure,” said Oosterhof. “Hopefully, we can keep that up in a united front and not on partisan lines.”
Forster ended the discussion by calling on natural resources minister Kathryn McGarry to appoint a supervisor to oversee the NPCA.
“We have appointed supervisors at hospitals in this province,” said Forster, “we have appointed supervisors at school boards, most recently in the city of Toronto. I think the minister has the power to appoint a supervisor to come in. If she doesn’t, she should do it anyway. Something has to be done about this situation, particularly when it is impacting the health of many workers in this province. Perhaps the Minister of Labour can appoint a supervisor to go in if the MNR doesn’t. But we need some help down here, and all parties are asking you to assist. “