OPP Makes Its Mind Up Too Soon

The Ontario Provincial Police investigation into the hiring of Carmen D’Angelo as Chief Executive Officer (CAO) of the Niagara Region has taken a new direction. Now that the former CAO and the Regional Councillors who supported him are in the clear, the OPP is pursuing a new target. The new target is Bonnie Lysyk, the Auditor General of Ontario.

While clearing D’Angelo and his allies, the OPP indicated that it wishes to know more about the sources that the Auditor General used in her critical account of Carmen D’Angelo's earlier tenure as CAO of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA). In this regard, there are two important environmental protection issues that come to mind.

One issue is D’Angelo's involvement in what the Auditor General termed a lack of “scientific analysis” behind a proposal for “biodiversity offsetting”, in connection with the Thundering Waters development. Another was the NPCA’s role, under his watch, in permitting site alteration without the benefit of an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) on sensitive habitats on the Lake Ontario shoreline used by Species At Risk.

The Auditor General’s report makes it clear that there was considerable political pressure to have the NPCA forgo good conservation biology science in the issues of both Thundering Waters and the Lake Ontario shore. The politicians supporting these development projects - projects potentially slowed down by NPCA scientists trained in conservation biology and defending principles of provincial policy - are the individuals later promoting D’Angelo to a higher paying job as the CAO of the Niagara Region. To read more about the investigation into D’Angelo’s questionable promotion see All The Chair’s Men (St Catharines Standard, June 29 2020)

It could be possible that despite the mass amount of evidence they collected, including emails and meeting notes on Thundering Waters, that the Auditor General of Ontario was wrong. Maybe a more thorough search would show that D’Angelo defended NPCA staff in their environmental protection efforts, rather than clashing with them as the audit concluded. If the OPP believes this to be true, however, they should have done more research before acquitting the CAO. Instead, they announced a questionable investigation into the Auditor General of Ontario.

It is clear that the Auditor General’s comments on Thundering Waters and the Lake Ontario shoreline were based on detailed and well-documented sources. This is especially the case with Thundering Waters, which cites notes of NPCA meetings.

Page 32 of the Auditor General “Special Audit” makes D’Angelo’s role in promoting offsetting in opposition to principles of sound science clear. It reads that,

“The NPCA had not gathered information of the ecosystems in Thundering Waters to determine if they contained unique features that can be replicated. Meeting notes on file indicate that when a Niagara Region representative asked if there would be an environmental study before attempting biodiversity offsetting, the then NPCA CAO stated that it would take too long”.

Carmen D’Angelo stated that time could not be spared since he had planned to enter into an academic institution to conduct research on biodiversity offsetting in other provinces and countries, but only once the NPCA received approval from the Province for the pilot project.

The Auditor General also gives substantial documentation of pressure from politicians fighting NPCA scientists regarding development on environmentally sensitive lands with rare species on the Lake Ontario shoreline. On page 23, Lysyk notes that this took place in 2016, shortly before D’Angelo's November 13, 2016 appointment as CAO of the Niagara Region. Her report concludes that,

“In 2016, a town began the process to amend its municipal plan to allow a large development along the Lake Ontario shoreline. Both Ministry and NPCA staff had concerns that species at risk were present in the lands proposed for development, but the town allowed the developer to clear the lands before an environmental study could be done to confirm. Despite this, an NPCA Board member emailed a local councillor to say that, “if the NPCA can lend any support as [municipal staff] gather comments from agencies and the public, don’t hesitate to bring [any challenges with respect to shoreline or natural hazard areas] forward. An NPCA staff member was copied on this email.”

Lysyk concluded that the sharing of these emails served to undermine NPCA staff concerns about the lakeshore development.

It is clear from the “Special Audit” of the NPCA, that there were regional council politicians who applauded Carmen D’Angelo clashing with scientists on issues of the protection of rare species. These politicians carried these attitudes towards him being promoted to becoming the CAO of the Niagara Region. The OPP investigating the Auditor General and exonerating D’Angelo and the politicians who elevated him, ignored this simple reality.

Read the full Special Audit of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority here.

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