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Ontario picks expert to head troubled Niagara Parks Commission Add to ...

Bruised by months of controversy around the Niagara Parks Commission's management of the country's top tourist attraction, Ontario has tapped an expert in governance, auditing and accounting to steer the battered agency into calmer waters.

Fay Booker, a Burlington-based consultant and former partner with Deloitte & Touche and Grant Thornton LLP, has been named by the province as its nominee to chair the parks commission. If confirmed by the Standing Committee on Government Agencies and Premier Dalton McGuinty's cabinet, Ms. Booker will replace Jim Williams, a former federal bureaucrat who resigned after a falling-out with Queen's Park last year.

Mr. Williams left after Monique Smith, the former tourism minister, vetoed the commission's decision to quietly grant an untendered new 25-year lease to the Maid of the Mist tour boat operation, despite interest from competing companies to run the lucrative attraction. The outcry forced Ms. Smith, since replaced as minister by Michael Chan, to order a full public tendering process for the tours to be conducted this year.

The controversy also prompted provincial audits of business practices and governance at the 125-year-old parks commission, a self-funding, $80-million-a-year, 300-worker agency entrusted with the care of public parkland at Niagara Falls. The audits, initially kept secret but obtained and published by The Globe and Mail, found numerous problems, including questionable decision-making and an "old boys club" image around its board of 10 to 12 provincial appointees.

Archie Katzman, a veteran political bagman from St. Catharines and a commissioner since 1971, has served as interim chair since Mr. Williams's departure in December. A Globe investigation found that Mr. Katzman accepted an interest-free mortgage of $208,450 from a friend, Donald Ward, who went on to win multimillion-dollar building contracts from the commission. Mr. Katzman's sons have also done business with the agency. Mr. Katzman has denied any wrongdoing.

Ms. Booker, who has also held senior positions with CIBC and National Trust, has consulted extensively on governance in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors, and as an auditor, helped the City of Hamilton set its finances straight in 2003.

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