Protect our Parks, an activist blog dedicated to protecting the Parks of Southern Ontario, has published this letter to the Premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty.
March 2, 2010
The Honourable Dalton McGuinty Premier of Ontario
This letter will be emailed and served by Registered Mail
Re: Reasonable Apprehension of Bias in Maid of Mist Lease Negotiations
First, please let me tell you the reason for this whole letter. It is an embarrassment to the people of the Province of Ontario and your Provincial Government to have allowed the present Board of Commissioners and General Manager of the Niagara Parks Commission to still remain in their present positions with what you and the citizens already know.
Second, I fear that if you respond to this letter you will give me a standard explanation that you are forwarding this to Minister Chan, Tourism Minister. To pass the buck again to a new Tourism Minister who has done nothing to improve the credibility of your Government, nor show the people that the process will be fair, is negligence on your behalf. You already know some of the conflicts and dirty inner workings of the Niagara Parks Commission through this ordeal and you choose not to take control and be a leader, but to hope we all go away. That’s not going to happen unless we are assured a fair, unbiased tendering is done that is transparent in its selection.
Here are some of the facts:
1. The Chairman (Jim Williams) and General Manager (John Kernahan) of NPC were involved in a meeting with the CEO of IMAX in fall of 2006 where an option was presented that IMAX will
build a new attraction at Table Rock fully financed by IMAX. This meeting and all information was suppressed from the Niagara Parks Commissioners and never exposed until I was told in May of
2008. In the mean time the NPC borrowed $38 million to renovate Table Rock and build the attraction “Fury” which has been exposed to be a dismal failure.
2. You are well aware of Ripley’s letters to the NPC in winter and spring of 2008 requesting to tender on the Maid of the Mist lease which was approximately 20 months away from renewal. You are also aware from newspaper reports of the Vice Chairman at the time Archie Katzman – and now current Chairman – lobbying other Commissioners to speed up the renewal for the existing lease holder until it was exposed to me 1 day before the rushed vote in April 2008. I was amazed that to hear that Tim Parker of Ripley’s called Commissioners Katzman and Kerrio before me and they did nothing to slow the process and make it fair. Even though Commissioners at the time did not admit to being lobbied, I have an email from a present Commissioner admitting that
he was lobbied by this person (all of this was given to the Integrity Commission investigators).). All of these people did nothing to represent the tax payers and slow down this unfair process,3. You are also aware that the current Commissioners heard from the Chair of the NPC, Jim Williams (endorsed by the General Manager) in May 2008 that there would be at least a $50 million lawsuit from the Maid of the Mist Steamboat Co. Ltd if the vote on the boat lease was reversed by the Board of Commissioners. I challenged this comment as there had not been an Order in Council, but I received no support from the current Commissioners. I felt the Chair was trying to intimidate the Commissioners.
4. You must be aware that your Ministry of Tourism tried to spin all of this onto “personality conflicts” when I met them in Toronto in July 2008, at my expense, and showed them the facts. You are probably aware that, to this day, the Ministry of Tourism has never responded to me even though they assured me, at that time, they would be back to me within 2 weeks.
5. How can you explain that our Provincial Integrity Commission ruled that there was no wrongdoing by the NPC and that they followed proper business practices when independent witnesses testified in person that tenders from sons of the current Chair were late, and all other tenders had been opened, yet these late tenders were still accepted by the Commission (which included the current Chair).
6. After being promised that the results of the Integrity Commission probe were to be given to me (the complainant) first – I was shocked to learn from Mr. Bill Windsor of Atlanta, Georgia, the Friday before the release that the report results would be given out imminently. This wasparticularly embarrassing as a New York Times reporter was interviewing me at the same time these shenanigans happened. The Integrity Commission later apologized but it was obvious to me that they were “in bed” with the Ministry of Tourism and NPC. Why did it take an American to expose to me the flaws of our Integrity Commission – that had little “integrity?”
7. Consequently, my lack of faith in the Provincial Integrity Commission, based on their lame ruling on NPC processes, led me to revoke my registered complaint about the Chairman of the NPC Jim Williams, who had been using his title to solicit business for a private consulting firm, in which he was a partner with his brother-in-law.
8. You had to be aware that then Minister of Tourism, Peter Fonseca, allowed the Chair of the NPC to state, in his presence, that he had “no ethical or legal obligations to Niagara Falls tourism or to the local business community.” This offensive comment became ridiculous when I read the Ministry of Tourism guide in July 2008 which featured a photo of Great Wolf Lodge, owned by Ripley’s, and throughout the book it was suggested there be more public/private partnerships. How could our City appointed Commissioner Kerrio allow a comment like this regarding Niagara Falls taxpayers? It took others on our City Council to stand up and voice comments that this quote was wrong.
9. In September 2009,1 mailed you information about the wrongdoings at the NPC, and pleaded to be interviewed by the Ministry of Finance Forensic Investigators. MPP Kim Craitor agreed that
the Union and I should be included in these sessions. These requests went unheeded and we were not interviewed, we can only surmise YOU DON’T WANT TO HEAR THE TRUTH!! It is little wonder that the Integrity Commission found no wrongdoing.
10. Consequently, the NPC Board of Commissioners unanimously rubber stamped their April 2008 decision to award the boat lease to the Maid of the Mist Steamboat Company. Obviously, the Commissioners were “circling the wagons” to justify the ineptness of their earlier decision. Not one Commissioner appeared to think for themselves. Thank God the media brought some of this to light.
11. How can you accept without action the disclosures by the Globe and Mail newspaper that the present Chair Archie Katzman received a loan for over $200,000 from a friend, and within the same year did not declare a conflict when this friend received the multimillion dollar contract to build Legends Clubhouse, and later the Fury and expansion of Table Rock House, worth $38 million. The Chair professed to be “clean” on this, even though he was involved in all these plans, and was Chairman of the Golf Committee. His defense that he repaid the loan within two years begs the question how he could do so when he declared a $7 million bankruptcy a few years earlier. If your government is clean and has any degree of oversight, how can you allow this individual to be a Commissioner, let alone the Interim Chair?
12. It was good that someone finally took the lead of MPP Craitor, Preserve Our Parks, and me to open the meetings. However, it was only done with the NPC Oath of Confidentiality being broken to suit their purposes. It seems that the City of Niagara Falls representative leaked confidential
information about the forthcoming vote on this, perhaps because he was eager to do this with an election coming in less than a year.
13. Despite the open meetings, Commissioners do not seem to understand openness and transparency. The NPC failed to advertise or publicly announce the date or time of the historic first meeting until a Niagara Falls Review columnist exposed the details. Even with less than 4 days notice – the room was standing room only with overflow in the halls. Your citizens were not invited to a more comfortable setting even though other places (Legend Clubhouse, Refectory Restaurant, and School of Horticulture Meeting Hall) were used in the past. It is a disgrace to unnecessarily treat people like this.
14. When I attended the second “open” meeting, February 19, 2010,1 was appalled to see the proceedings in the same confined room and people were left standing again. The NPC Board of Commissioners does not get it.
15. Mr. Premier, when do you think that people have too much power and when do you think it is being abused? The NPC Commissioners passed a bylaw at the February 2010 meeting that makes a travesty of your government’s pledge for openness and transparency. People are only allowed to “view” the proceedings. The Chair is the sole decision maker on who can make a presentation to the Board and who cannot. Below is Bylaw 1, Attachment 3, Section 9:
The Chair will determine whether to hear presentations. He/she may determine if it would be more appropriate for the individual or group to address a specific Standing Committee of the Commission, the Commission in camera, or other individual or group representing the interests of the Commission. The Chair may refuse to hear a presentation if it is deemed that the topic of the presentation is outside of the jurisdiction of the Commission or in contravention of the by-laws of the Commission. Persons who do not receive approval to address the Commission will be so notified and will be advised of the reasons for the decision.
16. When the Head of Retail explained, at this same February 2010 meeting, his rationale for financial losses at the NPC, it was obvious that we, as citizens, were being prepared for a money request to keep the NPC running. It was appalling that not one Commissioner asked a question, looking to change the situation. This is not surprising in view of the makeup of your present Board. Have any of them successfully withstood losses in their companies, or have any of them the experience or knowledge to suggest solutions rather than just being handed problems? Don’t let these Commissioners drain the taxpayers more!
17. Although the selection of Howard Grant as Fairness Commissioner is encouraging, it is unconscionable that he is being assisted by the NPC General Manager and Head of Retail, who both have had a close involvement with the Maid owners and have shown an obvious bias in their favour. If Mr. Grant is being guided by the NPC, then he is being misled. Even the previous Chairman asked that the Maid tender be taken away from the present Board due to the apprehension of bias. The General Manager stated in a local radio interview that he would not change any of the processes that the NPC has done in the last few years regarding the lease renewal. Unbelievable!!
18. Alarming rumours abound that Howard Grant is powerless in this ordeal and the NPC is still in total control of the RFP process for the boat lease. My questions are: who is paying Mr. Grant? Secondly, does he have the power of veto over the Commissioners? PLEASE SEND ME ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS.
Premier McGuinty, I am an honest person with the facts of wrongdoing at the NPC and no one has dared debate me on these facts. I am well known and trusted by citizens in my community because I have earned it. I have lost business accounts because of my standing up for the truth but I still stand strong. After years of prodding, it was only after Ehealth and the OLG scandal that the Maid of the Mist lease was ordered to go to tender, and so it appeared that it was not just because it was the right thing for the people, or the proper business procedure. You should know that I never forget, I am persistent and I will not be quiet on this issue.
It is time to act and dismiss the Commissioners and change the way the NPC Board operates so that the people may begin to have faith in you and the NPC again. Members of a large local citizens group, Preserve Our Parks, have voiced their concerns for years about the unfair process and the scandals at the NPC, but you choose still to have the same fox guarding the same henhouse. I feel that you have misplaced faith in the longtime MPP from St. Catharines, especially in his selections to the Board, when you should have faith in the opinions of MPP Craitor, who has intimate knowledge of the situation.
How much more exposure of dirty dealings do you want disclosed? I am not finished – more will come out unless you make changes.
Maybe Minister Chan will be the first Tourism Minister to show leadership on behalf of the people. Maybe he will listen to the citizens who are demanding transparency, accountability and an end to the “Old Boys Club.” It appears that being a Commissioner means a level of ENTITLEMENT that permits them to be King of the Castle. I am glad I never joined up.
I have devoted almost two years of my life to this situation, as I have tried to do the right thing and steer your government in the right direction. Making the right decisions NOW may stop this growing scandal, before it costs you more public embarrassment and consequences at the polls.
Bob Gale [Bi edited after original post]
Former Commissioner of the Niagara Parks Commission
cc. via email Hon Minister of Tourism Chan
cc. via email MPP. Kim Craitor
cc. via email various media sources
cc. via email various citizens and citizens groups
cc. via email various politicians