Wasaga Beach councillor asked to resign as NVCA chair
Amaranth Councillor Margaret Mercer, Melancthon Councillor Shirley Boxem and Collingwood Councillor Mariane McLeod. -AWARE Simcoe photo
AWARE News Network
Is Wasaga Beach Councillor George Watson in conflict for calling for the dissolution of the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority while at the same time serving as chair of that organization?
Fred Nix, a Mono councillor and NVCA director, thinks so and at last Friday’s board meeting called on Watson to resign.
Several other board members expressed dismay at the fact that Watson had voted in favour of a submission from his municipality that states that the NVCA and the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority should be dissolved.
The discussion followed a presentation made to the board by AWARE Simcoe members Sandy Agnew and Kate Harries that raised the issue of Watson’s support for that element of the town’s submission to the provincial government as part of the regional government review process.
The Wasaga Beach submission, approved unanimously on May 9 2019 by town council, states that the conservation authorities “add a level of complexity to the decision-making process that is unnecessary. These authorities should be dissolved and their responsibilities … should be assumed by the County of Simcoe.”
Agnew and Harries warned that conservation authorities look like an attractive target for municipalities under pressure from the province to cut costs – but, they argued, watershed-based management is essential and a piece-meal approach would be dangerous.
“AWARE Simcoe does believe that all government agencies have a responsibility to continuously evaluate ways of improving service and effectively fulfill their mandate,” the presentation states. “However, it is foolish to discard an agency designed specifically to address complex issues that are becoming ever more serious with climate change without a full understanding of the cost that may result.”
Referring to the Wasaga Beach resolution, the AWARE Simcoe members questioned whether the NVCA chair can provide effective leadership if he is working towards ending the organization’s functions.
Nix expressed concern about Watson’s ability to fulfil his role and asked him to explain himself.
Watson spoke for five minutes defending his position as necessary in the face of pressure from the province. But several board members expressed dissatisfaction. Collingwood Councillor Mariane McLeod said she found it “unseemly” for the chair of the board to be advocating for the organization’s dissolution.
Nix – who after almost three decades as an NVCA director was attending his last board meeting, to be replaced by fellow Mono Councillor Ralph Manktelow – then moved that the “current chair” resign.
He said it’s inevitable that apparently contradictory positions can occur when members are caught between pressure from their municipalities to cut an NVCA budget that they then vote in favour of at the board.
“I understand that,” Nix said. However, “I think that when there’s something as fundamental as calling for the dissolution of the organization but also representing it as chair – that’s where there’s conflict, that simply doesn’t work… it is not acceptable to me.”
Amaranth Councillor Margaret Mercer said conservation authorities are potentially under attack for the next couple of years and “we need someone really strong, who is willing to push back.”
Adjala-Tosorontio Councillor Bob Meadows wondered how Watson would be able to communicate the board’s position to the province.
“It hurts me to sit on this board trying to do things in a positive way,” Meadows said, “when the whole structure seems to be tumbling down underneath me and we have people sitting on this board that are tearing down the foundation of this organization.”
At one point in the discussion Watson passed the chair to the Vice-Chair Essa Councillor Keith White and left the meeting. He returned after board members decided to go in camera. There was no motion made relating to this matter when they came out after about an hour in closed session so the status of the Nix motion (and Watson’s position) is unclear.
Links to material referenced during AWARE Simcoe presentation:
WB Letter to Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark – May 9 2019
Crombie Greenbelt Council Report #6 to Minister Steve Clark
Ontario Government Flooding Consultation Letter – June2019
United Nations report on extinction crisis