Q&A with NPCA Chair Sandy Annunziata on Hodgson, conservation

BY NATE SMELLE
The VOICE

 

Q. A representative from OPSEU claims that the NPCA is a toxic work environment. Results from an employee survey suggest that two-thirds of NPCA employees claim to have been bullied or treated unfairly.

A. The Board does not comment on OPSEU/labour issues. Please direct your questions to the the appropriate parties.

Q. Why was Bill Hodgson censured? It’s been speculated that tens of thousands of dollars were spent on hiring a lawyer to build a case against Hodsgon, however the public and the rest of the NPCA have not seen this report. Is this true? 

A. No that is not true. The circumstances regarding Bill Hodgson are unfortunate. I commend the Board for their principled decision to hold fellow members to account. The Board remains steadfast in its belief that members  who breach policy should be sanctioned, not celebrated. This whole idea of holding up and praising politicians who break the rules is completely misguided. To confirm once again, a third party legal opinion was obtained from Gowlings WLG to investigate a serious allegation brought forward by NPCA staff about the inappropriate involvement of Bill Hodgson in an independent request for proposals. As in previous accounts, tampering with an RFP is a serious matter. The Board decision to abandon a tainted RFP process was the right thing to do. The independent investigation that followed and the subsequent report to the Board was quite clear

Sandy Annunziata. NPCA PHOTO

in its conclusions. Former member Hodgson could potentially and reasonably be seen by an objective observer to be attempting to influence the RFP process with an implicit endorsement in favour of a potential bidder. The cost to investigate and provide an independent opinion to the Board was $5,220.60.  It is unfortunate that this cost is borne by the NPCA rather then the offending member. It is also unfortunate that due to confidentiality policies and identifiable individuals named in the report, polices that the NPCA will continue to respect, I cannot release the report. It is my personal opinion that the full Gowlings WLG report should be made public and released along with the numerous verified policy breaches, internal conduct complaint investigations, and outstanding resolutions that can no longer be pursued because of Bill Hodgson’s resignation.

Q. You’ve been quoted as saying that the NPCA is not an environmental protection agency. Could you clarify your comments?

A. The “C” stands for “conservation.” People continue to confuse conservation with environmental protection. We are mandated to conserve our non-mineral resources so that they can be used or replenished in the future. There is a reason that conservation authorities fall under the mandate of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, and not the Minister of Environment and Climate Change.  Because of successive Boards allowing mandate creep, the public now believes our core mandate is environmental protection, which is fundamentally not true. Provincial legislation, the Conservation Authorities Act, was created to further the conservation, restoration and responsible management of hydrological features. We will follow the legislation as prescribed by the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry. The primary responsibilities of conservation authorities are in natural hazard management. All conservation authorities carry out natural hazard management programs. A conservation authority’s roles in environmental protection are not defined and vary significantly. For the most part, these are determined by local municipalities who are bound by Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change policy. We will not trample on the rights of private property owners by engaging in policy creep. If the provincial government would like conservation authorities to broaden their current mandate by providing firm, unambiguous language within legislation that gives powers to authorities to protect and enforce MOECC policy, and provide a funding source to allow for that expanded mandate, then we would respect that new language as it evolves. But until then, we will continue to respect the current  mandate as established by the province. 

We look forward to the ascension of Bill 139 and the new strategy put forward by the province on wetland conservation. The language in both those policy documents are completely congruent with the actions the NPCA has taken under its strategic plan. The NPCA is clearly a leader in modernizing conservation authorities across Ontario and we will continue to do great work on behalf of the residents who reside within our watershed.

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