June 25, 2017, by Darren Clarke
Wherein I discover the name of my mayor, the humble and the not so humble parts of local politics, “bushwhacking,” the challenge in appreciating what salaries people “should” earn, the trouble with nuclear waste, a magic racetrack in Fort Erie, Chinese development in Niagara Falls, the NPCA: a conservation authority that struggles to conserve, and a Green Belt being devoured by urban sprawl
Reframe: It’s Harder to Get Away from Donald Trump Than I thought
“All Politics is Local.”
The question that sparked my desire to learn more about local politics was this: How much should a person know about another countries President when they don’t know the name of the Mayor of the city they live in?
Yep, that was me: Reading articles about Donald Trump in the New York Times, posting videos of John Oliver roasting the President on social media, debating friends and relatives about all that is Donald Trump. But I didn’t know the name of my mayor. All this attention to the United States and I knew little to nothing about the people that had the greatest impact on my family, my friends, the community I live in.
But having opinions about Donald Trump is hard to resist. It’s seductive. It’s part understandable outrage for his abuse of everything, particularly the truth, and, unflatteringly for me, it’s part the worst kind of vanity, that sense of high mindedness experienced in simply not being him.
In a maddeningly nuanced world Donald Trump makes absolute clarity more accessible than a chocolate bar in a vending machine. Do I want to align myself against someone who sought to gain an advantage in a televised debate by placing a group of women his opponent’s husband had affairs with in the front row of the audience? Donald Trump is there for me. Do I want to oppose a powerful man who has shown a clear contempt for the living environment: water, air, food, of the average human being? Donald Trump is my boy again. Do I want to stand opposed an elite that in the gratuitous pursuit of more more has undercut democratically elected governments throughout the world while propping up dictators, death squads, fascists, and fanatics? Nothing symbolizes disdain for the greater good than the current people in power in the United States of America.
But I’m not American, I’m Canadian.
Not only am I Canadian, but I am a Canadian who, up until a week ago, didn’t know the name of his mayor. More importantly I didn’t know a single thing my city council had done (or not done) in the seven years since I have moved back to the City of Thorold. And that is a failure on my part. Not cute in a- Look at that man admitting he’s been too busy making cool music play lists to follow the nattering’s of local politics, kind of way. More in a: Grown man shirking fundamental responsibilities, kind of way.
It seems to me that, while it is good to be able to recognize a powerful man presenting himself as the right answer for the wrong question, it carries limited weight and meaning if it’s not actioned at a level that has the potential to affect change. It’s always important for average people to discuss human behaviour, ethics, how we interact with each other, on all levels, so I’m not going to entirely diminish anybody’s desire to push back on the lack of decency and honesty embraced by the President of the United States but I have to believe that if the greater context doesn’t include significant awareness and involvement of what’s happening in my immediate area/country then I am likely, literally, barking up the wrong tree. Beyond that, I am failing to play a part in maintaining/advocating the things in life I purport to hold dear.
So, I am here to admit my abject laziness and ignorance, my profound failure to play any kind of role in contributing to the decisions made in my community. I have been a passenger. I like to think a nice passenger, a polite passenger, a passenger who makes a mean mixed CD and holds doors open for people, but a passenger nonetheless. I am also here to undertake to learn a little bit about a lot. Who’s who, what’s what. I thought I’d start at point A: Who the hell is the mayor of my city?
“The mark of an immature man is that he wants to die bravely for a good cause, the mark of a mature man is that he wants to live humbly for a good cause.”
Mr. Antolini, Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
The Mayor of Thorold, Ontario, is Ted Luciani. Here’s a snippet from his bio on the Niagara Region website:
“He retired from the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. as an Engineering Technician in 2010. He is a member of the Ontario Paper Thorold Seniors Centre, Club Capri, Club Castro Pigniono, and an avid cyclist and wood craftsman.“
Wanting to continue my journey I searched for more information on what issues my local representatives were recently involved in.
A Thorold News article from March the 7th 2017, noted that the council meeting that evening had three significant issues, 1) Councillor Terry Ugilini suggested outlawing the practice of brewfing. To the uninitiated, brewfing is the practice of drinking alcohol while sitting on the roof of a house. Not an apartment roof our a patio roof but rather an angled, not meant to be sat on, shingled roof. The practice of brewfing was purportedly dreamt up by creative Brock University students who had I suppose grown tired of taking turns getting pushed around in shopping carts at the local supermarket, 2) Accessibility issues for Memorial Park, as in, people were apparently struggling with the two sets of stairs at the entrance of the park, 3) “A city committee attached to Canada’s upcoming 150th anniversary unveiled a logo designed by David Duncker that would be associated with events happening over the course of the summer attached to the anniversary which, “… features a maple leaf with a ship on the right branch of the leaf and a indigenous feather on the left. The top branch of the maple leaf features a compass needle to symbolize the true north, Tim Geddes, chair of the committee explained. Mayor Ted Luciani said he was “very impressed” with the design.”
Some further bouncing around the internet provided a few more snippets: In February of this year the mayor had City Councillor Jim Handley escorted from City Hall by the Police. The reason? A plot of land not yet having a, “numerically numbered,” address attached to it. For Handley the property not having a number provided presented a potential safety concern if the person had to call 911. The article in Niagara This Week characterizes Handley’s approach as, “domineering,” and reported, “he would not relent,” in his questioning on the topic.
““The policy is, if there is a building on it, we will number it,” City Engineering Manager Sean Dunsmore said. “If there isn’t, we won’t.”
Matters escalated from there to the point the Mayor brought in the police. Luciani told Niagara this Week afterward that he engaged the police because of, “the continual “grilling” of city staff by Handley on matters that the mayor said could almost always be taken care of in regular dealings with city staff.
“He’s aggressive and he’s loud,” said Luciani. “It’s very disrespectful of city staff. You could almost call it bushwhacking.”
The other major article I found was from spring of 2016. The article, again from Niagara This Week, reported Mr. Handley expressing concern regarding the fact twenty-four members of City of Thorold staff appeared on the latest results of the Sunshine List, an annual list that reports all public employees who earn over $100,000 a year.
Thorold’s population as of June 2017 is 18, 801. In 2016 sixteen City of Thorold employees appeared on the Sunshine List (the decline in the number of people likely due to retro pay from a provincial arbitrator’s ruling being part of the previous year), again, many of them from the Fire Department.
The Sunshine List is a source of controversy on a lot of levels beginning with the ease with which people commonly criticize those appearing to be lingering a little too long when dining at the public trough. There’s always going to be a push and pull from those believing that the community should be a forward thinking employer that compensates its’ employees generously versus those concerned that the compensation needs to stay in touch with that of the average person who contributes to those salaries. In a world where the minimum wage demographic continues to grow by leaps and bounds that’s a criticism worthy of examination, particularly in a Canada where 25% of the population currently makes less than $15 an hour, or, at best over three times less than those on the Sunshine list.
Beyond the Firefighters there is the Niagara Regional Police (NRP) where, as of 2019, the base salary for a first-class constable will be over $100,000. The qualifier for police officers having substantial salaries is that they have an important job and one that, like the members of the fire department, requires skill and a willingness to place their lives in danger. And there’s a lot of truth to that and there’s some misconception.
While there’s no doubt that being a police officer or a member of the fire department requires skill and bravery (i.e. I’m sure as hell not going up any of those ladders) the fact remains that neither profession appears in the list of the Top Ten Jobs with the highest mortality rates in Canada (as reported in the Globe and Mail in January of 2014): Loggers, fishery workers, pilots and flight attendants, roofers, garbage/recycling collectors, steel workers, power line installers and repairers, truck drivers and mobile workers, farmers, construction workers. There’s your top ten most dangerous jobs by mortality rate in Canada.
But am I maybe simply asking the wrong question? Is it perhaps time we talked less about the people who make less than $30,000 or a little over $100,000 and more about the people making well over one hundred thousand, people who make millions, or even billions? Consider that a Broadbent Institute report based on Statistics Canada information referring to the trends for those with the highest and lowest incomes indicated that, “The median net worth of the top 10% was $2,103,200 in 2012. It rose by $620,600 (41.9%) since 2005. In contrast, the median net worth of the bottom 10% was negative $5,100 in 2012, dropping more than 150% from negative $2,000 in 2005.”
There’s a lot there to chew on for me. If the idea is that raising the minimum wage to a very modest $15 an hour in 2019 is going to ramp up costs to alarming levels what do we think the people making millions of dollars a year do to costs? According to a CBC report from January 2016 the average CEO in Canada made 9.5 million dollars a year, which, in laymans terms, is a heck of a lot more than $15 dollars an hour. That cost is generally being delivered to you and I someplace.
Not for nothing, since we’re here talking about it, let’s not pretend that minimum wage is some sort of punishment for not being a rocket scientist. The world only needs so many rocket scientists and CEO’s, as Judge Elihu Smails said in the move Caddyshack, “the world needs ditch diggers too.” Yes, the world functions via a diverse distribution of tasks including ditch diggers, roofers and garbagemen to say the least.
I mention Roofers and Garbagemen as both land on the list of jobs with the highest mortality rate. Both are dangerous jobs that don’t overwhelm a person with the fun they are to perform. I was a garbageman for a day. One day of temp work at minimum wage. I spent a whole day running behind a garbage truck that emanated a stench of rotting everything, driven by a man in a supreme hurry, holding onto the bar on the side of the truck for dear life as we went speeding from one pickup area to another. And again, while we’re here, if you can’t lift your garbage container, why expect the garbage guy to do it? If I were in charge of the world, Rule #1: No wheels on garbage containers. And roofing, which I’ve kind of done in a- helping a friend out/just so you know I’m not getting close to the edge of the roof, kind of way, first, it’s on a roof, second, it’s all day in the elements, third, there’s a lot of pressure on roofers from those in the brewfing community that roofs be safe environments for sitting, eating Kraft Dinner, and drinking tequila shots.
But seriously, look at the people doing those occupations next time you get a chance. God bless them, it is a super tough job. (FYI, I believe most roofer jobs pay above the current minimum wage. Eying up the average wage for the jobs currently listed at the job site Indeed.ca it appears to be about $13-$18 and hour)
Beyond the skill, exertion, and danger attached to the jobs in question the idea that minimum wage people are slouching it up, uninterested and underperforming at their tasks is absurd. Worse it seems to suggest that all the people I’ve dealt with who made hundreds of thousands of dollars, even millions, who weren’t all that great at their job were anomalies. They weren’t. Well paid people can suck at their jobs too.
So when it comes to having a healthy functioning society in terms of wage scale are we examining all the things we need to?
There’s a ton of questions that should be asked and there’s more to the story in terms of say, competitive balance for instance, but I’m going a little too far afield. It’s a complex topic that I won’t and honestly couldn’t settle right here and right now. As Kwai Chang Caine once said (likely very slowly) on Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, “I seek not to know all the answers, but to understand the questions.”
In the interests of gaining a broader perspective on City Council activities I searched the City of Thorold’s website for more information.
The City of Thorold’s website does have minutes for their sittings. Navigating through those minutes is the kind of task I would sum up as: Work. No fun. Boring. But that’s it right? This is the challenge for anyone who wants to be involved in community decision making on any level. It is not so much an exercise in glory or getting your mug on a postage stamp as it is supremely inglorious stuff: speed bumps, one-foot reserves, stop signs, septic tanks, numbers on houses and tree planting. Inglorious but the real stuff that makes up the bulk of everyday actions and concerns. Ever since Martin Luther King people have wanted to be Martin Luther King. To rise up against great wrongs and to be beautiful while doing it. But the requirements of community activity are often less about great causes and more about the will to devote yourself to more humble ones, i.e. will you give those stairs at municipal park your full attention?
Unlike the stairs at Municipal Park there are issues that Thorold City Council cannot control but recognize could have a significant impact to their community. A great example of this would be the June 7th Thorold City Council meeting where it was agreed that Mayor Luciani would write an open letter to Ontario Power Generation Great Lakes Repository, “to not proceed with the proposed nuclear waste repository at the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station nor any other underground nuclear waste repository be constructed in the Great Lake Basin, in Canada, the United States or any First Nation property.”
This caught me off guard. Nuclear Waste. Great Lakes. Interesting, but scary interesting. An article on the CBC website from January 24, 2017, provided further insight into the matter of nuclear waste disposal issues attached to the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station.
At the request of the Federal Environment Minister the Ontario Power Generation (OPG) created a report on the matter of nuclear waste disposal for the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station. The CBC article noted that despite opposition to the storage plant from numerous Great Lakes Communities the report recommended that the construction on the underground bunker (Deep Geologic Repository, DGR) at the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station be started as soon as possible, warning that the transport cost alone attached to other alternatives would come at a prohibitive cost of 3.5 billion dollars.
The report also cheekily suggested that the people of Ontario weren’t interested in the fate of massive amounts of nuclear waste and/or our drinking water-
“There is little interest among the general public regarding the DGR project,” the report states, “Ontarians are not looking for information on nuclear-waste disposal in large volumes. This topic is not a popular one nor is it generating large volumes of curiosity.”
And here is my lesson in the importance of activism. Without it we are at the mercy of the whims of those in power, whether they be business oriented or bureaucratic, we are at the mercy of them saying what the OPG essentially said, “Why should we do better if you don’t care?”
Thomas Walkom’s article in the Toronto Star from June 2, 2017 paints a disturbing picture of the OPG’s lack of desire to pursue other options for the nuclear waste-
“In early 2016, Catherine McKenna, the new Liberal environment minister, announced that she wasn’t entirely satisfied with the Lake Huron choice. OPG was ordered to investigate other potential locations.
The utility took almost a year to come up with a strikingly inadequate report that made no effort to identify specific alternative sites.
It said while the waste could, in theory, be buried somewhere else in the province, Lake Huron’s shoreline was still the best choice.
Since no other specific sites were investigated, it is hard to see how the utility came to that conclusion. But it did.”
So many questions of the, “What the hell?” variety come to mind when reading about the nuclear waste issue, 1) Why build a nuclear power station on our most vital watershed? 2) Didn’t anybody think in the beginning, “Hey what are we going to do with the nuclear waste? 3) What cost is too much to preserve that which is most fundamental to our survival- water? 4) How popular does the topic of disposing of nuclear waste and preserving drinking water have to be in order for the OPG to earnestly seek responsible options for nuclear waste? (i.e. would it help if I Google searched, “Will nuclear waste in the watershed mean I won’t have to buy a night light in the near future?” 25 times every day?), 5) Given we don’t really know what to do with the nuclear waste along with the horror that is the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters, why are we even using nuclear power?
Why are we even using nuclear power? There’s a question. And maybe the answer is as simple as we can’t imagine anything else other than a dangerous, unhealthy, unsustainable need for energy.
A concern for clean drinking water isn’t a concern that should be limited to special interest groups. It impacts all of us. Somewhere along the lines the narrative became that caring about things like clean drinking water is dictated by partisan leanings, as in, hippies care about clean drinking water, liberals care about clean drinking water, serious people, conservatives don’t. And that’s a crazy idea. Ask the people in Flint, Michigan, ask the members of our First Nations communities who have been struggling with water issues for some time, ask the person nearest you right now, whatever their age, gender, and political leaning, ask them how they’ll make out without access to clean drinking water. Or, do a simple Google search to verify that you can only live 3 days without water, a timeline that doesn’t vary based upon political affiliation.
An upside for those, like myself, who may be trying to slowly wean themselves off the non-stop excitement of the controversial President of the United States is that his proposal to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency along with his cavalier attitude about the environment people live in will actually negatively impact Canada, particularly the Great Lakes. That’s a few Tweets and Facebook posts right there. It’s not as sexy a story as one involving Russia or his wife discreetly slapping his hand away when he went to hold it, but, it’s something.
Some of my curiosity about local politics stems from being a person who regularly wanders around the region taking photographs. My favourite thing to do on a day off is grab a CD, grab my camera, jump in the car, and just drive around the region, drinking a tea, listening to music, looking for something to catch my eye. The Niagara Region is gorgeous and offers so much: Niagara Falls, the canals, old city centers, vast farms, the escarpment, various waterways and forests. But having been doing this for a decade you begin to notice urban growth that appears reckless and devoid of thought. Alarmingly the pace of the development has appeared to increase over the past few few years, devouring forests, wetland, farmland. Devouring space.
Space. Always under siege. Space, simultaneously of no value, of negotiable value, and priceless. Priceless in terms of something you rarely seen spoken about: Our brains like it, our brains get unhappy when there isn’t enough of it. Unhappy brains in human beings has historically lead to really bad things happening. And why shouldn’t quality of living be considered when we are talking about living?
In a moment I’ll talk about The Thundering Waters Condo Project which is endangering vital protected wetlands in Niagara Falls. But this is a good time to consider the mentality of those looking to take away nature by building on important natural space. The Paradise Project website references a telling concern about the development, “The developer has stated publicly that if they do not get the provincial protections for these wetlands removed, they will simply develop the surrounding savannah and forest which is not protected. If this is permitted to happen, the wetlands will eventually choke off and die. It’s likely that the wetlands could not survive the influx of 10,000 humans with their pesticides, road salts, cleaning chemicals and bike paths.”
In the end the reality is that the way to kill off healthy habitats is with overdevelopment. Scientists know this, developers know this, most people know this. So why does it happen?
The Niagara Region is abundant in life and that which supports life. In a time where all information warns us of the folly of humanity living out of balance with its’ habitat local developers and foreign interests seem to have their foot on the gas to speed us to as cramped and compromised an environment as possible. And I was beginning to learn that this is being done in concert with local politicians and purported regulatory groups.
So yeah, while local politics is largely humble stuff, more septic tank than race track, it is worthy of note that sometimes there is a race track. A big, silly, race track.
Just down the road from Thorold is Fort Erie, Ontario, where local elected representatives have been working hard to ensure green space get paved over to allow for a foreign interest to profit off a subsidized race track. A local nature club labelled the development plan a, “classic example of the past century’s unsustainable development practices, where land is despoiled for short term gain, ignoring longer-term social, environmental, and economic consequences.” The people who could have done something but didn’t are a whole raft of elected and unelected sources, from the Fort Erie Council that promotes the racetrack to the The Ontario Municipal Board. The rezoning of agricultural land, the manipulation of categorization of the land to allow lesser amount of review, these are the things that are happening in Southern Ontario, in our neighborhood, thanks to the people who are supposed to think about our long term needs failing to.
This is not a new story. This is not something limited to Canada or the United States. The destruction of beautiful and important things has been carried out across the globe by members of the financial elite in conjunction with various levels of government for some time. The refrain is all too familiar: Find a desperate community, offer them a magic something– beans, jobs, racetrack, whatever, and take everything you can. Money made in those communities goes elsewhere. And Fort Erie fits the bill of a desperate city perfectly.
This prostituting of green space is a lesson for all those that advocate government not thoughtfully keeping business in check. Giving the free market carte blanche in how it conducts itself is the stuff of seven year olds working at factories, of the environmental disaster at Love Canal, of a zillion big and small workplace tragedies. Given the choice between short term financial gain and anything of lasting virtue the free market chooses short term financial gain pretty much each time every time.
The building of the Fort Erie Speedway has most recently been delayed due to vague hang ups purchasing some of the land. Putting more pavement over green space seems inevitable however as there appears to be no will on the local or provincial level to preserve the environment for the future. The pull of a magic racetrack owned by people from outside the country, that has no affiliation with any racing entity (i.e. NASCAR) and can offer only a few limited opportunities for cash influx into communities appears to be too much.
Part of the Ontario Municipal Board’s findings in their November 2, 2012, Public Meeting regarding the development was that:
The Board finds that there are no reasonable alternative locations that avoid prime
agricultural areas and no reasonable locations in prime agricultural areas with lower
priority agricultural lands. No reasonable alternative site was placed before the Board.
(Quote taken from Ontario Municipal Report PL100362 November 2, 2012 of the public hearing into the matter of building the Speedway)
What they could have said is this- Since there isn’t a suitable location in the community other than green space we have no place for you to build a racetrack. That they didn’t appears to be the result of the board leveraging flawed provincial regulations (Guidelines on Permitted Uses in Ontario’s Prime Agricultural Areas) in conjunction with an apparent pro-development leaning.
The Ontario Municipal Board report is disturbing in the ease with which they accept the manipulation of nature while simultaneously exhibiting a lack of tolerance for dissenting voices. The final report headed by Ontario Municipal Board member Susan de Avellar Schiller pumps some serious sunshine in terms of the impact of the development, i.e. “The Environmental Protection zone recognizes, protects and expands natural heritage features on the site,” almost suggests that going into a green habitat and putting down a racetrack increases the amount of green space.
Juxtaposed to this optimism for anything justifying development was the hard line drawn for anyone expressing concern for negative impacts to the environment. John Bacher, part of the Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society (PALS) wrote an article on November 20, 2012, in Niagara at Large painting a different picture of the meeting than the OMB report. Bacher’s article notes significant errors in Schiller’s report regarding what the development will actually impact as well as where the alternative site being suggested by PALS was actually located. Also concerning is the heavy handed manner with which the OMB disqualified Brock University Professor Dr. Hugh Gayler from testifying due to his attachment to the PALS, which they deigned an advocacy group. Bacher wrote about the disqualification of Dr. Gayler, “We also pointed out that “rather than find deficiencies based on lack of sufficient research and familiarity with the land use planning issues in dispute, the opposing parties chose to challenge Dr. Gayler’s testimony through his association with a supposed “advocacy group.” This is an approach that challenges the ability of people to work together to protect the environment, in this case prime farmlands and natural areas, and is incompatible with the norms of a liberal and democratic society. ”
This is what a person worries about when they drive around their community and see unchecked growth: That the groups that are supposed to be doing the right things aren’t. Maybe it’s because they lack the faculties to recognize what serves the community best now and in the future or they are simply compromised. And in my laziness, in my political apathy, I am complicit. I am part of the problem.
And it doesn’t appear to be a small problem.
Niagara Falls is home to Thundering Waters Forest. Where the destruction of a vital piece of Fort Erie’s natural environment is being done in conjunction with Kuwaiti developers the proposed subversion of forest and wetlands in Niagara Falls, the paving of paradise to put up a parking lot, is being perpetrated in league with Chinese developers. The particulars of the proposed intrusion in Niagara Falls are similar to that in Fort Erie: look to rezone and bypass any and all protections so that condos can be built. In this case there was one twist in the suggestion of bio-diversity offsetting being used to offset the natural loss.
Bio-diversity offsetting is controversial and its’ merit in question. But for what it’s worth here is a portion of a description of bio-diversity offsetting from Wiki, “Individuals or companies involved in arranging biodiversity offsets will use quantitative measures to determine the amount, type and quality of habitat that is likely to be affected by a proposed project. Then, they will establish a new location or locations (often called receptor sites) where it would be possible to re-create the same amount, type and quality of habitat.”
Obviously replicating a nuanced, diverse, ecosystem that evolved over time from scratch, is something that makes more than a few qualified people skeptical. But at this point I think I can introduce the NPCA, the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority. And I can tell you that this Conservation Authority not only believes in bio-diversity offsetting they have advocated its’ use to support development on protected lands. The NPCA of late has also been embroiled in controversy. Donald Trump has little on the NPCA. I guess the first question is, what is the NPCA and what is it supposed to do?
Here’s their mandate as spelled out on the NPCA website-
The legislative mandate of the Conservation Authority, as set out in Section 20 of The Conservation Authorities Act, is to establish and undertake programs designed to further the conservation, restoration, development and management of natural resources. The NPCA fulfills this mandate by implementing programs that:
- Improve the quality of lands and waters
- Contribute to public safety from flooding and erosion
- Provide for the acquisition of conservation and hazard lands
- Enhance the quality of life in its watershed by using its lands for recreation, heritage preservation and conservation education
Being a “conservation,” authority doesn’t tend to make the average person think: People that facilitate wetlands and forests being turned into condo’s. The word conservation is usually thought of in its’ most conventional and literal sense: preservation. But that’s not exactly how it works.
In his Niagara at Large article on March 19, 2014, Doug Draper characterized a dramatic change in the NPCA’s operating sensibility. The first indicator of change within the NPCA was a drastic staff turnover. According to Draper from 2012 through 2014, “the NPCA has fired 20% of their staff, including many long-serving senior positions.” The concerns about the potential for the significant alteration to NPCA’s personnel indicating a change in working philosophy were heightened when the NPCA released a Strategic Plan in 2014 which appeared to signal a more pro-development perspective-
“In the plan, one of the key objectives is the ‘Streamlined, Efficient Delivery of Development Approvals Process’, which clearly defines development as a priority. Further, I have been informed that a separate committee has been struck to deal specifically with property acquisition and disposal. The committee is being comprised of many from the development community.”
In 2016 Ed Smith, a retired Canadian Air Force Officer concerned about the makeup and practices of the NPCA added fuel to the NPCA fire. The NPCA’s response in part was to file a $200,000 lawsuit for defamation (Carmen D’Angelo, the NPCA CAO at the time the report dealt with filed suit seperately for $100,000). A CBC investigative report from January of 2017 on the NPCA’s suit against Smith noted, “In the fall, Smith came under fire after publicly issuing a 45-page report that levelled allegations of corruption and mismanagement against the NPCA. The St. Catharines man alleged that the authority’s board members — among them municipal politicians — received contracts and other paid positions within the authority, and used those positions to push a pro-development agenda.”
In the wake of D’Angelo piling on his own $100,000 defamation suit a defiant Smith was quoted in the St. Catharines Standard on January 24, 2017, stating, “That any government in Canada can sue a citizen for defamation, or even believes that it should, speaks of arrogance and a complete lack of understanding of the true principles of our democracy. The NPCA is using taxpayer funding to sue a citizen.”
The CBC report also referenced one particular NPCA Board member as a, “dissenting voice,” to the pro-development mentality many were accusing the NPCA of cultivating. That voice was the voice of Bill Hodgson. As of May 2017 Bill Hodgson resigned from the NPCA in the wake of being censured for what NPCA Chair Sandy Annunziata described as an “alleged impropriety” regarding the request for proposal (RFP) process to hire a firm to conduct a third-party review of the organization.
What’s really entertaining about this is that Hodgson was the member of the NPCA calling for an independent audit of the NPCA’s practices which in part lead to the NPCA beginning a RFP (Request for Proposal) to secure the services of a third party firm to perform the audit. While the RFP process was taking place the NPCA also engaged the legal firm of Gowling WPG LLP to conduct an “investigation into the actions of member Bill Hodgson.” A letter from Sandy Annunziata to various municipal councils said the investigation concluded that Hodgson’s actions could be seen as an attempt to influence the bidding process, one that would have seen NPCA hire an auditor — in favour of a potential bidder.
The NPCA, despite Annunziata’s claim in April that, “At the end of the day the NPCA is a leader in openness and transparency,” deferred releasing the details of the investigation to an appropriate forum at an unannounced future date.
A May 4, 2017, article in the St. Catharines Standard quoted Welland Member of Provincial Parliament Cindy Forster as being concerned about the latest controversy attached to the NPCA:
“It’s clear the NPCA board chair, Sandy Annunziata, in an attempt to cover up his and some of board members’ own actions, will stop at no end to silence anyone who seems to disagree,” Forster said in her statement at Queen’s Park. “Today I stand alongside local Coun. Hodgson to send a strong message to the NPCA board chair, Sandy Annuziata, and his cohorts: We will not tolerate bullying and we will always stand up for transparency and accountability.”
That’s where it stands. The NPCA appearing to struggle with a mandate to both preserve the environment and “develop,” it. The alterations to the makeup of the NPCA and the fox in the henhouse sensibility attached to those alterations appear to remain in place.
It begs the question, why would an environmental conservation authority need to balance development with conservation? It’s not like developers lack in money and influence to advocate their own interests. The bottom line is that on this uneven playing field the Thundering Waters Forest and all that is Green in the self proclaimed, “Green Belt” remain threatened by the whims of mostly unchecked development.
A little good news is that it was announced in April 2017 that an audit of the NPCA will take place under the auspices of the Auditor General. The NPCA’s current website is also a reasonable source of information about the people that make up the NPCA and what they are doing. The “News,” section actually references some of their more controversial ongoing issues, and while it is of course from their perspective, it provides a person with the opportunity to be aware and seek out other sources of information if they choose. Still, the over the top nature of the $200,000 lawsuit against Smith, the lack of transparency to date about Hodgson’s departure and the drastic turn over of employees in the not so distant past remain warning flags.
It also bears mentioning that the CAO of the NPCA as of May 2014 was Carmen D’Angelo. He left the NPCA in 2016 to become the Niagara Region’s CAO (or in the words of one report, “Niagara’s top bureaucrat”) just after Smith released his report on the NPCA.
An article in the St. Catharines Standard on D’Angelo’s hiring as CAO of the Niagara Region quoted Regional Head Alan Caslin, a supporter of the Thundering Waters condo project,
“He credited D’Angelo for his “innovative method of finding solutions” and his collaborative approach to working with a large group.”
Jamie Lupia, a writer the Brock University student paper, the Brock Press, reported on an open meeting on January 27, 2016 regarding the Thundering Waters bio-diversity offsetting proposal. Lupia’s article reflected D’Angelo’s struggles with the conflicting NPCA mandate,
“Carmen D’Angelo spoke first, attempting to define biodiversity offsetting as a “No Net Loss” concept, rather than a clear-cut definition. When an audience member asked during question period for a definition of biodiversity, the panel had no written definition to share and therefore did not define biodiversity. D’Angelo simply explained that the “four pillars of our mandate are conservation, restoration, development, and management,” where the audience noticed the extra emphasis on the last two mandates. D’Angelo claimed “we do value the wetland.”
This sentiment, however, was soon undercut when D’Angelo said: “We do put an economic value on the wetland”.”
The entire meeting, however, was perfectly summed up in one moment of anxiety in the beginning of the presentation regarding the local watershed. D’Angelo began, “When you look at our watershed…”, but ironically, the slideshow revealed a blank slide. While perhaps only a small human error by the coordinator, the incident metaphorically presents the future of Niagara’s watershed and wetlands – non-existent.”
This might be an interesting time to return to the Sunshine List.
The article on D’Angelo’s hiring references the pay of the previous CAO, Harry Schlange, “According to public sector salary disclosure files, Schlange was paid $233,785 for the job in 2015.”
Here’s the information available at the Niagara Region’s website on Carmen D’Angelo,
“Carmen D’Angelo is the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) of Niagara Region.
The CAO is responsible for providing advice to Regional Council and leadership to senior staff.
He is responsible for ensuring that policies and direction of Regional Council are implemented with efficiency and effectiveness.”
And that is all you get to know about Carmen D’Angelo and what he does as CAO.
You know, I feel bad about being so out of touch with what happens in my community. No doubt I need to work harder. But we deserve better in terms of being pro-actively provided information on who our elected and unelected public servants are and what they do. What a person does when they are in public service, what they create or preserve, what they vote on, how they voted, what their former occupations were, what they want to accomplish in their position and updates on how it is working out for them. We should be provided an abundance of information regarding these people articulated sensibly and concisely.
One of the most recent mandates for cellular providers in Canada via the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission(CRTC) is that communication about terms of service, contracts, fair use, etc. be provided to you in, “plain language,” and is, “written in a way that is clear and easy for customers to read and understand.” And this is important. Understanding is important. As such communicating simply, clearly, in readily accessible formats has to be a basic expectation of all our by public representatives.
Too often the information we need to know is hard to find and/or once you find it seems almost designed to make you give up hope of reading (or the will to live). For instance when I was reading through the Conservation Authorities Act mainly I wanted to punch myself in the face. A lot.
Brady Hawkes: We’re almost to the end of our journey.
Caine: The ultimate quest has no ending. That is what gives the quest its ultimate value.
Burgundy Jones: I love it when he talks like that.
Kung-Fu, The Legend Continues
So where am I at this point?
I now know the name of the Mayor of Thorold.
That’s a start. That’s something.
I know there appears to be good people in our midst, good people humbly serving their communities to the best of their abilities. People who care, people with the modest desire of being part of a greater good, people who likely give more than they get and who keep on keeping on. From public servant to environmental activist I am sure the lack of involvement of folks like myself is daunting. But they keep working.
I know that while I have been busy not being involved in my community those who desire to take as much as they can and give little to nothing back have been managing quite successfully to insinuate themselves in the highest levels of influence. I know that these people present themselves as answers to problems they created. I know that these same people quite like a world where reckless accumulation of things is unfettered by any kind of social responsibility. They have no interest in changing a world slanted in their favour. I know that when they present themselves as merchants of change it ain’t the change I was hoping for, or change that will benefit the common man, it is the kind of change that only further tweaks the game in their favour.
Which brings us back to Donald Trump.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Letter from a Birmingham Jail
Donald Trump isn’t some accident, some complete anomaly. His lack of ethics, his lack of compassion for his fellow man, his contempt for anything beyond position, privilege and acquisition are characteristics seemingly shared by many in various positions of power.
And these people should be actively opposed by decent human beings everywhere.
When I get confused about societal issues I try to look at like: What if instead of this being about x-thousands or millions of people what if it was about ten? Ten people including me. For instance, what if one of the ten of us came up and said to to the group that in order for him to make more money he was going to have to pollute our drinking water? I can’t imagine that working for the group. I’d like to believe we would see the idea of pollution=jobs as a false, unimaginative, narrative.
A fake narrative if you will.
When it comes to these kind of debates it is easy to lose clarity, it’s easy to get off point, it’s easy to get frustrated. While the likes of Donald Trump are raping and pillaging the environment we can get lost in grandstanding, in virtueless partisanship, in vanity and semantics, with keyboard warriors everywhere unwilling to lay down their arms in the name of the greater good.
On Youtube people divvy themselves up into groups and pronounce each interaction with another group as, “X Destroys Y!” Go to Youtube, search the word, “destroys,” and see what you get:
“Tucker Carlson Destroys CNN…”
“Bernie Sanders Destroys Trumpcare…”
“Student Destroys Feminist Teacher…”
And of course (couldn’t resist including this gem), “Scary Killer Clown Attacks and Destroys Fidget Spinner on Mother’s Day.” (I kid you not)
At any rate, you get the idea, there’s a billion of them. All that really ends up destroyed is our ability to communicate with each other and any chance of objectively processing information.
Inevitably people get frustrated and simply stop talking with anybody who doesn’t mirror their perspective. And here’s the thing: We wake up every day, every one of us, pretty dumb. We’re not that smart. You and I, we’re not that smart. We are born dumb, we will die fairly dumb, we are simply doing the best you can in between. Shutting ourselves off from new and challenging information is the short route to a higher degree of ignorance.
So here we are: A bit heated, a bit frustrated.
Frustration for me is dangerous. I get frustrated and reach that point of, “Holy crap, everything, everywhere, is completely messed up!” that can suck me into hopeless inertia. So I have to check myself.
Thankfully, when I begin to feel overwhelmed by life I have certain go to people, guides if you will, to steer me through the turbulent waters of hoeplessness. Those people are Kwai Chang Caine and Mike Babcock.
What the master of slow motion Kung Fu, Kwai Chang Caine, would say is this,
“A flood begins with a single drop of water.”
Kwai Chang Caine would indirectly lead me to consider that it’s time for me to write an MPP, an MP, the NPCA, maybe just the Mayor to say hi and ask if he could help me with making a spice rack. It’s time to find out more information, to ask more questions, to try to understand like thinking people and non-like thinking people’s perspectives more. Maybe it’s time to go out and volunteer for something or maybe it’s time for me to get off my ass and attend a City Council meeting or a protest (though I’ve always wondered what you do at a protest? Where do you stand? What way do you face? Do I have to bring a sign? What if you’re not good at making signs?).
And once again that’s good advice for me from Kwai Chang Caine.
David Carradine’s character would also likely me not to find virtue in someone else’s failing. That’s a real sad kind of vanity for me to be guilty of. Whatever Donald Trump is or isn’t, it doesn’t make me more or less anything.
Toronto Maple Leaf coach Mike Babcock would tell me the same thing that I hear him saying while I’m doing one of my training runs, “Focus on the process.” When I am tired, when I think it is too hot, when I just want the run to be over with, I think of Mike Babcock saying in his matter of fact Saskatchewan kind of way, “Focus on the process.” Not on the end of the run, but the process within, the moment you are in. Why live your life waiting for things to end?
“All that’s necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing,” said Edmund Burke and maybe, evil isn’t always the big things, it’s not flashy and doesn’t involve a celebrity, maybe it’s about short-sighted men destroying vital ecosystems in home towns across North America. It’s the stuff I’ve felt little inclination to act upon for almost fifty years, that is, until Donald Trump came along and as he is wont to do, made clear the kind of carnage that can happen when good men do nothing.
Whatever we can say about the man, Donald Trump has galvanized decent people everywhere. And the good news for you and I is this: If we want to fight back against the type of greed and reckless disregard for the environment Donald Trump exemplifies, we can do it right here in Canada, right here in Niagara, right here in our neighbourhood.
Here’s to the future. Here’s to single drops of water.