NIAGARA FALLS – The Ontario government’s decision to quietly re-appoint seven Niagara Parks Commissioners suggests politics is coming before the public interest, says the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).
The governance review of the Niagara Parks Commission (NPC) by KPMG found that “certain actions by certain individual Commissioners” have “brought into doubt perceived compliance” with the agency’s Code of Conduct, including its conflict of interest provisions.
Research by the citizens group, Preserve Our Parks, revealed last week that the government has re-appointed seven of eleven NPC Commissioners.
"How can the government even consider re-appointing Commissioners when a report it commissioned makes this kind of serious allegation?" said Warren (Smokey) Thomas, president of OPSEU, which represents 600 full-time and seasonal staff at the NPC. "Why is the McGuinty government putting its own local political interests above the public interest?"
KPMG’s review, submitted to the Ministry of Tourism in June, was obtained by the Globe and Mail through Freedom of Information, along with a Ministry of Finance audit of NPC procurement and leasing practices.
The KPMG report said “the frequency is higher than we would expect” of incidents or allegations of potential or perceived conflicts of interest at the NPC. Among other findings, KPMG said Commissioners are treated “as if they are royalty” by employees and that “certain Commissioners” have become involved in employee-related matters “which were clearly outside the scope of the Commission’s or Commissioners’ role”.
The report further said, “Local and provincial politics have significantly influenced the appointments of Commissioners in the past. As a result, the Commission has become quite political.”
KPMG made detailed recommendations on processes at the NPC to improve:
- compliance with the Code of Conduct, including the adoption of a zero-tolerance policy for violations;
- internal and external communications so the “mystique of the Commission” is removed; and
- the appointment process, including changes to the composition of the Commission.
KPMG urged the Ministry of Tourism to act on its recommendations, saying “tinkering or maintaining the status quo is unlikely to lead to a satisfactory resolution of the perceptions of the NPC.”
“Not only is Niagara Parks an important public asset, it’s a key driver to the area economy,” said Bill Rudd, president of OPSEU Local 217 at the NPC. “We can’t afford for the government to do nothing.”