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Past News: 2000

Friday, December 22, 2000

NCC hands heritage sites over to Hull

The Citizen reports on a deal between the NCC and Hull:

The National Capital Commission yesterday handed over several buildings, including historic Scott House, to Hull under a deal in which the city will maintain several NCC parks for 20 years. The cost to the city will be $3.4 million.

Under the agreement, Hull will acquire Scott House, built in 1863 by Richard William Scott, who served as mayor of Ottawa. With the heritage house comes the Gamelin Experimental Farm, on which the house and several buildings sit. The city also gets the Connor Building, a former metallurgical plant.

In return, Hull will maintain several NCC properties including the Gatineau Parkway, Char de combats Park, Portageurs Park and Lac de Fees Park. Hull will pay maintenance costs of about $170,000 a year.

Citizen: NCC hands heritage sites over to Hull [22 Dec 2000]

Wednesday, December 13, 2000

Local Liberal MPs content with NCC

No surprise here, the Citizen asked Ottawa area MPs what they thought of the recently released report on the NCC and found overwhelming apathy:

A major report from the National Capital Commission on how to improve its relations with local governments and citizens has been available for almost a week now, yet most Ottawa-area members of Parliament have been slow to find out what's in it. The few who have read the report seem strangely content with the idea of the NCC safeguarding its habit of secrecy.

Ottawa Centre MP Mac Harb, whose constituency includes Sparks Street and LeBreton Flats, insists that opening NCC meetings to the public would politicize its work and make it impossible to carry out the NCC's mandate on behalf of all Canadians. If some of its decisions anger his constituents, well, Mr. Harb considers that a small price to pay for all the NCC's good work in the region.

Eugene Bellemare (Ottawa-Orleans) agrees. He says the report means there will be more openness at the NCC than before, although people with "extreme views" will complain. We disagree with these MPs' analysis. But at least they were willing to share their views when we asked.

The Ottawa-area's 10 Liberal MPs (Scott Reid, Lanark-Carleton's Canadian Alliance rookie, gets left out here) will gather today for their weekly regional caucus meeting. We hope that they have all, at last, found time to review the $250,000 NCC report so they can discuss it with intelligence and even suggest improvements.

Take Ottawa West-Nepean's Marlene Catterall, who told the Citizen during the recent election campaign that "no one has worked harder" than she to pry open the secrecy surrounding the NCC. Fine, then what does she think about the recommendation that the NCC establish a Planning Advisory Committee with the mayor of the new City of Ottawa and the chairman of the Outaouais Urban Community? Do the suggestions that the NCC hold an annual general meeting open to the public, as well as semi-annual public consultations with local interest groups, satisfy her?

Quite frankly, we don't know; Ms. Catterall never bothered to get back to us. Nor did Marcel Proulx (Hull-Aylmer) or Robert Bertrand (Pontiac-Gatineau-Labelle). Gatineau MP Mark Assad did return our call -- to advise us that he wanted to consult with his Liberal colleagues today before giving his opinion. (Whatever happened to independent thinking?)

Ottawa-Vanier's Mauril Belanger also called back, to tell us he was still in the process of reading the 86-page report and probably wouldn't be ready to comment until the end of the week.

That's better than Government House Leader Don Boudria, the long- time MP for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, whose office informed us that the minister would not comment because the NCC comes within the mandate of his cabinet colleague, Canadian Heritage Minister Sheila Copps. But fellow cabinet minister John Manley (Ottawa South) doesn't share Mr. Boudria's qualms about jurisdiction. The foreign minister's office told us he was encouraged the NCC board had accepted all 11 recommendations, which suggested the NCC was "moving towards enhancing openness and the consultative process."

That view was shared by Nepean-Carleton's David Pratt, who wants to give the NCC a couple of years to see whether the recommended changes work in practice.

The NCC's impact on the Ottawa area is too important for so many local MPs to be so passive about a major report on its future. If the local Liberal caucus doesn't care about pressing NCC accountability to the public, neither will the agency itself.

The regional Liberal caucus has a history of parroting the NCC line instead of representing their constituents' concerns.

Citizen: Ottawa's passive majority [13 Dec 2000]

Monday, December 11, 2000

NCC accountability is an open and firmly shut case

Randall Denley's sums up everything that is wrong with Glen Shortliffe's report and its recommendations in a column in today's Citizen:

Keeping the board meetings closed will serve one useful purpose and that's protecting NCC board members from embarrassment. The NCC has only released its complete meeting minutes once, by mistake, but they gave the impression that its quarterly sessions consist of little more than Beaudry speaking and the board members nodding their heads.

The consultant's polling and focus groups show that most people consider the NCC to be a closed and secretive organization that needs to be more open and accountable. Unfortunately, Shortliffe chose to please his client rather than do the right thing and make recommendations that followed what he had been told.

The results of the poll forced him to engage in some amazing mental gymnastics, even by the standards of the consulting world. For example, more than 90 per cent of people said the mayor of Ottawa and the Outaouais regional chair should be on the NCC board. Shortliffe rejected the idea, dismissing the support as "motherhood." Apparently he and the NCC are against motherhood.

One has to get to page 57 of the report before the NCC's main problem is mentioned. It is noted in passing that communications, media relations and consultations are managed by Beaudry's office. Coincidentally, these are the NCC's areas of greatest weakness.

Shortliffe puts it kindly, "issues and decisions collect at the chairman's level," but the message is clear enough. Beaudry is a one- man show, to the detriment of his organization.

If Beaudry had wanted to discover the NCC's biggest problem, he would have found a mirror more useful than a $250,000 consultant's report.

Beaudry has discussed this problem at the highest level, that is with himself, and decided that a new public relations vice- president is in order. That person will have a challenge. Polling by the consultant shows that "the more people know about the NCC, the more negatively they assess it on operational and governance issues."

It's difficult to sell the NCC's unique combination of arrogance and incompetence. The NCC haughtily insists that it must tell others what to do when it can't even complete its own projects. The Daly site is the most obvious example.

At least the NCC has a friend in Glen Shortliffe. The commission can now claim that its operations have been examined by an "independent" person who found a few minor problems, which have been addressed. End of story.

Shortliffe says the NCC "is not in need of radical surgery." That's correct. Clearly the patient has suffered brain death. A withdrawal of life support is the most logical action.

Citizen: NCC accountability is an open and firmly shut case [11 Dec 2000]
Citizen: The public makes more noise than they should [24 Aug 1998]

Sunday, December 10, 2000

Shortliffe's short shrift

In an editorial today, The Citizen describes just how inadequate consultant Glen Shortliffe's recommendations for reforming the NCC are:

Stripped of its bureaucratic verbiage, consultant Glen Shortliffe's assessment of the National Capital Commission paints a discouraging picture of a defensive and secretive body, out of touch with the people who live and work in the national capital region. Unfortunately, Mr. Shortliffe's recommendations won't do much to improve matters.

Of course, that's not what NCC Chair Marcel Beaudry wants you to think. He prefers to emphasize the positive instead of confronting on the negative. But no amount of positive thinking can mask the issues outlined in Mr. Shortliffe's report.

There's the dysfunctional relationship between the NCC and municipal leaders, where personalities often contribute to the problems. The NCC thinks some unnamed leaders are "short-sighted, subservient to developers and only interested in short-term gains," while some municipal leaders consider the NCC "remote, unilateral and high-handed."

There's the disconnect between area residents who believe the NCC doesn't consult them in advance, and the commission's belief that it is consulting quite adequately, thank you.

And there's the not-so-surprising observation that "the more people know about the NCC, the more negatively they assess it on operational and governance issues." The report also found that municipal leaders -- who presumably know the most about how the NCC works -- were even more critical of it than was the general population.

Before you dismiss this as the result of what the NCC seems to think is a negative media campaign, note that the study's own poll shows 69 per cent of the people it surveyed felt the media treat the NCC fairly or "very" fairly. Only 13 per cent thought it received unfair media coverage.

Mr. Shortliffe's report doesn't draw attention to this aspect of the survey, choosing instead to stress the 55 per cent of respondents with a positive or very positive impression of the NCC, mostly influenced by such things as bike paths, the Rideau Canal and Canada Day. When it comes to complaints about the NCC, such as its delay in developing the LeBreton Flats and the Daly sites, Mr. Shortliffe suggests (unconvincingly) that these problems are perceptual, not real.

But that's not the most disappointing aspect of his report. Mr. Shortliffe was hired "to comment on the NCC in relation to the new local municipal structures," yet for the most part he ignores the new realities created by an amalgamated city of Ottawa.

When he does acknowledge them -- noting that Ottawa will have a single municipal authority with well-developed planning capabilities and a "vision" for the future that might differ from that of the NCC -- he quickly rejects any suggestion that the new city (or the Outaouais Urban Community) should have a seat on the NCC's board of directors, even though such a move was supported by more than 90 per cent of the people he surveyed, as well as by most area politicians.

His recommendation that Ottawa's mayor and the Outaouais regional chairman be part of a "Planning Advisory Committee" falls well short of real consultation or influence. The committee's advice will not be binding on the NCC. Nor will local residents and politicians know how the board reaches its decisions, since it will continue to meet in private.

Messrs. Beaudry and Shortliffe may think an advisory committee and an annual general meeting - this one open to the public - will reduce distrust of the NCC and somehow make it more accountable. We think they're wrong.

No question of that.

Citizen: Shortliffe's short shrift [10 Dec 2000]

Friday, December 8, 2000

NCC releases Glen Shortliffe's report

Glen Shortliffe's $250,000 report on the NCC is finished, resulting in 11 recommendations that the NCC says it will implement. Unfortunately, the recommendations do nothing to solve the NCC's fundamental problems; instead, they present a series of cosmetic changes that have more to do with improving the way the public views the NCC, rather than improving the NCC.

Glen Shortliffe's report on the NCC is available from the NCC's web site.

NCC implements superficial changes

The NCC has announced it will implement the recommendations in Glen Shortliffe's report on the NCC. Remaining true to form, the NCC approved and publicly released the changes within 24 hours and without any opportunity for feedback. The changes themselves are laughable: to open 3 meetings a year and place 2 local mayors on a separate, secret subcommittee that will advise the NCC's board. Oh yes, they also plan to spend $1 million to improve consultation, implement a web site, on strategic communications, etc., etc. In the end, Mr Shortliffe's $250,000 report has simply provided the NCC with an excuse to avoid substantive change.

Citizen: NCC implements superficial change [9 Dec 2000]
Centretown News: Almost Top Secret [9 Feb 2001]

Thursday, December 7, 2000

In casino golf, politics trumps the environment

In today's Citizen, Hull writer Michel Lapalme reveals how the fix is in for the Casino de Hull's plans for turning Lac Leamy park into a golf course:

What we find now, and this information has been uncovered despite the fact that the casino studies are always coming very short of what Environment Canada requires, is that this ecosystem contains a much more varied biodiversity than even the most enthusiast ecologists imagined. When considering all the consequences of building a golf course on this site - cutting trees, bulldozing, draining, fertilizing and using pesticides and herbicides - one wonders how the casino owner remains so blind that it keeps this project alive.

This brings us to the second observation resulting from those months of active environmental fighting. The casino's blind owner is the government of Quebec. Such an enlightened government, one might think, has its own impartial department of Environment. Well, that's not so clear any more.

Earlier this year, when the Quebec Ministry of Environment gave its approval to the project, it was rumoured that this was done against the advice of the department's specialists. The minister of environment would have been outweighed by the minister of finance.

Internal documents have now been leaked to the Montreal newspaper Le Devoir that show the department effectively ignored all the concerns expressed by the public servants in its drive to endorse the casino's claims and responses.

We know (through federal files) that these casino responses sometimes can be very cavalier. For example, when asked to compensate for the loss of 30 hectares of forest in this hypersensitive area, the Casino de Hull showed plans for 19 hectares of so-called reforestation. When the 19 hectares were analyzed, however, the federal department reviewing the project discovered that more than 10 of those hectares were in fact to be planted with small perennials.

In its eagerness to please the cash providers of the casino, the Quebec government could not even detect something that big.

In the beginning, the Casino de Hull claimed that any opposition to this golf project would cost the local municipality millions of dollars in tax revenues. The argument was based on the claim that the casino would never build a hotel if it were not allowed to include the golf course. We saw the bluff slowly bend the backbone of Hull councillors.

But now, the hotel is almost completed and there is no sign that the golf course will come any time soon. Considering that the environmental reasons to obstruct the project are bigger than ever, it could be time for Hull councillors to review their support: The golf alone would not bring the city of Hull more than about $50,000 in annual revenue.

Leamy Lake park is one of the national environmental treasures the NCC is supposed to safeguard. The NCC supports the golf project.

Citizen: In casino golf, politics trumps the environment [7 Dec 2000]

Saturday, December 2, 2000

Daly fiasco set for next stage

The NCC has announced that seven groups are now in the running to develop the Daly site. From The Citizen:

After 20 years of failures and false starts, the National Capital Commission says it hopes to select a business group next spring to develop the site of the former Daly Building in the heart of Ottawa.

The NCC announced yesterday that seven groups are in the running to develop the site -- probably with shops at street level and apartments or hotel rooms above.

The seven contending groups include Canadian Gateway Development Corp., the group that failed in an ambitious plan to put an aquarium on the Daly site, facing Confederation Square, between Mackenzie Avenue and Sussex Drive.

[...] In announcing that seven groups are in the running to develop the Daly site, the NCC said it will aim to complete a review of proposals by early February. At that time, some or all of the contenders will be asked for detailed designs and finance plans. The NCC hopes to receive all that information by early April.

If all goes according to plan, the NCC hopes to choose a developer by the end of April 2001, said Diane Dupuis, spokeswoman for NCC chairman Marcel Beaudry.

The NCC, which has been burned many times over the Daly site, is not saying when it hopes the project will be completed. Gateway had planned to spend as much as $75 million on an aquarium, shops and upscale hotel on the site.

But the NCC withdrew its approval for the project after the would- be developers could not get financing for the aquarium.

It was the idea of an aquarium that had most appealed to the NCC and influenced its decision to name Gateway as developer of the site. Gateway includes The Regional Group, an Ottawa real estate development company, and Westeinde Construction, a major builder in the capital.

[...] Also bidding are Claridge Homes (Bill Malhatra); Groupe Faubourg Inc., in a joint venture with Canadian Gateway (Steve Gordon); Groupe Lepine (Rene Lepine); Industrielle Alliance (Claude Tessier); and International Concept Management (Rick Gregory).

Citizen: New Daly site bidding war begins [2 Dec 2000]

Tuesday, November 7, 2000

NCC fiddles while Gatineau Park burns?

Who fights fires in Gatineau Park? Residents called four levels of government and still couldn't get any answers, while it took 24 hours for the necessary equipment to arrive. The NCC is said to be reviewing how the fire was handled.

Citizen: Residents demand review of how fire was handled [7 Nov 2000]

Wednesday, November 1, 2000

LeBreton Flats project falters

Big surprise, right? The joke here is the article is from the now defunct Ottawa Journal, c.1976. Then, as now, great things were planned, much money spent, and nothing done. The NCC, of course, was front and centre. Best quote: "If the workshops next week...produce some concrete recommendations, LeBreton may proceed at least to its next crisis." Still, bureaucratic incompetence on a grand scale at least had one good unintended consequence: Ottawa didn't end up with its very own Regent Park.

Ottawa Journal: LeBreton Flats project falters [1976]

Monday, October 30, 2000

Candidates face off over NCC

Claudette Cain and Bob Chiarelli provide their opinions on the NCC. While both see a role for the NCC, both appear to favour it being curtailed, though Bob is decidedly more pro-NCC than Claudette. Too bad Nepean mayor Mary Pitt, who wants the NCC abolished, isn't running.

Citizen: NCC seen as partner with new city [30 Oct 2000]
Claudette Cain's NCC reform plan [13 July 2000]
Citizen: Bob Chiarelli's NCC reform plan [23 Mar 2000]

Tuesday, October 25, 2000

NCC continues to flip Greenbelt land

The NCC is at it again, flipping so-called 'surplus' Greenbelt land for banal developments and a hefty profit. This time they've worked a classic 'you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours' deal with Nepean to rezone some land. From the Citizen:

Despite the vocal objections of residents and charges of backroom dealing, Nepean's planning committee last night approved a motion to allow the rezoning of 18 hectares of NCC land for light industrial use.

The motion to rezone the land is expected to be rubber-stamped by council Nov. 1. The National Capital Commission will then transfer 35 surrounding hectares of land to Nepean where the city intends to build storm water sewage ponds and recreational facilities. The NCC is expected to sell the rezoned land for the development of a business park, likely to be used by the high-tech industry.

Ian Torrie of Homestead Street, which runs along the northern boundary of the land, suggested the NCC was levering its position as landowner to force council to approve the zoning change.

"I think Nepean council will be scared into doing it," Mr. Torrie said. "It is not right that these two issues be dealt with simultaneously."

Councillor Rick Chiarelli said people thought a deal had been made with the NCC before public consultation was done.

Mr. Chiarelli was the only committee member to vote against the motion. He said he felt it was inappropriate that the NCC tell council to rezone or lose the land for building the storm ponds.

NCC spokeswoman Diane Dupuis would not comment on the suggestion that the NCC already had a deal before the matter came to the committee.

Citizen: NCC gets approval for land rezoning [25 Oct 2000]

Sunday, October 15, 2000

NCC looking for Daly proposals

After the recent collapse of the last attempt to develop the Daly site, the NCC is once again back to square one, looking for proposals. The NCC intends to make a final decision by spring 2001 - and so yet another year slips by for Ottawa's most prominent vacant lot.

Citizen: Daly site open again for proposals [15 Oct 2000]

Monday, October 2, 2000

Taxpayers stuck with fatter bill for NCC

Wondering what happened to consultant Glen Shortliffe's study of NCC? Randall Denley reports:

The study is expected sometime next month, only 3 1/2 months past the original deadline and more than double the cost.

Shortliffe's original $64,000 contract called for him to talk to the federal government and "key stakeholders" and produce a report with recommendations by June 30.

That consultation consisted primarily of talking to local politicians, Ottawa Liberal MPs and the NCC's own board members. Apparently these people couldn't answer the $64,000 question, so Shortliffe made a further request for a poll of 600 people in Ottawa-Carleton and the Outaouais and follow-up focus groups.

We don't know what questions the poll asked or what answers the public gave. That's proprietary information of Shortliffe's company, Sussex Circle. The public does get the bill, though, in the amount of $83,000. That includes $35,000 to Sussex Circle to act as a consultant to the consultants.

The only mildly substantial piece of information the NCC has released about the Shortliffe project is a status report delivered to a closed board meeting in April. We only have that thanks to a request by Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin under the Access to Information Act.

Little more than a slide show, it still raises some interesting points. Board members at the closed meeting were given a sense of the problems the consultants had identified in their narrow-ranging research. Among them were "appear to be operating behind closed doors/secret."

Relationships with the quaint little democratic governments the locals elect aren't all they could be. The consultant notes "particular problems with the City of Ottawa under current mayor." This would be a reference to the now former mayor, Jim Watson, who was making a bit of a campaign to reform the NCC, suggesting things like opening their meetings. Troublesome chap.

Other Ontario municipalities also have problems with the NCC, ranging from "severe to very moderate." No examples are cited.

Unnamed persons had also observed some difficulties involving the NCC's grand plan for Metcalfe Boulevard, dog bylaws, the Champlain Bridge, unco-ordinated urban planning, lack of real consultation, slowness of response and absence of real partnerships.

The interim report describes a concern about the mayor of Ottawa and the regional chair of the Outaouais being on the NCC board because they might have an "agenda."

Media relations are naturally a concern for an organization looking to improve its image, and the good news is that the media are "generally quite fair" with one exception. That would be the Ottawa Citizen.

The report also notes that "some believe that other federal departments and agencies have also been the target of the Ottawa Citizen." That could be something to do with a fuss over a couple of bureaucratic oversights at Human Resources Development Canada.

The Citizen is clearly unfair to the NCC because we explain to people what the NCC actually does. This naturally casts the commission in a bad light. Fairer media coverage would ignore little blips like the latest failed Daly site plan. Or maybe we should have given the story a positive spin. Perhaps a headline like "Daly Park One Step Closer."

Citizen: Taxpayers stuck with fatter bill for NCC [2 Oct 2000]

Monday, September 25, 2000

LeBreton cleanup will cost millions

What's this, could the NCC be making progress on The LeBreton Flats? Well, not really; what they've done is almost complete a plan to clean up the LeBreton Flats - the first baby step towards developing the site after 35 years of futility.

Perhaps the Flats project will yield some good news that the NCC desperately needs.

This month, the Crown corporation revealed that its plans for the long-awaited hotel and aquarium on the downtown Daly site had fallen apart.

That crushing news followed years of debacle after debacle.

Those have included: a protracted fight with north Ottawa residents over placing a third lane on the Champlain Bridge; enormous delays over building that extra lane; a disastrous show on Parliament Hill at the millennium; massive overpayment for a downtown office building it purchased; and proposed demolition of part of downtown Ottawa to create a large ceremonial boulevard.

All this resulted in a number of Ottawa-Carleton mayors calling for either disbanding the NCC or enormous reform of the corporation.

The NCC has hired consultant Glen Shortliffe to review its operations. He is expected to deliver his recommendations this fall.

The article neglects to mention that the NCC itself is responsible for much of the contamination of the flats, as they allowed the site to be used as a snow dump for many years.

Citizen: LeBreton cleanup will cost millions [25 Sep 2000]

Sunday, September 24, 2000

Down on the farm with the NCC

This article from the Citizen provides the history of some of the lands now part of the NCC's greenbelt. Tenants are tenaciously hanging on, doing the NCC a tremendous favour by maintaining buildings and property, despite the NCC's indifference and refusal to grant long-term leases:

Jim Brennan was the first in his family to get a notice of expropriation. In August 1959 -- one year after the NCC started to claim Greenbelt land -- he received a $75,000 government cheque. Four years later, Gerald received $22,000 for his share of the land. To the Brennans, there seemed little point in fighting the valuations. The NCC was willing to pay as much as $1,000 an acre, which seemed like a gentleman's price. But others weren't so convinced. Designation of the Greenbelt was already depressing prices within its limits, while prices beyond it were skyrocketing. In townships such as March, land was already selling for $2,000 to $3,000 an acre. The building boom looked poised to leap the Greenbelt even before it was created. Among Gerald Brennan's neighbours, some argued bitterly that if the federal government wanted a restricted development zone, Nepean's landowners were sure as hell not going to subsidize it.

One of those to protest was Fred Mattatall, the comptroller and vice-president of Ottawa's Freiman's department stores chain. In 1953, Mattatall and his wife, Alice, had bought the old Archie Graham estate for $12,000. The Mattatalls set about restoring the estate lovingly. They planted five kinds of apple trees. They named their 40 acres Pinewood Orchards. Mattatall cherished his retreat. It was a reprieve from the pressures of his executive job. On summer evenings, after putting in long days at his office, he was often spotted in the fields, gas lantern in hand, nursing his young trees with fertilizer.

When the NCC moved to claim his land, Mattatall, then in his early '60s, launched a legal challenge over the assessed value of his property. But in March 1963, at the age of 64, he died of a heart attack before his appeal could be heard. Alice Mattatall abandoned the fight, and agreed to the NCC's offer of $95,000. In all, between 1958 and 1966, the NCC spent $40 million to acquire farmland for the Greenbelt.

The Mattatalls never got to see the first apples harvested from their orchard. After expropriation, the NCC rented out the estate, as well as the wood-frame house that had seen three generations of Brennans. For the most part, the new tenants did their best to carry on the area's farming tradition with mixed success. "It was a kind of transition period," said Gerald Brennan. "They didn't want people to walk away and let things go to ruin. They wanted things to be presentable."

By then, Gerald and Ruth Brennan were living in a modern brick bungalow. Because the bungalow sat on the northeast corner of Lot 1, Concession 1, an easy walk from Gerald's day job, the Brennans found themselves in the awkward position of being tenants of the NCC, in a house they had built to raise their family. During those years, Gerald watched as speculators snapped up land ever faster, and suburbia crept ever closer. The first planned community near the western tip of the Greenbelt was Lynwood Village in Nepean. It was built by Bill Teron, the developer and architect who went on to build Kanata.

[...]The Keehners, both in their 30s, are the latest occupants of Pinewood Orchards, the former Mattatall estate. Dave's parents were the first to rent the property after expropriation in 1963 and he lived on the estate until age 13, when his family moved to Britain. Years later, when Dave returned to Ottawa and met Lisette, he convinced her Pinewood Orchards was where they should make their home. That was four years ago. "I wanted to come back to my roots," Dave explained one evening as the sun set behind the apple trees.

The Keehners applied to be tenants of the orchard in 1996, the same year the NCC unveiled its future plans for the Greenbelt. Very quickly, the couple discovered the discrepancy between NCC policy and NCC practice. First, they were given a five-year lease, hardly an arrangement that would encourage farmers to invest long term. Without a longer lease, the Keehners were reluctant to pour money into upgrading the estate, particularly its crumbling barns. With a few exceptions, their landlord seemed indifferent to the couple's pleas. Their list of urgent repairs included leaky roofs, hazardous wiring and dubious foundations. The NCC blamed budget limitations for its inaction.

The Keehners found themselves in a Catch-22. To turn their orchard into a moneymaker, they had no choice but to pay for their repairs. On the other hand, the NCC gave the couple no assurances their efforts would be rewarded with a longer lease. What's more, any improvements made would not increase property values since the orchard sits on Crown land. In the end, the Keehners spent about $4,000 on renovations, recycling building materials as much as possible. With the help of friends, the couple completed most of the repairs on their own.

By day, Dave works as a contractor, reading gas meters to finance the costs of the farm. Each fall, when the apple harvest starts, the couple welcome visitors who buy fruit or cider fresh off the farm. They would like to do more than that. They talk about hosting weddings and garden tours, but their plans remain a fantasy. "When I have to worry about old buildings falling down, it takes away from developing the orchard," says Dave. "Just a little bit of money from the NCC for the maintenance of the property wouldn't hurt."

Their five-year lease expires next spring. Already, the Keehners are preparing a 40-page proposal to the NCC -- not the chores of your typical farmer. They hope a detailed plan will secure them a lease of up to 25 years. "Despite all the frustrations, we want to be here," says Lisette.

The NCC has a poor record on protecting heritage buildings and properties on the greenbelt.

Citizen: The edge of edge city [24 Sep 2000]
Citizen: Greenbelt history left to rot [22 Oct 1999]

Wednesday, September 20, 2000

Woodburn Farm horror story continues

Doug Woodburn has lost the latest court battle in his continuing effort to get back his farm:

The National Capital Commission expropriated 9.3 hectares of the Woodburn homestead in 1963 to add to the Greenbelt, held the parcel for 36 years, then sold it for commercial development.

In the process, the Crown corporation made a profit of $6.6 million.

And the Federal Court of Canada says there isn't a thing Doug Woodburn can do about it.

Mr. Woodburn, whose family was on the land for more than 100 years, learned a few days ago his protracted legal battle to reacquire the site, near Blair and Innes Road, has been lost.

A judge dismissed Mr. Woodburn's claim to the land and $1 million in damages on Aug. 29.

"The substantial price which the National Capital Commission will receive from the sale of the land, together with its proposed use in commercial development after nearly 40 years of its use as part of the Greenbelt, may invite speculation," wrote Federal Court judge Elizabeth Heneghan.

"However, in the absence of evidence that the expropriation proceedings in 1961 were motivated by an intention to bank land holdings in anticipation of a future sale for financial gain, I am not prepared to conclude that the National Capital Commission is party to a colourable scheme."

The commission paid Mr. Woodburn's father, Emerson, $110,000 in 1963, then let the family lease the farmland until 1994, eight years after Emerson's death.

As the area grew more urbanized and the land less useful as a "buffer", the NCC applied to rezone the site for commercial use.

Despite objections from the Woodburns, the commission succeeded before the Ontario Municipal Board in 1998.

Citizen: Family loses claim to expropriated land [20 Sep 2000]
NCC Watch: Horror Story: The Woodburn Dairy Farm

Wednesday, September 13, 2000

Daly Site perfect spot to honour human folly

Award for most appropriate proposal for the Daly site goes to Randall Denley of the Ottawa Citizen for his scathing column in today's edition:

The oh-so-surprising failure of the aquarium/hotel/parking garage/ book-store/condo project planned for the Daly site offers a wonderful opportunity for something far more appropriate.

I speak, of course, of the Museum of Human Folly. What better theme for an Ottawa attraction, and what better location than the Daly site, with its colourful history of failure?

Let the Museum of Civilization take a sober look at human achievement. The better story lies in the gaffes, blunders and arrogant misjudgments that delight us and tell so much about the human character.

I see the structure as an irregularly stacked pile of portable classrooms, reminiscent of Expo 67's Habitat, and a subtle homage to its architect, Moshe Safdie, and his later work, the hilarious Ottawa City Hall.

The materials are cheap and contribute to the museum's theme. Who, in the future, will be able to believe that the most prosperous province in the country actually offered schooling in these tin cans? The structure should lean perilously and appear near collapse.

In fact, it should actually be near collapse, always raising the possibility that the whole thing might come crashing down in a supreme moment of irony.

[...] Senator Colin Kenny's unflagging efforts to turn the corner into a parkette could be noted with a lawn jockey, cast in the likeness of Senator Kenny and posed atop a single patch of sod.

The site's own history is certainly worth something. The stirring story of how the National Capital Commission turned an ugly, derelict building into an ugly, derelict building site is worth a brief explanation, and for those who are disappointed that there won't be an aquarium, we can provide an 10-gallon model with some showy guppies, an attraction roughly on a par with what was planned.

[...] The beauty of the Museum of Human Folly idea, from the NCC's perspective, is that it really can't fail. All the NCC has to do is keep everything exactly as it is on the site and announce that phase one of the museum, the Daly site exhibit, is now open. The commission could take pride in the fact that it had finally established something, and in record time. Then it could sit back and do what it does best, which is nothing.

Citizen: Daly Site perfect spot to honour human folly [13 Sep 2000]

Friday, September 12, 2000

The Daly Site Deserves Better

Good to see The Citizen slamming the NCC for its bureaucratic bungling of the development of The Daly Building site, and the NCC's obsession with building something that it considers an attraction (an aquarium killed the last project).

The NCC's belief that any development on the Daly site should be an attraction in its own right in order to draw people into the downtown core needs to be reconsidered. With all these other attractions built or in the works, what's really needed in the area is -- a park. Not only would this create a place of rest and quiet contemplation, it would also ensure the sightlines that were opened up with the Daly Building's demolition in 1992 -- of the Chateau Laurier hotel and between Elgin Street and the Byward Market -- will not be ruined by yet another office building.

Ms. Dupuis says the NCC has no plans to revisit the park-only option. But earlier this year, the very same Ms. Dupuis was defending the NCC's plans to demolish other buildings in the downtown core in order to create some open space.

If the NCC is so interested in creating open spaces downtown, why does it still insist on putting another building on the perfectly good open space it already created by knocking down the Daly Building?

At the very least, the NCC needs to consult the public again about what it wants to see on the Daly site. Not the usual pro forma consultative process that tries to direct the answers toward what the NCC has already decided, but a real consultation in which the public has a real voice. Ms. Dupuis says the public can have input when the chosen developer's design goes through the municipal planning process. But that's a sham, given that the NCC remains free to ignore the views of local municipalities.

Citizen: The Daly site deserves better [12 Sep 2000]

Saturday, September 9, 2000

Continuing Daly fiasco continues

No real surprise here, the NCC has finally pulled the plug on Canadian Gateway's hotel-aquarium-shopping complex for the Daly Site, two years after choosing their proposal. Apparently, Gateway "had financial support and tenants for the retail and parking components of the development, but not for the aquarium." The hotel never got off the ground either. And so it's back to square one for one of the NCC's most embarrassing land development schemes. Quote of the day goes to Senator Colin Kenny: "I think the way the NCC has handled this is a disaster and a disgrace. It's a pox on the face of Ottawa. Everybody in Ottawa has had to walk past Mr. Beaudry's mess for years now."

Citizen: NCC halts Daly site project [9 Sep 2000]

Thursday, August 24, 2000

Yet Another NCC Crap shoot

As far as the NCC is concerned, what the Hull Casino wants, the Hull Casino gets, heritage and parklands be damned. The NCC will get 3$ million for allowing the casino to turn part of Lac Leamy wilderness park into a golf course for gamblers. The casino has made the laughable contention that they must be able to build the golf course if they are to go ahead with a $200-million development.

When the son of Marcel Beaudry, chairman of the National Capital Commission, married a few weeks ago, Hull's restaurant owners discovered with amazement that the local casino, with taxpayers' money, had entered the catering business. The casino restaurant, Le Baccarat, served a wedding meal to the guests at Mr. Beaudry's home. The casino said that this was a legitimate undertaking for its restaurant.

With his shabby pretense of dignity, the NCC chairman claimed that there was no scandal, since he had paid the bill.

A further study of the casino catering activities, however, revealed that Mr. Beaudry had already used these services on two other occasions, the only client in the whole country awarded such a privilege.

This brings us very far from the days when Mr. Beaudry, as mayor of Hull, was opposing the construction of the same casino because, in his own words, he considered gambling an immoral activity.

This is also very far from the small organizations still trying to prevent those power brokers (Mr. Beaudry and the casino insiders) from transforming one of the most pristine pieces of flood plain in the region into an expensive, five-star golf course.

[...]Most people in the Outaouais thought that this remarkable territory [Leamy Lake Park] was protected as part of the NCC park system. Indeed, the NCC itself had given it the full title of "Leamy Lake Ecological Park."

That was the case until its neighbour, the Hull Casino, decided that this land should be the site of its expensive golf course. When casino officials called Mr. Beaudry, a developer to his core, to negotiate a $2.65-million, 50-year rental deal, it was settled quickly, despite a display of opposition of a kind rarely seen in the Outaouais.

Hull Casino: The lynchpin of the west Quebec economy. So much for the NCC's mission to "safeguard the Capital's national treasures, the numerous sites of great prestige and public interest that are held in trust for future generations of Canadians." All future generations have to look forward to are theme parks and Las Vegas style entertainment.

Meanwhile, councillor Clive Doucet claimed in February that NCC chairman Marcel Beaudry has been quietly pushing a plan to extend light rail to the casino to efficiently deliver carloads of future slot jockeys; we expect the high rollers will stick to limousines.

Citizen: Golf course protests falter before casino, NCC muscle [24 Aug 2000]
Citizen: Casino golf course worth $3M to NCC [19 Jun 1999]
The Next City: A Capital Offense

Monday, August 14, 2000

NCC-maintained house needs 400,000 in repairs

From the Citizen:

Taxpayers are on the hook for $408,000 worth of renovations and repairs to a crumbling old mansion used exclusively as the official residence for Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson's top bureaucrat.

The 10,000-square-foot brick house at the rear of Rideau Hall is so dilapidated its wooden basement floors and walls are rotting and its foundation bricks and mortar are falling apart, says the National Capital Commission.

The 14-room house, known as Rideau Cottage despite its spaciousness, is a leftover from Canada's colonial past.

Since its construction at a cost of about $5,000 in 1867, the two- storey building, originally one floor, has served as the residence for each governor general's first secretary and their families.

The NCC, responsible for the upkeep of the government's official residences, identified the need for repairs at Rideau Cottage in its 1998 10-year property development plan.

The only question we have is why did the NCC let the house fall so badly into disrepair?

Citizen: Rotting house needs $408,000 in repairs [14 Aug 2000]

Thursday, July 26, 2000

NCC causes more problems on trails than bikers

Mountain bikers are tired of being scapegoated by the NCC for trail problems caused by the NCC themselves, as this letter in the Citizen suggests:

Once again Gatineau Park director Jean-Rene Goyon and the closed circle of park administrators, have singled out mountain bikes as causing the deterioration of the trails in the park ("Protecting Ottawa's back yard." July 20).

The National Capital Commission has consistently tried to perpetuate the myth that mountain biking is causing all of the erosion while it has not publicly acknowledged the impact from any other user group.

The real reason for most trail problems is the inadequate or inappropriate maintenance of summer trails. The Citizen article fails to mention the NCC's use of tracked machinery to dig ditches along the Fortune Lane trail or the continual use of four-wheeled all-terrain vehicles to drag old telephone poles through the bush near Pine Road.

The heavy-handed approach to trail maintenance causes more problems than any pedestrian or bicycle traffic. The NCC spends a considerable amount of effort to meticulously maintain the trails for cross-county skiing, but it seemingly makes very little effort on maintenance for summer use. Virtually all the problems can be avoided with some basic trail-building techniques.

[...]Programs, such as co-operative trail maintenance with mountain bike groups, trail rotations, appropriate routing and trail maintenance have not been employed by Gatineau Park officials.

Citizen: Stop portraying mountain bikers as enemies of the wilderness [26 Jul 2000]

Wednesday, July 12, 2000

Metcalfe Lite plans fizzle

According to the Citizen, plans to demolish buildings on Sparks are being pushed back:

The federal government appears to have put off -- for at least five years -- thought of demolishing buildings and moving others to create a large urban square immediately south of Parliament Hill.

The government recently tipped its hand by offering new five- year leases to existing or prospective retail tenants on the north side of Sparks Street, the block where several buildings had been threatened with demolition.

The government never set a target date for demolition of three buildings on the north side of Sparks Street to create open space. But retailers there have lived with uncertainty for years.

The uncertainty intensified in March when the National Capital Commission confirmed what had long been suspected: It said it was considering creating a large square on the west side of Metcalfe Street, just south of the Hill.

That plan, dubbed Metcalfe Lite by its critics, would involve the demolition of three buildings on the north side of Sparks, and the moving of two heritage buildings that now stand at the north-west corner of Metcalfe and Sparks.

The two heritage buildings, which contain Canada's Four Corners gift shop and the NCC's information centre, would be moved half a block west. There, they would be re-erected next to the former U.S. embassy on Wellington Street -- which is to become a national portrait gallery.

Canada's Four Corners already has a 10-year lease, valid until 2006, that the store's operator, Jack Cook, said he believes is unbreakable.

Next door on the north side of Sparks Street, the Plaza Cafe recently obtained a five-year lease extension, valid until the end of 2004.

E.R. Fisher men's wear store, another retailer on the threatened section of Spark Street, is expected to sign a five-year lease extension shortly.

Louise Proulx, who speaks for Public Works, confirmed yesterday that the department is offering five-year leases on the north side of Sparks, "but not beyond five years."

The NCC claims it is focussing its efforts on developing the south side of the street. They are currently in the process of buying up properties at inflated prices.

Citizen: Plans for large square on Metcalfe St. fizzle [12 Jul 2000]

Thursday, July 6, 2000

NCC Climbs on Rocket Memorial Bandwagon

NCC Chair Marcel Beaudry was on hand to announce a statue of the Rocket for Confederation Boulevard (you know, that cobbled-together bunch of streets with all the globe lamps and poster collars). No doubt he's hoping some of the Rocket's popularity will rub off on the NCC. No dice, Marcel - you've got to score 50 in 50 first.

Wednesday, July 5, 2000

NCC blunders endangered bikers

The NCC isn't just incapable of town planning, they're also incapable of managing the assets they already have, as this letter to the editor of The Citizen makes clear:

Though Colonel By Drive has been closed to traffic every summer Sunday for the last 30 years, the NCC astutely decided to leave this road, south of the Pretoria Bridge, open to traffic this past Sunday in light of its decision to close other routes for the "millennium drive."

The problem is, the NCC failed to tell all the thousands of people who habitually turned up to exercise on their regular Sunday morning route. It even failed to inform many of its own organizers, who proceeded as usual to barricade neighbourhood access routes such as Clegg Street, giving the appearance that the road was closed.

However, other accesses, such as the Bronson Avenue ramp, were left wide open to traffic. Skaters had no way of knowing that the road was open to traffic, and cars had no reason to expect bikes and bladers in the middle of the road.

[...]NCC personnel "controlling" the situation were absolutely useless. Those at the Pretoria Bridge made no effort to inform skaters/bikers who carried on along Colonel By that the remaining section was open to traffic. There were no signs.

When irate citizens approached them to do something, they babbled uselessly into walkie-talkies, to no avail.

[...]What is wrong with the NCC? Last summer, its only accomplishment was to provoke dog owners by proposing a ban on unleashed dogs; the year before, it proposed a harebrained widening of Metcalfe Street, and this spring it paid too much for Sparks Street real estate.

Citizen: NCC blunders endangered bikers [5 Jul 2000]

Saturday, June 24, 2000

NCC Hires a firm to Review Issues

The NCC has hired a firm to study some of the issues that have spawned so much of the criticism of the NCC in the past, such as its secretiveness and arrogance. The irony that the Citizen had to use Access to Information requests to obtain the information is, well, ironic.

NCC documents, obtained under the Access to Information Act, reveal the ground rules for the still-incomplete study, which will attempt to get to the crux of public criticism of the controversial organization.

In addition to making board meetings public, the study is also probing the contentious issues of adding the heads of the Outaouais Alliance and the new city of Ottawa to the NCC board as well as determining the balance of planning versus development in the corporation.

Last April, the NCC commissioned Sussex Circle, a strategic advisory firm, and its noted consultant Glen Shortliffe to look at governance and the NCC.

Mr. Shortliffe, a former clerk of the Privy Council, had just finished writing a report that formed the basis for the new city of Ottawa.

According to the contract obtained through Access to Information, Sussex Circle is to be paid $64,735 by the NCC which includes GST and a 10-per-cent administration fee.

A letter from Sussex Circle to the NCC dated March 31 said work would begin April 1. The contract was signed April 17.

The contract stipulates the study must be completed by June 30. However, Mr. Shortliffe said last week his study would not be finished until late July or August.

NCC spokeswoman Diane Dupuis confirmed yesterday that Sussex Circle had been granted an extension at no penalty because the consultants had done extra work hearing opinions from community groups in the Island Park area.

The letter also said Sussex Circle would interview "selected members of the NCC board, key officials with the federal government and selected stakeholders (e.g. municipal officials and representatives in the national capital region, both in Ontario and Quebec)."

Citizen: NCC Hires a firm to Review Issues [28 June 2000]
CBC: Restructuring advisor to help NCC [11 April 2000]

NCC Behind Closed Doors

This amusing article from the Ottawa Citizen (Aug 1998) gives a brief glimpse of the deliberations of the NCC's Board of Directors. Transcripts from meetings were acquired through an access to information request. The article also provides an excellent overview of the level of NCC's power and influence on the Ottawa area.

The NCC changed its policy of taping meetings soon after the access to information request, and destroyed all existing tapes. The meetings are, of course, still not open to the public.

Citizen: Behind Closed Doors: Your National Capital Commission at Work [24 Aug 1998]
Citizen: NCC changes policy on tape recordings [26 Mar 1998]

Wednesday, June 14, 2000

Megacity Mayoral Candidate Cain Offers NCC Plan

It's the run-up to the next municipal election, and the NCC looks to be one of the issues. Claudette Cain has now released a three-point plan for reforming the NCC, following similar proposals by Jim Watson and Bob Chiarelli. She proposes open meetings, local representation on the board, and a new joint subcommittee for planning. The release does include one pointed barb, not at the NCC, but at her opponent in the upcoming election, Bob Chiarelli.

NCC Watch Opinion: Ms Cain, clearly not wanting to antagonize the NCC, is far too generous, particularly regarding their management of the greenbelt (see Greenbelt History Left to Rot, Ottawa Citizen 22 October 1999). We remain skeptical that an organization as secretive and arrogant as the NCC can be usefully reformed.

Citizen: Cain urges NCC to be more open [14 Jun 2000]
Citizen: Reform the NCC right now [31 Jan 2000]
Citizen: Bob Chiarelli's NCC reform plan [23 Mar 2000]
Citizen: What other area leaders think of the NCC [26 Mar 2000]
Citizen: A five-point plan for reform of the NCC (by Jim Watson) [13 Jun 2000]
CBC: Jim Watson's 5 point plan [9 Jun 2000]
CBC: Cain Makes Recommendations [13 Jul 2000]

Sunday, June 11, 2000

The NCC's Poster Collars

The NCC is spending $21,000 to put metal casings around utility poles, so people can put posters on the casings instead of the poles:

It is a distinctly Ottawa idea. We gave the world beavertails. The Senate filibuster. And now, the poster collar.

At least poster collar is what three levels of government have agreed to call a $300 aluminum cylinder that the National Capital Commission will soon be placing on hydro and light poles throughout the downtown core.

The poster collars were designed and manufactured in Ottawa in an attempt to "maintain the decorum and dignity of Confederation Boulevard," as NCC chairman Marcel Beaudry put it this week. The collars - a full-metal condom for utility poles - will be placed along the NCC's ceremonial route in an effort to "manage posters more effectively."

Mr. Beaudry even took time from his busy schedule to attend the unveiling of the very first collar, in front of the Government Conference Centre on Rideau Street, and he gave a speech, explaining why Ottawa should be proud of this four-foot, metal cylinder.

[...] At $300 apiece, it could cost a lot of money to protect Ottawa from the "blight" of posters -- protecting the ceremonial route, with 70 collars, is going to cost $21,000 alone -- but it seems politicians have determined the cost is justified.

It is, apparently, a lot cheaper than the going rate for a plastic bubble.

Great place to put posters advocating the abolition of the NCC.

Citizen: Only in Ottawa: A poster collar [11 Jun 2000]
NCC Watch Tombstones: Poster Collars

Tuesday, June 6, 2000

NCC to fill gap in tourist experience

The NCC plans to build a new $5 million project at Rideau Falls Park, apparently to fill some perceived gap in the tourist experience. They're just not sure how, exactly. Called "Canada and the World Pavilion," it will be about peacekeeping, development, space, you know, good stuff like that. From the CBC:

"We've been working at this project now for quite a few years. It's nice to know that it's finally becoming a reality," says Marcel Beaudry, chairman of the NCC.

Beaudry thinks the pavilion will fill a gap in tourists' experience of Ottawa.

After several delays the NCC wants to fast track construction, which is already underway. They hope to open the doors next April.

But they do offer up the following guarantee: "This is not a story on the Canadian government, this is a story on Canadians." Oh, well, that's alright then.

CBC: Canada and the World Pavilion goes underground [6 Jun 2000]
Canadian Design Build Institute: Ottawa pavilion nears completion
NCC Watch Tombstones of Waste: Canada and the World Pavilion

Friday, May 5, 2000

Beaudry defends NCC record

Chairman Beaudry has written a letter to the Citizen in response to a recent editorial, wherein he defends the NCC's record on the Greenbelt, The LeBreton Flats, The Daly Building, public consultation, and so on. His term as Chairman is up in 2006. Not soon enough.

Citizen: The NCC is committed to public involvement [5 May 2000]

Wednesday, May 3, 2000

Open the doors at the NCC

The Citizen has some suggestions for the NCC in an editorial today:

The NCC has accomplished many things with our money, from the creation of Gatineau Park to improving the appearance of downtown Ottawa. But its relations with some citizens have soured. Land expropriations for big NCC projects such as the Greenbelt were a sore point with many local farmers, especially when some of that property was later considered "surplus" by the commission and put up for sale. Many of the commission's redevelopment projects, such as tearing down LeBreton Flats and the old Daly department store, fuelled skepticism about the commission's ability to finish a job. For many years, the NCC didn't even abide by development processes set out by local governments. Legally, it didn't have to.

Through it all, the secret deliberations of the commission generated intense suspicion, reinforced recently when the commission quietly confirmed that it had been given $40 million in federal cash to buy buildings along Sparks Street. (This fits into the prime minister's hope for a better view of Parliament Hill from downtown.) Many now ask what the commission is: a planner or a developer.

The only way to answer and build local trust is with openness. Meetings held in public will reassure citizens that the commission's work is legitimate. They will also allow city councillors to thoroughly air development issues with NCC planners. We might even start talking about a single development plan for the capital region, covering both sides of the Ottawa River, rather than separate plans and backroom chats. Public meetings will put questions of conflict of interest and proper processes into the open.

Chairman Beaudry and his enablers on the NCC board have been consistently hostile to the idea of open meetings.

Citizen: Open the doors at the NCC [3 May 2000]
Citizen: The public makes more noise than they should [24 Aug 1998]

Saturday, April 8, 2000

Shortliffe to assess NCC's relations with cities

The NCC announced it has hired Glen Shortliffe to assess the NCC's relationship with the municipalities. Shortliffe advised the provincial government to merge Ottawa-Carleton's 12 municipalities into one city.

Mr. Shortliffe's appointment comes just weeks after Nepean Mayor Mary Pitt called for the abolition of the NCC, saying its functions overlap with that of municipalities.

Many other municipal leaders stopped short of called for the NCC's abolition. However, those who favoured reforming the NCC included Ottawa-Carleton Regional Chair Bob Chiarelli, who urged more openness and increased representation to dispel public distrust of the commission.

Citizen: Shortliffe to assess NCC's relations with cities [8 Apr 2000]

Friday, March 31, 2000

Inept NCC flops again with Daly site

Citizen columnist Randall Denley sums up the lack of progress at the Daly site:

It appears as if the National Capital Commission has done it again. After a process more exhaustive than the one used to pick the Pope, the NCC has chosen a developer for the Daly site that isn't going to develop the Daly site.

Canadian Gateway Development is trying to put the best possible face on the fact that nothing is actually happening with its hotel/ aquarium, but it's difficult not to think that this project is going to be floating belly up at the top of the fish tank soon. Although Gateway was chosen as the developer in June of 1998, it admitted this week that it still doesn't have a hotel deal tied down. Without that, the project is going nowhere.

How can that be when the NCC spent a year supposedly making sure that the developer had everything arranged? Since the hotel occupies the space from the second to the ninth floors, it leaves kind of a big gap.

And get this. The NCC signed off on the details last July but the developer still hasn't signed the lease. How's that for a sign of corporate commitment?

[...]Everyone thinks the Daly site requires something special, but the list of special things that will pay for themselves is so short as to be non-existent. Would it be too simple just to sell the land to CP Hotels so the Chateau Laurier can put up an annex on the site?

From the outset, this has been a project that brought to mind the phrase "desperately cobbled together." An aquarium in the basement, a store on the ground floor and a hotel above. At least it would have been unique.

Gateway might still come up with a plan for a boring office building. How would that sit with the bold and imaginative NCC, now so invigorated with federal cash that it's ready to buy and demolish buildings on Sparks Street?

"We're disappointed. We'd have liked to see things happen sooner than this, obviously," NCC spokeswoman Diane Dupuis says.

The lease is for 66 years. Good thing. If it ever gets signed, that might just allow time to break ground.

Citizen: Inept NCC flops again with Daly site [31 Mar 2000]

Thursday, March 2, 2000

NCC confirms Metcalfe Lite project

The NCC released its grand plan for the capital yesterday:

The National Capital Commission yesterday confirmed what has long been suspected: It is considering moving heritage buildings to create more open space near the Parliament Buildings.

It's the plan known as Metcalfe Lite, creation of a two-block- long square beside Metcalfe Street, immediately south of Parliament Hill.

It would mean dismantling two heritage buildings standing on the west side of Metcalfe between Wellington and Sparks streets.

The buildings, which now contain Four Corners gift shop and the NCC's information centre, would be re-erected on the western edge of the new square, next to another heritage building, which until recently was the U.S. embassy on Wellington Street.

[...]The block to the south of Sparks Street would be a new development, with a 150-unit luxury apartment building at the corner of Metcalfe and Queen streets.

Marcel Beaudry, chairman of the NCC, estimated it would cost less than $1 million to move the two heritage buildings. He said they would replace buildings of little heritage value, including the former Birks jewelry story, on Sparks Street.

The NCC has already decided to create a square on Metcalfe between Sparks and Queen, and has embarked on a $40 million buying spree to purchase all properties on that block, all the way over to O'Connor Street. It hopes the private sector will pay to develop the block, which would include a large office tower at the corner of Queen and O'Connor streets.

[...]Plans for an urban square on Metcalfe Street are among seven major developments on or close to Parliament Hill that the NCC is planning.

The others are:

  • Development of an entire city block on the south side of Sparks Street.
  • Development of LeBreton Flats, just west of Parliament Hill, to include parkland, public buildings and attractions, businesses and houses.
  • Development of Victoria and Chaudiere islands in the Ottawa River, near Parliament Hill, to include an aboriginal centre on Victoria Island.
  • Creation of a park on what is now an industrial site on the Hull waterfront, directly opposite the Parliament Buildings.
  • Construction of a lookout on Parliament Hill over the Ottawa River, and putting in steps or a cable car to provide river access.
  • Construction of a new road linking Ottawa with Gatineau Park, via the Alexandra Bridge.

Together, these projects are expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, shared by government and the private sector.

Citizen: The NCC's 'significant world capital' [2 Mar 2000]

Wednesday, March 1, 2000

Freeway through Gatineau Park delayed

The McConnell-Laramee highway extension has been delayed:

A planned new "urban boulevard" from Ottawa to Gatineau Park is delayed indefinitely by environmental concerns and feuding among communities in or near its path.

The federal and Quebec governments have agreed to evenly split the $32-million cost of the boulevard. It would run from the Alexandra Bridge through commercial and residential sections of Hull to a point near the park's southern boundary.

Quebec Transport Minister Guy Chevrette had hoped work on the boulevard would begin last year and be completed by late 2001. But the start is delayed at least until this fall to permit further study of its environmental impact, according to federal officials.

Pierre Dube, chief urban planner for the National Capital Commission, which strongly favours construction of the boulevard, does not expect the road to be completed until 2004. And he bases that estimate on the hope environmental approval will come in time for work to begin this fall.

"First we have to deal with the environmental issues, he says. "Then we have to carry out major engineering projects, including a viaduct over marshland in Gatineau Park." The viaduct will cost $12 million, or more than one-third the total cost of the new road.

[...]Plans for the new boulevard have existed for almost 30 years. In the early 1970s, dozens of modest houses in central Hull were expropriated and demolished to clear a path for the road.

The demolitions created a wasteland the width of a city block, stretching eight blocks from St. Joseph Boulevard in the heart of downtown Hull to Promenade du Lac des Fees on the edge of Gatineau Park.

Proponents of the planned boulevard say anyone who bought property in the area in the last 25 years knew a busy road would eventually be built through their neighbourhood.

The planned boulevard is a key element in the National Capital Commission's proposals for creating a more beautiful and inviting capital region. NCC chairman Marcel Beaudry says he wants it to be part of his legacy.

Some critics of the plan have suggested a connection between construction of the boulevard and the NCC's decision last year to turn over part of Leamy Lake Park in Hull for a commercial golf course.

The Quebec government will create the golf course next to the Hull Casino to encourage tourists to combine a golfing vacation with gambling in the casino, also owned by the province.

Mr. Beaudry says there is no connection between the NCC's decision to hand over land for the golf course and Quebec's agreement to go ahead with the new boulevard.

A stretch of the planned urban boulevard already exists. It is St. Laurent Boulevard, running from the Alexandra Bridge west to Highway 50 in central Hull.

Mr. Dube said plans call for a new three-kilometre stretch to be built, extending the boulevard west through Hull and across the southern part of Gatineau Park to Mountain Road.

The new road would link up with the highway that runs from Aylmer to Mountain Road. The new boulevard would connect the highway from Aylmer with Highway 50, leading to Montreal, and provide a shortcut through Hull.

The NCC says the planned road is an urban boulevard, not a parkway. As such, it says it has no objection to trucks using the boulevard.

Citizen: Boulevard plan divides Quebec neighbours [1 Mar 2000]

Thursday, February 24, 2000

The Senator, the Coffee Table Book, and the NCC

Here's an amusing exchange from the Debates of the Senate (Hansard; 24 Feb 2000). The Hon. Marjory LeBreton makes some good points about the NCC's profligacy, secretiveness, and penchant for back room dealing. We'll try to get a copy of A Place for Canadians, A Story of the National Capital Commission and post a review.

The Ottawa Citizen article to which the senator refers is from 24 February 2000, and bears all the hallmarks of a typical NCC story (i.e., grandiose plans developed in secret and back room dealing).

Senate Hansard: 2nd Session, 36th Parliament, Volume 138, Issue 32 [24 Feb 2000]

Monday, February 7, 2000

Marcel Beaudry, man to watch

Marcel Beaudry, Chairman of the NCC, is one of The Ottawa Business Journal's "people to watch in 2000." We don't dispute that assessment. The article provides a good overview of what he has planned for the future.

OBJ: People to watch 2000: Marcel Beaudry, NCC [7 Feb 2000]

Thursday, February 3, 2000

What the NCC Views as Secret

This article from the Citizen reveals a little of how the NCC thinks. It features some sample questions and what the NCC considers to be appropriate answers. What that means, of course, is stonewalling and evasions, and a singular reliance on the phrase "future capital needs" - the catch-all they use to justify their zaniest plans and biggest mistakes.

Citizen: Behind Closed Doors: What the NCC views as secret [3 Feb 2000]