cataraqui conservation board chair Gary Oosterhoff

As with all Conservation Authorities within the Province of Ontario, Cataraqui Conservation is governed by a Board of Directors, referred to as the Full Authority Board. It is comprised of representatives from each of the municipalities within the jurisdiction of Cataraqui Conservation, known as the Cataraqui Watershed, or sometimes the Cataraqui Region.

Board members are deputized by their respective municipal Council’s with most of these representatives being municipal councillors themselves. In a few cases, citizens may be appointed to a Conservation Authority Board with permission from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Cataraqui Conservation’s Board is comprised of 17 board members, representing 11 municipalities and after the fall 2022 municipal election has welcomed 11 new members.

At it’s 2023 Annual General Meeting, the Cataraqui Conservation Full Authority held an election for a new leadership slate, with current City of Kingston Councillor Gary Oosterhof being elected chairperson for the year. Councillor Paul Proderick of Loyalist Township was elected vice-chairperson. Oosterhof had previously served as vice-chair and has been on the Full Authority Board since 2017.

Living in Glenburnie, and representing the Countryside District on Kingston council, the current administrative building, Outdoor Centre and indeed all of Little Cataraqui Creek Conservation Area are practically in his backyard. Due to his desire to live a more rustic and rural lifestyle, Gary also has a natural appreciation and affinity for the role and mission of Cataraqui Conservation to conserve and enhance the natural landscape.

According to his City of Kingston biography, Oosterhof has owned his own electrical contracting business since 1991, serves on the Board of the Electrical Safety Authority of Ontario and is a long-time member of the Kingston Electrical Association. Prior to this, for two decades he represented local Licensed Electrical Contractors with the Ontario Electrical League.

What follows is a short interview conducted with Oosterhof not long after chairing his first Full Authority Board meeting:

Q: Before coming to be on the board, what did you know about Cataraqui Conservation and the work that we do?

GO: Before coming to the Full Authority Board, I was mostly just familiar with the Little Cat [Little Cataraqui Creek Conservation Area] I suppose. Maple Madness and the trails were always a favourite for my family and it was always a positive experience.

Q: You are a member of Kingston City Council, why did you decide to throw your hat into the municipal political ring?

GO: Being a member of Kingston City Council, and representing the Countryside District is something I am proud of and feel it is a real honour. I remember the first time I thought about it and I just knew in my heart I was called to do it, and be a positive and encouraging voice for my constituents and a really great city.

Q: Why did you decide to join the board of Cataraqui Conservation?

GO: I decided quickly to be on the Full Authority Board of Cataraqui Conservation as soon as I became aware of the possibility. It was a no brainer: I live a few minutes away and I live and breathe its mission.

Q: What do you see as the role and responsibilities of a council rep on the Full Authority Board?

GO: My role is to wear two hats; I represent the City of Kingston’s interests and speak to its values and responsibilities as well I represent the Full Authority Board so that decisions are made on a watershed scale. I am always studying what good governance looks like and acts like, so I am always wanting to ask the right questions and enable those with the responsibility for running the Authority to complete their work well and excel.

Q: During your time on the board, what have you learned about the work of Cataraqui Conservation and the importance of that work?

GO: There really isn’t enough time and space for this answer. But I have learned a lot and continue to learn and have come to really appreciate the Board meetings and presentations and understanding the size of our [jurisdiction] and the environmental responsibility that we all carry in such a large area.

Q: What do you think the main priorities of Cataraqui Conservation will be or should be moving forward?

GO: Wow, another big question! Managing the fallout of Bill 23. Building a strong relationship with all partner municipalities. Securing a strong budget while maintaining our programs, building on our public relationships, and continuing to develop our positive educational programs.

Q: Why did you decide to take on a leadership position on the Authority Board (running for vice-chair and then chairperson)?

GO: I really didn’t decide to take on a leadership role.. It just evolved, and I am honoured to serve in this way.

Q: What do you see is the role of the chairperson of the Cataraqui Conservation Full Authority Board?

GO: My role as chair is to lead well, listen well, to encourage and come alongside our staff, directors and managers. I will work to build relationships with the entire Board and move us forward amidst the challenges of today.

Q: What skills, traits, do you bring to the table as the chairperson of the organization?

GO: I have been in leadership roles since my youth. I enjoy people, and seeing things and events run well. In my professional career, I have represented my industry [electrical] for 20 years, and served on many committees. So, it is what I do and enjoy, and hope to make a positive difference along the way.

Q: What do you think makes the Cataraqui Region special as a place to live, work and raise a family?

GO: The things that make the Cataraqui Region special are the people and the places where we live. Being raised in Eastern Ontario is so great, and knowing the lakes and waterways and trails just connects us to deeper beauty and a world that is endlessly discoverable. It is simply one of the best places in the world to live and work and raise a family, And I should know,  I have done it and am doing it still!