The recent actions of the St. Lawrence Parks Commission and its commissioner board concerning the historic train display at Aultsville station in Crysler Park highlights yet another long-standing grievance in the area: The lack of local representation at the SLPC board.
The Parks Commission is charged with, in part, being the stewards of the park land along the St. Lawrence River from Ivy Lea east to the Quebec border. That is a stretch of the river more than 160 kilometres long. Add to this the attractions the SLPC operates for other organizations like the Kingston Penitentiary and Old Fort Henry. The SLPC is a vast tourism enterprise. It is run like an enterprise, with apparently little weight given to the impact on the citizens in areas where it operates or controls land.
The commissioner board is traditionally made up of political appointees: consequently members tend to favour whatever government is in power. Many of the current board previously worked in the civil service, or are former elected officials no longer serving. Only one member of the board is from South Stormont,. The remaining members are from cities. None of the 10 representatives on the board is from South Dundas. None directly represents the interests of the residents in South Dundas. Many of the other municipalities which must host the SLPC also have zero representation. That needs to change.
The SLPC commissioner board should be restructured. One model to consider is that of the South Nation Conservation Authority, where municipalities under the mandate of SNC have a say in its governance.
Restructuring the SLPC to ensure a representative on the board for each municipality will allow for local issues to be regularly brought before the commission. It will allow municipalities to have, for the first time since the Seaway project began, some say over the destiny of this region. That kind of input has been lacking.
Allowing local control could provide a real advantage, building genuine partnerships between municipalities and the SLPC for operations and tourism marketing. Priorities in this area would trump those of civil servants in Toronto. And it would mean that locals would again have a say about the land that was essentially taken from their control over six decades ago.
Changes to the SLPC could lead to a strong and much more unified front, rather than the current adversarial climate.