Evidence mounts for provincial take-over of Niagara Parks Commission

NIAGARA FALLS, ON, Jan. 26 /CNW/ - The public interest will be only served by the Ontario government assuming full control of the Niagara Parks Commission, says the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).

"It is clearly not acceptable to run a government agency responsible for preserving Ontario's top tourism attraction as a cash-cow for the well-connected," said OPSEU President, Warren (Smokey) Thomas. "The parks commission is losing money and the public's confidence."

"Ontario's new Tourism Minister Michael Chan must bring the commission under his direct authority," said Thomas. "Jobs in Niagara and elsewhere in the province depend on it."

OPSEU represents 500 full-time and seasonal workers of the commission.

The auditing firm KPMG noted the parks commission is "an asset of significance for Ontario" and is "a key component of Ontario's tourism sector" in its governance review for the tourism ministry last June.

For the third consecutive year, the Niagara Parks Commission has reported a financial loss. In 2008, it lost $3.5-million. The commission is funded entirely from its attractions, parking, golf, food services, marina and other revenue sources.

The public perception of the commission as an "old boys club" where many employees treat Commissioners "as if they are royalty" was noted by KPMG in its review.

Recent articles in the Globe and Mail bear these statements out. There have been revelations about a contractor friend of interim chair Archie Katzman winning multi-million dollar contracts from the parks commission and details about the benefits offered Commissioners. The benefits include free golf for Commissioners, spouses and their friends, substantive discounts at Commission-run restaurants and stores, and passes to Niagara Falls attractions and services. Parks commission general manager John Kernahan told the newspaper "these benefits are under review and may be subject to change".

"While this government agency was being run to feather the nests of the privileged few, it was slashing jobs and the pay of its workers," said Thomas

OPSEU Local 217 estimates the number of seasonal jobs at the commission - the largest component of its workforce is seasonal - has been cut by a third in the last 10 years. Last summer, seasonal employees' pay was cut by 6.25 per cent when their weekly hours were reduced from 40 to 36.25.

SOURCE OPSEU

For further information: For further information: Bill Rudd, president, OPSEU Local 217, (289) 407-6449


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