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Thomas slams NPCA for gutting watershed department

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Niagara Falls – Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) President Warren (Smokey) Thomas is denouncing the layoffs of eight frontline staff that the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA), announced yesterday. The job losses will cut the agency’s Watershed Management Department in half.

“This is an assault on workers, on the NPCA’s conservation mandate, and on the environment of the Niagara Region,” said Thomas. “How is the agency going to fulfil its mission of conserving, restoring, and managing the Niagara watershed when half of the department has just been eliminated?”

Of the eight layoffs, seven are in the watershed department. Watershed employees are tasked with reviewing development proposals and issuing permits around development.

“You have to wonder what’s behind these layoffs,” Thomas observed. “From what I understand, the NPCA is saying Niagara Region should be doing this watershed management work. But the NPCA has been doing a great job at this for the last decade. Why the sudden shift?

“As I see it, the agency and the region have two radically different mandates,” he continued. “The NPCA is at pains to protect the environment from harm caused by development, while the region wants to promote economic development. If the NPCA won’t protect the watershed, who will?”

Yesterday, two MPPs stood up in the Ontario legislature to express their concerns around the NPCA’s pro-development drift: Cindy Forster, the NDP member for Welland, and Jim Bradley, MPP for St. Catharines, government whip, and the longest-serving member.

“These MPPs know that something is rotten with NPCA management and its board,” said Thomas. “I think the provincial government needs to put a freeze on these layoffs pending an investigation of the NPCA’s workplace practices and development policy. Its callous treatment of unionized staff, its job cuts and austerity budget, and its abrupt withdrawal from so much watershed restoration and protection work should be setting off alarms at the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

“The Niagara watershed is too precious an asset to be auctioned off to hungry developers. Let’s get to the bottom of this right now.”

For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931