Following a series of articles in the Niagara Falls Reporter on the secretive dealings between the Niagara Parks Commission (NPC) and Lewiston businessman and longtime operator of the Maid of the Mist concession James V. Glynn, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) are investigating the secret deal and other furtive dealings at the NPC.
It was more than a year ago when the Ontario Minister of Tourism canceled Glynn's lease and put it out to bid. In the aftermath, all of the principal commissioners and the general manager of the NPC were fired or resigned abruptly.
The Glynn lease went out to bid, and the starting bid is, happily for the people of Ontario, $125 million higher than the lease Glynn and the NPC secretly arranged.
The Niagara Falls Reporter exposed the terms of the lease to outraged Canadians, and it soon became a national scandal.
Although the commissioners were fired, and the lease put out to bid, there were lingering doubts about just what happened with Glynn and whether anything illegal occurred.
The Reporter revealed that, while other bidders like Ripley Entertainment and Atlanta businessman William Windsor were ready to pay as much as $100 million more for the right to operate the Maid of the Mist concession in Ontario, park commissioners told Ripley's general manager Tim Parker and Windsor that they would not be permitted to bid since the lease was not up for renewal.
Then the commissioners secretly and hurriedly renewed Glynn's lease one-and-a-half years ahead of time and reduced his rent through a convoluted scheme that on paper made it look like he was paying slightly more rent, when in reality he was paying millions less.
All this was done in secret, and had it not been for one brave whistleblowing commissioner, Bob Gale, the investigative work of an angry Windsor and the reporting of this newspaper, the people of Ontario would have been stuck with Glynn's low-rent lease for 25 more years and no one would have been the wiser.
Unlike in Niagara Falls, N.Y., when people get screwed in Niagara Falls, Ont., they get mad and do something about it.
Meanwhile, as the public waits for the Minister of Tourism to announce who will win the new Maid of the Mist lease bid, from among a field of seven of the biggest entertainment and boat tour companies in the world, last week the OPP publicly admitted they have commenced an investigation.
The investigation will include more than just Glynn's lease arrangements.
It seems there was a pattern of handing out leases and work to people who were connected to certain commissioners, particularly one old gent, a wheeler-dealer named Archie Katzman who had been, before he was fired this year, on the NPC board as long as Glynn was running his boat tour -- since 1971, to be exact.
Niagara Parks Police Chief Doug Kane confirmed that it was he who made the call to the OPP asking them to investigate.
"It's not a secret that there have been a number of allegations made over time, and rather than us investigating those, we thought we would send it to a totally independent agency such as the OPP," Kane said.
OPP spokesman Sgt. Pierre Chamberland confirmed the investigation.
"We've been requested by the NPP to conduct an investigation of possible irregularities concerning the procurement of goods and services at the Niagara Parks Commission," Chamberland said.
The OPP's investigation coincides with a forensic audit of the NPC conducted by an outside auditing firm contracted through the Ontario Internal Audit Division of the Ministry of Finance for the Ministry of Tourism.
Besides the Maid of the Mist lease, the OPP's anti-rackets squad will look into building and contracts surrounding the virtual reality ride called Fury, the refurbishment of the Table Rock centre, and the construction of Legends Golf Course and Queenston Heights Restaurant.
The Table Rock complex was an estimated $35 million construction project that sources say probably could have been built for less than half of that.
Niagara's Fury has earned only about 1 percent of what Katzman projected when he argued to spend $7 million on it and give some of the work to a friend of his who lent him more than $200,000 on his home, then later forgave the debt.
Legends Golf Course opened in 2002 and included a land deal that involved a former commissioner. The NPC, because of their long-standing policy of secrecy, never disclosed any information about Legends, but sources told the Reporter that the price more than doubled when it was discovered that the soil was not conducive to a golf course project.
Legends is believed to be losing millions per year, while certain commissioners hired friends and relatives to work there and played on the course with friends and family for free.
Katzman admitted to the Reporter that he and Glynn golfed together there.
Finance Ministry spokesman Scott Blodgett said the fact that the province has hired forensic auditors suggests this whole thing may wind up being criminal.
The government-ordered forensic audit, Blodgett said, is being "conducted to a court level of proof, based on an examination of evidence relating to an assertion or allegation."
A comprehensive and superb article by Bullet News' Peter Conradi mentions a laundry list of possible transgressions, if not high crimes and misdemeanors.
"The most infamous transgression," Conradi wrote, "centered on the lease to operate boat tours in the Niagara River.
"In 2008 it was revealed (by the Niagara Falls Reporter) the NPC had quietly awarded an untendered 25-year lease to the operators of the Maid of the Mist tour boat excursions. It took two government reviews before the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Culture ordered the Niagara Parks Commission to conduct a competitive bidding process for the Maid of the Mist lease, which is currently under way. Sources tell Bullet News that contract is worth $7 million to $10 million in revenue annually."
Glynn's secret lease deal had him paying less than $3 million per year.
Newly appointed NPC interim chairwoman Janice Thomson told Bullet News her opinion of the multiple investigations.
"I feel good about that. We want this to be totally independent. We don't want (any investigation) to be managed by the parks (internally). Let's just have this investigated and put it all to rest once and for all," she said.