Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Gravy Train pulls into the Niagara Parks Commission

below: Nov.2010 - vandalism and graffiti at the Maid of the Mist elevator tower. What tourist wants to see this?
above: light with broken glass and exposed electrical wiring. Safety hazard? What safety hazard?!
below: another light with broken glass; handrails are peeling

above: Rambler's Rest is already chained off - in mid-November?!
above: maintenance shed has roof drainage issues, with water running onto the masonry; the wood siding is peeling.
above: the restaurant walls are peeling in numerous places. The exterior decks of the restaurant also have drainage problems.
above: the restaurant's soffits are peeling, showing water leakage
above: the restaurant's siding is peeling; a part of the corner porch roof has been hit by a truck, and has just been left to sit there; a piece of wood with nails now just hangs there over the door.
above: the greenhouse exterior is peeling and in need of paint
above: tourists have to squeeze their way around cracks and holes in the pavement: how many days does it take for this to be fixed?!
below: more cracks along River Rd. near Oakes Garden, with rusted re-bar showing through the concrete.

above: a damaged, half-broken concrete urn sits on the Rainbow Garden wall.
below: the broken urn is at the right; underneath it, the unsightly pavement is cracked and heaving.
(below: in the left distance is the Niagara Falls War Memorial)
above: avoid the dirty, peeling benches in Oakes Garden, and the holes dug into the gravel walks.
So, isn't it nice now to see that the Niagara Parks Commission has enough cash to pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses - such as for booze, coffee, and roller-coaster rides - while the park areas are allowed to decline and suffer?!?
Corey Laroque reported in "Parks chairwoman wants answers" (St.Catharines Standard, Nov.18, 2010):

"Niagara Parks Commission chairwoman Fay Booker agrees someone's feet need to be held to the fire over the $395,000 in expenses recently-departed executive Joel Noden racked up over three years.

The question Booker is asking now is, whose feet? And how much heat?

"People should be held accountable for their responsibility," Booker said Wednesday, after Noden's controversial expense records were reported.

She said she agrees with Niagara Falls MPP Kim Craitor that someone's job might be on the line. Craitor told QMI Agency Tuesday whoever approved the expenses "doesn't belong in the parks commission," but wouldn't say who should go because he didn't know which manager should be held accountable.

"I don't disagree with Mr. Craitor in terms of his expectations. A part of what we now need to do is go through an audit and review who should be doing what and whether that was being done properly," Booker said.

Noden left his $130,000-a-year job where he managed the government agency's revenue, marketing and business development a week ago.

"I don't think we can wait six months. I think we have to resolve it over the next few weeks," said Booker, an accountant specializing in auditing and corporate governance.

Her investigation will look at whether Noden's expenses — which included an $1,800 nightclub outing, a $199 liquor store trip, $23,000 for out-of-pocket expenses including four tickets to a Las Vegas roller-coaster and even a pound of Starbucks coffee — were "appropriate and reasonable."

"If they were not, then who needed to be double-checking that, who gave approval for them to be incurred? If they're not appropriate, who's responsible for allowing them to go through?"

She'll be looking for explanations for why each expense was necessary. For example, if Noden was being reimbursed for buying coffee for his office, that might be appropriate, she said.

The Globe and Mail reported general manager John Kernahan and corporate services director Bob McIlveen disagreed over which one of them was responsible for overseeing Noden's expenses. Kernahan said he delegated that task to McIlveen, despite his holding a position equal to Noden in the agency's hierarchy.

QMI Agency has not been able to contact Kernahan or McIlveen despite repeated calls this week.

But Booker was clear. She thinks Kernahan is responsible for the directors under him.

"My expectation is that the general manager approves the expense reports … It's not peer-to-peer," Booker said.

Kernahan's own expenses are scrutinized by Booker, as are the expenses submitted by the 12-member commission. That's a change she made in July. Before that, it was up to Kernahan to approve the expenses of the government-appointed members who are his political masters.

When Booker was asked if it was strange the manager would oversee his bosses' expenses, but not those of a manager who served under him, she said: "That's why I changed it."

A string of expense scandals at government agencies proves it's Premier Dalton McGuinty's Liberal government that should be fired, not bureaucrats in the agencies, said Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod.

"He keeps making promises that it wouldn't happen again … Lo and behold, it happens again," said MacLeod. "The only way people are going to get change in Ontario is to fire this government."

Controversies over expenses at other government agencies have dragged down top managers.

In 2009, McGuinty apologized to Ontarians over an expenses scandal at eHealth Ontario and fired chief executive officer Sarah Kramer. Freedom of information requests revealed the electronic health records agency issued millions of dollars in untendered contracts, incurred lavish expenses and produced little to show for $1 billion in taxpayers' money.

In August 2009, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan fired Kelly McDougald from her job as chief executive officer of Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. Duncan also forced the entire board of directors to resign.

In 2002, the Conservative government of Ernie Eves fired Eleanor Clitheroe, the $2.2-million-a-year CEO of Hydro One, the publicly owned electricity transmission company.

At Queen's Park Tuesday, Tourism Minister Michael Chan said Booker, appointed in the spring to head the provincial agency whose annual budget is about $77.5 million a year, has made "significant changes to the corporate culture" and its decades-old reputation as an old-boys' club.
Booker said that's what she understands her role to be.

"As I identify an inappropriate procedure, we make a change," she said."

This stink at the Niagara Parks Commission is getting worse by the day: just yesterday, on Nov.17, Laroque had reported Craitor telling us he didn't know who should be held responsible!

Obviously Kim 'hey, what's happening now, dude?' Craitor would like us to believe his Liberal government has nothin' to do with any of this, eh - why, they're the saviours here, doncha see; they're fixin' things! Why, during Question Period on Nov.16, 2010 at Queen's Park, Liberal Michael Chan even blamed the Conservatives - for hiring Noden!! [See Chan's "answer" to Lisa McLeod's question in the Queen's Park Nov.16, 2010 Question Period video, at about the 53:oo minute mark]

Fuggedabout the fact that Craitor and McGuinty's Liberals have been the overseers of the NPC since their 2003 election!
Forget about the fact that this all happened under Liberal MPP Kim Craitor's very nose, in his own riding, down the street from his office - yet, Craitor (apparently) was so busy elsewhere he blissfully didn't know what was goin' on, until that freedom of information request was made by the Globe!!

I guess if not for that little inconvenience, Craitor would still be staggering around in his usual Liberal 'don't worry, be happy' fog of ignorance.

McGuinty should do the right thing, and fire the accountable (isn't he ultimately responsible?!) minister, Michael Chan, in the same way minister David Caplan was shown the door for Smitherman's pile of crap. Except that in Caplan's case, McGuinty delayed and waited, first smelling the political air to determine how bad the repercussions of Smitherman's eHealth scandal might become [...and these were the first revelations, back in 2009, not the further ones which were still to come in 2010!]. Caplan was eventually sacked.

Hopefully Chan will get the boot a lot sooner. It would be nice for someone (but certainly not any St.Catharines Standard reporters, mind you!) to take a take a look at MPP Jim Bradley's tenure as Tourism Minister, and see whether Ole Jimmy turned a blind eye to the cosy shenanigans over at the NPC.

What's also distressing in all this, as we hear of these outrageous expenses, is the rather tatty and unkempt look many of the Niagara Parks' areas seem to be in. Tall weeds growing in swaths along River Rd., the Maid of the Mist elevators with graffiti and broken, unrepaired electrical boxes, cracked sidewalks all over the place, Oakes Garden is really showing its age, with benches so dirty and peeling no one would want to sit there, the park restaurant looks like it's barely being held together, in severe need of paint, as do the areas around the Aerocar - in fact, many places along the river need paint and maintenance. And that multi-million dollar Fury attraction which Noden was "instrumental" in developing - it's apparently not really that great of an attraction.

This Parks Commission looks like it has been letting things slip for years. We got an unexpected glimpse of this 'old-boy's club' institutional torpor when Bob Gale brought the Maid of the Mist lease question to the public's attention not that long ago.
Apparently, there is a lot more under the surface that no one's bothered to look at.

Laroque's doing a great job on this story.


Dogmatic Pragmatist said...

Further to Jim Bradley's Tenure as tourism minister, he was responsible for launching the "Ontario Tourism Strategy" completed in 2002 when he first became Minister. Then, because it originated under the previous Tory Government, disregarding it a couple of months later and starting from square one on a new strategy - what a waste of money!

How can the goals and objectives of something like a Provincial tourism strategy change so much in a couple of months? Did the conditions in the tourism sector change to a degree that an entire new strategy was needed only a few month's after the release of the one just completed. But that is what happened! The several millions of taxpayer dollars that went in to the shelved strategy were completely wasted and a new one was developed that was done by the Liberals. Sure makes them Liberal-friendly consulting firms happy though - gotta look out for those who make big dollar contributions to the Liberal Party eh?. Now we know why the Provincial deficit is at 56 billion dollars.

R.Bobak said...

Bradley will be happy as Ontario borrows billions to pay interest on his greenshevik Liberal government's misguided energy "policies".
As for Ontario's deficit, Dwight Duncan just said that Ontario's 2010-2011 deficit is forecast to be $18.7 billion; did you mean to say the debt is at 56B?

Dogmatic Pragmatist said...

The accumulated deficit is at $56 billion last time I heard - the "in-year" deficit is "only" around $19 billion. They don't care, they just keep sucking the tax payers dry so they can implement their strategy of Social Engineering.

Did you also hear that hydro rates under the Liberal "Green energy plan" are going to increase by 46% over the next 10 years - they will bankrupt families in Ontario - who can afford an increase like that?

They are the lowest scum on the planet - they need to be un-elected ASAP!

R.Bobak said...

Today's (Nov.19, 2010) National Post stated that Ontario's net debt now stands at $220 BILLION - which translates to 37.2% of Ontario's entire GDP! (This translates to $17,000 in debt for every Ontarian!)

Ontario's debt seven years ago stood at $138 BILLION, which was28.2% of our GDP.

So it looks like McGuinty's Liberal scumbags have increased Ontario's debt by 82 BILLION DOLLARS between 2003-2010!!

And let's not forget all of McGuinty's subsequent tax increases; his new health taxes, his health care CUTS, and billions of dollars of unaccountable waste revealed in the interim...

On the spending side, in 2003McGuinty spent 16.2% of the provincial GDP; in 2010, he's spending $116 BILLION, or, 21.3% of the Ontario's GDP.

And McGuinty himself has already claimed that half of Ontario's entire budget is spent in one place: over at Deb Matthew's health ministry.

The utter incompetence of Jim Bradley, Jim Craitor, and the rest of these Liberal liars, is beyond the pale.