Hamilton heads to court to 'protect our interests' in NPCA board member debacle

Hamilton will be in court to "protect our interests" Friday when a judge looks at the composition of the much-debated Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) board.
Coun. Brenda Johnson says as far as Hamilton is concerned, there are five Niagara representatives on the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority board. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Hamilton will be in court to "protect our interests" Friday when a judge looks at the composition of the much-debated Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) board.

City lawyers will be in Welland at 10 a.m. That's when a citizen group called A Better Niagara will try to convince a judge to affirm Niagara region's appointment of 12 members to the NPCA board.

But not everyone agrees those appointments should go ahead, as the province says Niagara only gets to appoint five members to an 11 member board. 

 "There is confusion as to who is in charge of the NPCA," says the notice of application. And "each day that goes by, there is significant risk of damage to the Niagara environment."

The application specifically relates to whether outgoing board members are still making decisions for the agency. But the composition of the NPCA board matters to Hamilton too. The city pays an annual levy of about $1.2 million and wants greater say in how it's spent.

For years, Hamilton had two members on a 15-member NPCA board, compared to Niagara's 12 and Haldimand's one. A recent letter from Lisa McManus — who was interim CAO for a matter of days before being replaced by former regional councillor David Barrick — says Niagara should have five members, compared to Hamilton's four and Haldimand's two. This by-population assessment is according to the Conservation Authorities Act.

A letter from Bruce Blackburn backs this up. Blackburn is the provincial assistant deputy minister in the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks. He wrote to Niagara's CAO saying that where a regional government exists, appointees are allocated according to the population of the region. That gives Niagara five members.

Niagara doesn't think so. Regional council has appointed its usual 12. And a consultant hired by the region recently told its council that given the population of its lower-tier municipalities, Niagara should actually have at least 24 members. The A Better Niagara application cites 27.

The extent of Hamilton's role in court Friday is unclear. City solicitor Nicole Auty says it will depend on the proceedings. But city lawyers will be there to "represent the city's interests."

Hamilton still hasn't appointed its two citizen reps. Coun. Brenda Johnson from Ward 11 (Glanbrook) and Coun. Brad Clark (Ward 9, upper Stoney Creek) will also serve on the board.

Johnson says as far as she's concerned, Niagara has five members.

"You can have as many consultants as you want," she said. "I always understood it was the minister who had the f​inal say."

As f​or Friday, she said, "we're sending people in to protect our interests."

Hamilton is also in court appealing a provincial decision around its NPCA levy.

The inaugural NPCA meeting will be Jan. 16 at 9:30 a.m. at Ball's Falls Conservation Area. 

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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