Says systemic problems at Authority need addressing
BY NATE SMELLE
A faction of two dozen Ontario Public Service Employees Union protesters gathered outside the Ball’s Falls Centre for Conservation early last Wednesday morning to voice their disappointment and outrage with the actions of the Board of Directors at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, who were meeting inside. The group gathered more than an hour before the meeting began to make sure each of the Board members had a chance to walk the gauntlet of signs awaiting them. A few of the placards welcoming the Board members read, “NPCA Strategic Plan 2017: 1) Protect Developers 2) Hire more managers”, another declared, “NPCA, Stop Bullying Now”, another, “Poor Workplace Mental Health Affects Families Too!”
OPSEU has been picketing the NPCA meetings each month since the start of the year to send a message to its Board of Directors that the community is still paying attention and they are not going away. OPSEU Local 294 President Erin Warman said she was there on behalf of the employees of the NPCA to call attention to the fact that the NPCA has become a “toxic” work environment for many people who work there.
“More than eighty-five percent of [NPCA staff] say that their workplace is harmful to mental health,” said Warman.
“They did a stress survey in cooperation with Occupational Health Clinics of Ontario. Ninety percent of the NPCA’s employees completed the survey asking to evaluate the psychological climate and two thirds experienced workplace bullying, while seventy percent witnessed offensive behaviour. Those are ridiculously high numbers.”
Warman has fond memories of coming to the Ball’s Falls Conservation Area as a child on field trips with her school to learn about the environment through NPCA programs. At that time, she said they would teach the kids to value nature, stressing the importance of protecting wetlands, forests and greenspaces. Referring to NPCA Chair Sandy Annunziata’s recent comments to Lincoln Town Council, where he stated, “We [NPCA] are not an environmental protection agency,” Warman said she is disappointed and disturbed by what she describes as the Conservation Authority’s new pro-development stance.
“The NPCA is such a vital part of our community, but it doesn’t seem like they care about conservation or their workers. It’s just about their bottom line. We were just talking about how Sandy Annunziata said that the NPCA isn’t an environmental protection agency. Well, if that’s the case what does the ‘C’ in NPCA stand for?”
After the meeting had begun, many of the demonstrators continued to discuss the issues with the NPCA. Many of those who remained expressed their dismay and disgust in the censuring and forced resignation of former NPCA Board member and Lincoln Councillor Bill Hodgson. Ed Smith — the community activist and environmental advocate who was slapped with a lawsuit by the NPCA for raising concerns about the Board’s management of the agency — believes the NPCA needs to be more forthcoming about why Hodgson was censured.
“We have a right to know what they are alleging that he did,” said Smith.
“They are censuring a politician, which is a major step to take, and all they are saying is ‘trust us.’ They have to let the people know. They are not making that report available to anyone.”
NDP Labour Critic Mike Haines agrees with Smith that the public deserves to know why the Board censured Hodgson. Speaking to the former NPCA Board member’s integrity, he recalled the day Hodgson handed in his resignation.
“It went against everything he stands for to resign,” said Haines.
“He took that position very seriously, and all he did was raise the issue about the Auditor General. That’s where it all started from. A bill was passed in January of this year. They passed it and then they turned around and said no we are going to make these changes. That’s what he was trying to deal with. Then they came up with a story that he was causing trouble. Bill was speaking up and he wasn’t going along with the Board. If you don’t go along with Sandy Annunziata then you have to be dealt with.”
“They can run but they can’t hide that they’re motivated by greed,” added Dudley Maracle, another one of the protesters lingering outside after the meeting was underway.
“The public has caught on to their corruption and is not going to let them get away with it. It doesn’t matter how much they try to distract us or how long they try to stall, we are not going to let it go. I mean come on, you can’t call yourself a Conservation Authority and then promote an ecologically catastrophic scheme like biodiversity offsetting.”