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An anti-abortion politician whose party denies the science of climate change says he has no intention of stepping down as head of a regional conservation authority.
Dave Bylsma’s defiant response comes as a group of climate-concerned parents push for him to be ousted as chairman of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) at its annual meeting next week.
The group, For Our Kids Niagara, said in an open letter published earlier this week it was an “outrageous position for anyone involved in environmental conservation” to be aligned with climate denial.
Bylsma is the national president of the Christian Heritage Party of Canada (CHP), whose platform falsely claims “CO2 as the cause of climate change is an unproven theory.” The party wants to cancel all efforts to limit carbon emissions and re-evaluate the use of coal as an energy source.
Coal is one of the world’s dirtiest fossil fuels, and its removal from Ontario’s energy mix led to a sharp reduction in air pollution in the province.
The CHP platform argues that carbon dioxide is not pollution, since it is needed by all plants.
The amount of CO2 humans have created since the dawn of industry far exceeds the capacity of Earth’s vegetation to absorb it. Much of it now sits in the atmosphere, trapping heat from the sun and warming the planet.
Flying in the face of scientific consensus, the CHP platform claims rising global temperatures are leading to more CO2 in the atmosphere, rather than the other way around.
The party’s primary focus, however, is the preservation of conservative Christian values, and Bylsma said his involvement with the party “is deeply rooted in their pro-life stand.” He said it is the only issue for which the party requires full allegiance.
“For the record, I do believe in climate change, simple,” he told National Observer.
Bylsma did not extrapolate on what his belief in climate change entails. Nor did he respond when asked what efforts he — as a senior figure in the party — had made to alter its climate and environment platform. He also declined to disavow it.
An anti-abortion politician whose party denies the science of climate change says he has no intention of stepping down as chairman of a regional conservation authority, as a group of climate-concerned parents push for his ouster.
“Where this has impact in our community and where we can address it most effectively is in agencies like the conservation authority,” wrote Bylsma, who is also mayor of the township of West Lincoln.
“There is no conflict between the stated mandate of the NPCA and my understanding,” he added.
The NPCA is responsible for the Niagara Peninsula watershed, which encompasses the Niagara Region and portions of the City of Hamilton, and portions of Haldimand County.
Its roles include helping keep people and their property safe from flooding and erosion, predicting and issuing flood warnings, protecting drinking-water sources, testing water quality, managing and conserving natural resources and education.
Bylsma rose to prominence at the NPCA in the aftermath of an acrimonious dispute between its prior board and top staffers. The conservation authority had to replace most of its board members after they were defeated in municipal elections in October 2018.
Bylsma was appointed to the NPCA by the Niagara Regional Council in December 2018. The NPCA's board then elected him chairman for a one-year term in January 2019.
“I will run to retain my position as chair and I simply point to the very well documented progress we have made in this past year as a board to correct past concerns about the direction in the previous terms of office,” he said.
For Our Kids Niagara plans to picket the authority’s annual meeting on Jan. 15 and is pushing for the vote on whether to extend Bylsma’s mandate to be open.
Renée Bisson, a spokeswoman for NPCA staff, said it would be up to the board to decide whether to suspend the typical practice of a closed vote. That would require the support of two-thirds of the 22-member body.
The NPCA also issued a statement clarifying its role in dealing with climate change and extreme weather events.
The NPCA did not respond to questions about whether it was aware of Bylsma’s affiliation with the CHP and its climate denial platform when he assumed the chairman role.
Bisson noted NPCA board members are appointed by the municipalities they represent, not by NPCA staff.