Past News: 2004
Give credit to Gatineau park's founder
Gatineau Park historian Jean-Paul Murray writes in the Citizen that the NCC is still misrepresenting the history of the park:
And the just-released study into the park's origins conducted for the National Capital Commission by two Quebec university professors perpetuates the misrepresentation of that story.
[...]The NCC has misrepresented the park's story for 45 years. The professors wrap the issue in the thickest fog of sophistry and ignore the facts they present by concluding that "circumstances" and a "series of actions by various individuals" created the park, for which they say they can't "provide the date of founding and the name of the founder." If Sparks did more than anyone else to create the park, as they demonstrate, then why can't he be considered the founder? If money for purchasing the first parkland was voted in the Commons on June 29, 1938, then why can't this be considered the founding date?
The claim that everyone and no one was responsible for creating the park is a cop-out and betrays the professors' collectivist bias. They reveal that bias when they downplay the impact individuals can have on society, saying that "regardless of their influence, [individuals] generally hold a power which they wield collectively." The spirit of this statement warps the study by forcing the spurious conclusion that many individuals share equal responsibility for creating the park.
[...]Credit for the idea of Gatineau Park belongs to Frederick Todd, who proposed it in his 1903 plan for the national capital. The idea was advocated as well by the plans that followed it: the Holt Report in 1915 and the Cauchon Report in 1922. Although these documents recommended creating a park in the Gatineau Hills, they spoke of it only in the briefest and most general of terms. None of them provided blueprints for the park or action plans for setting it up.
[...]When the story of Gatineau Park's creation is stripped of its various myths, the only two men left standing are Mackenzie King, who had to have his arm twisted, and Percy Sparks, who did the twisting. According to the Ottawa Journal of April 12, 1949, King essentially "set the seal of approval on plans [...] submitted to him by far-sighted and public-spirited men of the Woodlands Preservation League." And, as I've demonstrated elsewhere, the leading force behind the league, and Gatineau Park, was Percy Sparks, who did most of the researching, organizing, lobbying and designing that led to its creation and initial development. Why was Percy Sparks was omitted from all previous histories of Gatineau Park?
Citizen: Give credit to Gatineau park's founder [22 Dec 2004]
Don't busk on the Canal
More unnecessary enforcement of pointless regulations by the NCC. This time, it was a busker busted on the Canal, as the Citizen reports:
Almost two years ago, Carl was busted for soliciting without a permit while playing the banjo on the ice of the Rideau Canal. He was on skates at the time. That might sound like a comedy scene from Christmas with the Kranks, but it was only the National Capital Commission at work.
He was found guilty, but won a partial victory on appeal last January. The ruling handed down by Justice James Fontana said the NCC has the right to regulate buskers on NCC property. But it also said the NCC cannot make the rules so stringent that buskers are, in effect, banned.
Carl argues that the NCC is not living up to Judge Fontana's ruling by charging $100 for an annual permit, and subjecting buskers to such tight restrictions that they can't make much money performing on NCC property.
With his legal agent, Kevin Kinsella, Carl attended the NCC's annual meeting in early December in hopes of reaching a compromise deal within the framework, and the spirit, of Judge Fontana's ruling.
"I told them Carl had a ruling from a judge that he could go on NCC property to busk and that NCC had a right to regulate that. But they had to allow him to pick his banjo because it's protected under the Constitution. And they couldn't make the regulations too onerous or the fees too large.
"Immediately, I was told by the chair that it would be put on the next day's meeting agenda for the board. At that point, I asked if either Carl or I could attend. And, of course, I was turned down flat.
"I had received a letter from their lawyer saying $100 was a reasonable fee for Carl to be able to go and busk. Frankly, a lot of cities are free or charge $25 a year."
[...]Adds Mr. Kinsella, "Carl is anxious for a response that's for sure one way or the other. If they respond in the positive, then we can work with them. If they respond in the negative, then we'll take them to court."
The NCC is in the process of writing to Mr. Kinsella, NCC spokeswoman Eva Schacherl said yesterday. It sounds like it won't be a letter Carl and Mr. Kinsella will enjoy reading.
"We're not looking at any change in our policy," she said.
"We actually don't charge anything in the winter for a busking permit on the Rideau Canal. We do require people to come get a permit so that we have some way of managing numbers.
"It sets out all the conditions for them, including what areas they can busk in and time limits. It is set to certain times, I think typically between 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays."
The restrictions are necessary for crowd control and safety reasons, she said.
Citizen: Want a two-year fight with the NCC? [11 Dec 2004]
LeBreton: "beige coma"
Citizen writer Kelly Egan reports on their plan for LeBreton Flats:
Mr. Beasley, the much lauded planning director from the City of Vancouver and chairman of the NCC's design advisory body, was more telling in his remarks. "These are distinguished architects who have done great work, and they will do a good job. We'll discover the poetry as we go along."
Right. Let us know if it rhymes.
The Crown corporation will help, he added, by possibly loosening guidelines on colour and materials, thus helping the conceptual vision snap out of its beige coma.
Now, in a national competition among prestige builders and hot- shot architects, you might skip over the bid that lacks variety, vibrant colours and visual poetry and move on to the next bid, hoping ... Oh. Right. There was no other bidder. Game, set, and match to Claridge.
So the commission is doing the next best thing. It saves face by approving the ho-hum Claridge plan, thus not rendering irrelevant its tortured selection process, but publicly declares it will watch the builder like a hawk, whip in hand.
Maybe these guys aren't asleep after all.
It is to wonder, however, what the NCC is doing in the housing business at all.
Its mission, as stated in the National Capital Act and in that Hallmark version they like to trot out (a meeting place for Canadians; a living textbook for communicating Canada to Canadians; a place where Canada's treasures, natural and cultural, are safeguarded in perpetuity), says nothing about building houses for people who live in Ottawa.
This is precisely the kind of project that has no national scope or value. And, frankly, it is the kind of thing they're not very good at.
Why, for instance, would the commission take as glorious a site as the old Daly site (Rideau and Sussex) and put condos on it?
Citizen: Commission's LeBreton plan is bland and no one seems to care much [3 Dec 2004]
LeBreton deal sealed: "it's somewhat disappointing that it is so unimaginative."
The NCC has approved the winning bid to develop the first parcel of the LeBreton Flats. As it happens, it was the only bid. And all the hand waving the NCC could muster can't disguise the blandness of the proposal or the laughable failure of the NCC's own selection process. "Both the advisory committee and the board concluded that we are fortunate to receive a high-quality proposal that has met all the criteria set out during an exhaustive process," Chairman Beaudry said. Yup, nobody separates the wheat from the chaff like the NCC.
Some quotes from the Citizen's coverage:
It was the only proposal the NCC received despite a national competition. Claridge has submitted an offer of $8,002,220. The minimum acceptable bid was $7,500,000.
"The fact that Claridge is the only developer to emerge from a national competition puts them in the driver's seat and places the NCC at a distinct disadvantage," said James McKellar, director of the property development program at the York University school of business in Toronto.
[...]"Dan Hanganu is a very talented architect," said Carleton University architecture professor Janine Debanne. "I think they've worked thoughtfully within the parameters of the NCC master plan. Although I think they would have done something even better if they were not bound to that."
Archie Campbell, president of the Dalhousie Community Association, said he was disappointed at the choice of Claridge. "We think many of the units are too small for families and the buildings look out of character with the neighbourhood."
Councillor Diane Holmes said she was happy to see something happening on LeBreton Flats. "It's going to be a major benefit to Ottawa. Although it's somewhat disappointing that it is so unimaginative."
Area resident Lynn Griffiths said the process was flawed because it brought just one bidder. "This is the last big piece of real estate in Ottawa. I think it's going to be a cold wasteland. Why did it not go back to tender?"
Another bit of superlative development from the NCC.
Citizen: LeBreton design gets NCC green light [2 Dec 2004]
NCC Annual General Meeting
Harangue the NCC in person at their next Annual General PR Exercise, Wednesday, December 1, at the Westin on Colonel By Drive, Confederation Room. Safely content-free, the meeting does include a 90 minute question and answer session, so head on down and tell 'em we sent you.
Gatineau Park written comments due November 30
Last chance to comment on the NCC's latest Master Plan for Gatineau Park. For more information, see the CPAWS Gatineau Park page.
NCC ignores its park policy
Andrew McDermott of the New Woodlands Preservation League writes in the Citizen:
The Gatineau Park Master Plan review process is an exercise in smoke and mirrors designed to cloud the real issue, which is the National Capital Commission's failure to administer its own land- management policy for the park.
While the NCC raises the ire of local citizens by talking about restricting access to Gatineau Park and charging user fees, it sells off chunks of the park and abets the proliferation of new residences within it.
The NCC's 1990 Gatineau Park Master Plan claimed that private properties and residences are inconsistent with the park's zoning and mandate, and that a long-term program for purchasing them should be set up. However, between 1992 and 2002, the agency sold 372.37 acres of land in the park and allowed the construction of 65 new residences within its boundaries -- in the municipality of Chelsea alone.
Since the NCC has flouted its own 1990 policy, how can we trust it to honour its 2004 Gatineau Park Master Plan, which advocates the gradual purchase of private properties?
Citizen: NCC ignores its park policy [19 Nov 2004]
NCC sues City of Ottawa
The NCC is suing the City of Ottawa, claiming some land in Gloucester was contaminated by an improperly maintained city dump.
NCC says its business is open enough
The NCC continues to fight any move to reform their operations, particularly when it comes to transparency. The Citizen reports today (link, expires in seven days) on the NCC's response to a Treasury Board review, acquired through access to information:
Crown corporations do not need new policies or legislation to create more transparency, the National Capital Commission told a Treasury Board review.
The NCC's position -- which, if adopted, would allow it to keep its board meetings closed -- was revealed in a Treasury Board questionnaire to Crown corporations obtained by the Citizen through access to information. Treasury Board is reviewing Crown corporation governance following the sponsorship scandal.
[...]However, by shutting the door on new policies or legislation, the NCC is dismissing long-standing demands by many area citizens and groups to open the Crown corporation's board meetings to the public.
Those demands extend all the way to the Prime Minister's Office. During the recent federal election campaign, Ottawa Centre Liberal candidate Richard Mahoney, a confidant of Paul Martin, said he was told by the prime minister that NCC board meetings should be open.
NCC spokeswoman Anne-Sophie Lawless said the corporation is bound by Treasury Board guidelines that recommend board meetings be closed.
Treasury Board recently reiterated those guidelines to the NCC, Ms. Lawless said.
[...]However, her statement conflicts with previous access to information documents obtained by the Citizen in August.
In those papers, Treasury Board secretary Jim Judd said the NCC does not necessarily need to adhere to those guidelines.
"Treasury Board guidelines put a premium on the confidentiality of board's proceedings in order to encourage free and honest discussions among board members," Mr. Judd wrote.
"However, the guidelines (they are not laws or rules) do not prevent the NCC or any other organization to be more forthcoming and transparent in the way they consult with and report to stakeholders," Mr. Judd said.
The NCC likes things exactly the way they are, and won't be opening its board meetings unless Treasury Board changes its guidelines for Crown corporations. The NCC is equally reluctant to split the functions of CEO and Chairman of the Board, which Treasury Board has also been considering.
Citizen: NCC says its business is open enough [13 Nov 2004]
NCC board circles the wagons
Citizen columnist Randall Denley reports on NCC Board meeting minutes obtained via access to information, showing the board's response to heat the NCC was taking in the media earlier this year:
The minutes of NCC meetings from earlier in the year show what our MPs are up against.
At the time, Beaudry was getting a lot of pressure from the media and from federal Liberal candidates, who were calling for NCC reform. He responded with an enthusiastic marshalling of his political supporters, including his board.
On Feb. 2, a 45-minute conference call meeting was held, led by board vice-chairwoman Heather Chiasson. She moved a motion of support, making direct reference to Citizen coverage "demanding that Marcel Beaudry either step down or be replaced ... claiming that under his leadership the organization has been mismanaged and remains secretive." The facts reveal the opposite, the motion asserted.
The meeting to discuss the secretiveness was, of course, closed.
Chiasson's motion referred to Beaudry's "numerous successes," then went on to enumerate 36 of his major ones, going back to 1992. Who could have prepared such a complete, and completely self- serving, list of his accomplishments? The motion noted that the list is not limited to these high points.
In fairness, we must add that the one-contender design competition at LeBreton Flats has since added yet another zircon to Beaudry's crown.
Simply reading the motion must have consumed all the time available for the 45-minute meeting. There is no record of any discussion, and the board adopted the motion unanimously.
The good news is that these meeting minutes, obtained under the Access to Information Act by Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin, are probably the longest ever made public. A typical NCC minute says something like "the motion was approved."
Chiasson dutifully conveyed the board's support to the public in a Citizen letter to the editor. A similar motion at the NCC design committee led to a fawning opinion article by a committee member, who called for an extension of Beaudry's term.
The NCC board also approved a motion to consider open meetings and splitting the jobs of chairman and CEO at its next board meeting. That was perhaps a nod to the malcontents and ill-informed critics of Beaudry, who included then-defence minister David Pratt, Liberal candidate Richard Mahoney, NDP candidate Broadbent and NCC board member Eric Denhoff, who put forward the motion.
Subsequent events, also in NCC minutes, show there is a critical distinction between considering a matter, and actually doing something. Both open meetings and splitting the two top jobs were deferred. The board did instruct Beaudry to meet with his nominal boss, the heritage minister, and raise issues about open meetings. The NCC doesn't want to be treated differently than any other Crown corporation, the motion says, but it is prepared to work with the government. Translated, that means we don't want open meetings unless every other Crown corporation has them, but we might accept them if you make us. Denhoff dissented. Matter closed.
Don't let anyone say that the NCC board is unwilling to discuss open meetings.
NCC Watch: Area Liberals rally around NCC [6 Feb 2004]
Local MPs form committee
A group of seven Ottawa MPs, representing the three major parties, have begun meeting to discuss local issues, and apparently the NCC is high on their agenda.
NCC Court Challenge website
The challenge to the NCC's dog regulations continues to wind its way through the courts. The challengers now have a web site - The Underdog.
Gatineau Park users take aim at NCC
The NCC heard from the public at its presentation of its latest Gatineau Park master plan. The plan calls for more user fees, less car traffic and more conservation areas to help preserve the park's ecosystems. In the process they will be banning or curtailing, somewhat arbitrarily, climbers and snowmobilers. This continues a trend of scapegoating park users, including mountain bikers, to distract from the NCC's own failures in managing the park. The NCC is, after all, planning to build a freeway through it, and recently finished building the Mackenzie King Estate access road in what was, for the NCC, record time.
Citizen: Gatineau Park users take aim at NCC [28 Oct 2004]
Lost chances on the Flats
The Citizen sums up the NCC's bungled LeBreton Flats development:
Claridge may be a fine developer, but it's hard to see how the project lives up to the NCC's original vision for the Flats, the one it was acting upon when it expropriated hundreds of Ottawa homes and businesses starting in 1962.
The rough-and-tumble Flats were seized for the westward expansion of the Parliamentary precinct; the working-class residents were asked to sacrifice for the growth of Ottawa's glory as a national capital. Some sort of government complex was envisioned, or perhaps a truly grand monument.
The new war museum sort of fulfills that ambition, but it's on a relatively small part of the Flats. Survivors of the expropriation might be justifiably outraged that it turns out the government took away their homes largely to make way for nicer ones, after a 40- year pause.
None of this is Claridge's fault, of course, for with its proposal the company has only done as the NCC asked. It's telling, however, that nobody but Claridge wanted to come to play. Downtown is enjoying a building boom, with major condominium projects underway in Centretown and Sandy Hill. Yet LeBreton Flats might be the best piece of real estate in Ottawa; if only one builder is interested in developing it, something's wrong.
The two companies that bailed out of the proposal process, Minto and Alliance Prevel of Montreal, aren't saying why, but we can surmise that the conditions the NCC placed on the project were such that they couldn't see a way to make enough profit to make a proposal worthwhile. And never mind the many other developers that never even expressed an interest.
The commission, having abandoned the idea of a great public amenity on the Flats, needed at least to insist that the new buildings be well-designed and well-built. But there's a difference between being demanding and forcing the winning proponent into a straitjacket. The commission's micro-management, down to what colours the builders could use, must have been a factor.
Citizen: Lost chances on the Flats [22 Oct 2004]
NCC happy with 1 bid to develop LeBreton
After much hullabaloo (and 40 years) about the national significance of its plans to redevelop LeBreton Flats, the NCC got all of one bid to do the job.
The startling news that only one developer has submitted a proposal to create a new residential area on LeBreton Flats points to a failure of the National Capital Commission selection process and casts doubt on the outcome, say observers.
Claridge Homes of Ottawa, working with Montreal architects Dan Hanganu and Daoust Lestage Inc., was the only firm to submit a conceptual design proposal and offer to purchase a 4.4-hectare site by last Thursday's deadline.
"The only good thing is that two superb architects are involved," said Ottawa architecture critic Rhys Phillips. "But in the end this is no way to build a national capital."
Two shortlisted firms, Alliance Prevel of Montreal and Minto of Ottawa, failed to submit proposals. "We're very disappointed," said NCC spokeswoman Eva Schacherl. "It would seem it was a business decision."
Bob Ridley, vice-president of Minto suburban communities, said he was unable to disclose the reason because of an NCC confidentiality agreement. Representatives of Prevel could not be reached for comment.
Despite the setback, the NCC is proceeding with a public consultation meeting on Wednesday. The federal agency plans to evaluate the Claridge proposal and announce on Nov. 30 whether it is accepted.
"One proposal means there's a flaw in the process," says James McKellar, director of the property development program at the York University school of business in Toronto.
"In today's market if you have a good product, you should have multiple bidders," said Mr. McKellar, who in 1989 designed the "agora" concept for the Flats, which the NCC has spent 15 years developing.
"It's a bit embarrassing to get only one bid. It seems that they were driven more by an ideology than a business case."
He believes the project should be abandoned. "I'd say you're back to square one. You have to redesign the product. You took the wrong thing to the market and the market clearly sent a message."
Curry Wood, NCC vice-president's of capital planning and real asset management, put a positive spin on the situation.
"We're very pleased that at the end of a rigorous process that we have a proponent," he said. "It is an endorsement of the process and the trouble and effort we went to.
"We don't have specific reasons why the others didn't submit," he added. "This proponent made a tremendous effort. We have an obligation to move forward in good faith."
Citizen: Only one builder wants to develop LeBreton [16 Oct 2004]
NCC to restrict use of Gatineau Park
Is that before or after they build the freeway through it?
The NCC will hold two meetings about its latest master plan: Wednesday 27 Oct at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, and Thursday 28 Oct at the Canadian Museum of Nature. Written comments will be accepted up to Nov 30.
CBC: NCC to restrict use of Gatineau Park [15 Oct 2004]
NCC seeks proposals for Sparks Street development
The National Capital Commission has put out a call for tenders to redevelop two more properties ('Canlands A') on Sparks Street, the former Centre Theatre at 108-166, and a bank building at 106. The proposed complex would include four residential floors on Sparks Street and 15 residential floors on Queen Street.
NCC selling the rest of Moffatt Farm
The NCC is selling its final 10 acres at Moffatt Farm, to be developed for 133 homes.
OBJ: NCC seeks proposals for Sparks Street development [22 Oct 2004]
The NCC swims against the tide
The Citizen tackles the NCC's ban on swimming in Gatineau Park:
The National Capital Commission never seems to miss an opportunity to raise the ire of the people it is supposed to be serving. This time, it's the NCC's continuing attempt to turn our region into a model capital, with visitors to Gatineau Park being told they can't swim in the park because there are no lifeguards on duty.
Model, in this case, doesn't mean an example for other cities to follow, but a carefully constructed replica of a real city intended for display, not for real people to actually occupy and use. The commission is in love with parks in the abstract, which explains why, if any particular Canadian is keen to have fun in any particular NCC park, the conservation officers come out.
The NCC's difficulty with seeing Ottawa and Gatineau as functioning cities and Canadians as real people takes many forms. There are its Canada Day concerts, designed around the government's idea of a good time. But the problem is most visible in the commission's fetish for pristine parkland.
The land it controls by local waterways are virtually free of the taint of commerce, so you can scarcely buy a bite to eat or a drink by the Rideau Canal or along the Ottawa River. Dogs aren't allowed anywhere near the water, either. The commission closes its "recreational" pathways at will and often without warning, operating under the fiction that nobody ever uses them to get to a destination.
The message is clear at the Gatineau Park beaches. The NCC stopped posting lifeguards on Labour Day, and never mind the nice weather, the water is now officially off-limits. You're not even allowed to swim at your own risk, according to the signs.
The NCC cites an unclear Quebec provincial rule as justification, but it's more likely that the commission just can't abide the thought of unsupervised, unregulated fun. If only it could relax and let its hair down once in a while, or at least abide such behaviour in others, the NCC would go a long way toward solving its public- image problem.
Citizen: The NCC swims against the tide [18 Oct 2004]
NCC to raise hospital rent
Nepean Carleton MP Pierre Poilievre is demanding that the NCC sell land currently leased by the Queensway-Carleton Hospital to the hospital for one dollar. Because the hospital's lease with the NCC stipulates that it must pay 6.5% of the value of the land, Queensway-Carleton's rent will increase from the current $23,000 to $3.4 million when the lease comes up for renewal in 2013. Hospital chairman Jeff Polowin noted that the rent would bankrupt the hospital. Supporters of Mr Poilievre's plan noted that the Pineview Golf Club, also situated on NCC land, pays only a dollar a year in rent. The NCC's response was that the hospital's rent "would be substantially less than half" of $3.4 million.
CFRA: Tory Claims NCC Will Hike Rent [25 Oct 2004]
CPAWS renews campaign to protect Gatineau Park
The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society is renewing its campaign to get Gatineau Park legal protection similar to that of national and provincial parks. Currently, there is no law preventing the National Capital Commission (NCC) from logging or inappropriately developing the park or selling off park property. "One of the greatest threats to the park is the ongoing destruction and fragmentation of habitat by roads, such as the access road constructed last year through the Mackenzie King Estate, the recently approved McConnell-Laramee boulevard, and the proposed Deschenes highway which would cut through the park near Pink Lake."
Treasury Board reviewing Crown Corporation governance
According to a Treasury Board briefing note obtained by The Citizen via Access to Information, a federal review of Crown corporation governance may recommend splitting the positions of NCC chair and CEO. The document suggests that Beaudry, who holds both positions, could be replaced as chair. The document also notes that the Treasury Board guidelines that the NCC uses to rule out any opening of NCC board meetings are just, erm, guidelines - "The NCC has all the authority it needs to manage its own affairs including being more transparent in its relationship with citizens and shareholders."
Spokespeople for both Treasury Board and the PMO were quick to play down the idea that any sort of action might be taken, ever.
Citizen: Beaudry's job threatened by review [30 Aug 2004]
NCC agrees to LeBreton affordable housing
The NCC and the city have struck a deal on the affordable housing requirement for the LeBreton Flats.
CBC: NCC agrees to LeBreton affordable housing [13 Aug 2004]
Pot plants in Gatineau Park
The NCC says it has not been able to find the plants; the man who reported the plants says the NCC hasn't contacted him for help with that.
CBC: Pot-growing operation in Gatineau Park [13 Aug 2004]
NCC Declares Westboro Beach land surplus
The NCC has declared more of its greenspace, expropriated decades ago, as "surplus." The Westboro Beach Community Association discovered, through an access to information request, that the NCC has declared all the greenspace along the north end of Churchill and Selby, and the west side of Atlantis as surplus. The NCC even provided a helpful map of the preferred option for development, which includes 33 homes and 31 townhouses. The development would look out onto the Ottawa River Parkway.
The area concerned is just 'round the corner from where, in April 2002, the NCC forced a homeowner to demolish his newly built home on Lochaber, also backing onto the Parkway, because it was built within nine metres of the fenceline with NCC property. The case went before the Ontario Superior Court where, in dismissing the respondent's claim to save the house, Judge Chilcott expressed concern that "if the cross-application was granted, it may open a floodgate of violations in the future."
Westboro Beach Community Association: Selby Plains/Atlantis Woods notice [PDF]
Further to their election campaign to find out the opinions of candidates vis a vis the NCC, the NCCPD has provided a handy summary of the victors and how they responded. The good news is, of those who responded (7 of 11), all believe some reform is in order. This is quite a contrast from the last batch of area MPs, who unwaveringly supported Marcel Beaudry. Not coincidentally, three of the four who did not respond to the NCCPD were signatories to a letter of support for Beaudry published in the Citizen in 2000. Hopefully with new blood in parliament, Chairman Beaudry will no longer get a free ride.
Official residences 'rusting out'
The Citizen reports today (article, link expires in 7 days) that the NCC burned through its 10-year, $31.4-million renovation fund for official residences in only five years, and is asking for another $32.7 million until 2009. The properties include 24 Sussex Drive, Rideau Hall, Harrington Lake and Stornoway. The Citizen acquired a letter from Chairman Beaudry to the Prime Minister's Office dated December 15, 2003, through an access to information request. The buildings were transferred from Public Works Canada to the NCC in 1987, and according to Beaudry needed much repair at that time, but no money came with the transfer. Beaudry defended the NCC's record, citing construction cost inflation, new occupational health codes, new environmental standards (for decades old buildings?), and increased demands, including a doubling of staff for Rideau Hall, as reasons for burning through the cash.
Citizen: Official residences 'rusting out' [17 Jul 2004]
Flats developers getting nervous
The Citizen reports today (article, link expires in 7 days) that the three firms bidding to develop part of the LeBreton Flats are "rethinking their interest in the National Capital Commission project following unexpected new requirements for low-income housing and a minimum bid for the land." It seems the NCC neglected to mention they would be setting a minimum bid.
Three development teams competing to build a new community on LeBreton Flats are rethinking their interest in the National Capital Commission project following unexpected new requirements for low- income housing and a minimum bid for the land.
"We're evaluating the impact of the changes," said Jonathan Sigler, co-president of Prevel, a Montreal developer. "It could have a serious impact."
Mr. Sigler said his firm has postponed work on the project until he learns the minimum asking price, which the NCC plans to disclose to developers within two weeks. The project involves buying a 4.4- hectare site and building 800 residential units and retail space.
"There are some intriguing moves that might happen if the number is too high," said Ottawa architect Barry Hobin, who is working with Ottawa developer Minto.
"Like, 'I'm sorry we're not bidding. Sorry, this doesn't meet any expectations'."
[...]In new documents related to the competition, the NCC recently informed developers that it is undertaking an independent appraisal to establish market value for the site.
The market value will be used to create a minimum price that the NCC can accept in an offer to purchase, comparable to a minimum bid in a public auction.
This announcement took Mr. Sigler by surprise, since earlier documents did not mention a minimum bid. "The price was supposed to be set by the bidder," he said.
"We always saw the price as the variable in the whole equation," added Neil Malhotra, vice-president of Claridge Homes. "We are being asked to do a lot of thing which are not normally asked for."
Mr. McCourt expressed surprise yesterday at the developers' concerns. "We did state we were looking for fair market value. What we've added now is that fair market value will mean X dollars."
[...]Mr. Hobin said he appreciated being told the NCC's financial objectives.
"If their expectations are wrong, a number of teams will just put down their pencils," he said. "Some people have suggested the value might be a dollar by the time you add in all of the adds-on they want."
Developers would do well to be wary considering the NCC's past record with such sites as the Daly Building.
Citizen: LeBreton developers balk at new rules [16 Jul 2004]
Wait for bike path detour signs over
Path closes April 5, detour signs erected June 26. Not much we can add to this one.
OttawaStart: Wait for bike path detour signs over [6 Jul 2004]
NCC caught in political crossfire
The Citizen notes how NCC governance has become an election issue:
For years, Ottawa residents have demanded more say and openness in how the agency operates, but the NCC has resisted, arguing it is a national institution, accountable to all Canadians.
The battles between the NCC and Ottawa citizens have gone on for more than a decade, but the commission has only become an election issue now because Ottawans see an opportunity for real change. In the past, Liberal MPs were the NCC's strongest advocates and defenders. Without political allies in the government, it was futile to mount any serious challenge against the agency.
But that changed with Prime Minister Paul Martin.
With his emphasis on ending the "democratic deficit," voters became hopeful that perhaps, they could bring about changes in the federal agency. And reflecting this new community appetite for change, many candidates running for the first time have made NCC reform part of their platform.
The first to take aim was Ottawa Centre Liberal candidate Richard Mahoney, who launched a public campaign to dump chairman Marcel Beaudry. He argued that the NCC's culture of secrecy is at odds with the prime minister's call for more openness and democratic accountability. Defence Minister David Pratt sided with Mr. Mahoney, but the majority of the Liberal caucus rallied to Mr. Beaudry's defence and the campaign fizzled. But even though Mr. Mahoney appeared to have lost the battle, the larger war for reform continued to rage. By the time the election was called, the issue was too hot to ignore.
"To get change, we are going to have to campaign for it, and that's the way democracy is supposed to work," says Mr. Mahoney, promising to continue the fight.
Sean Casey, the Conservative candidate in Ottawa West-Nepean, says the agency "comes up on a fairly regular basis" on the hustings.
"The call is for more accountability, more transparentness, open meetings," he says.
And in an effort to get an edge, Mr. Casey tries to use Liberal incumbent Marlene Catterall's long support for Mr. Beaudry against her.
"When you see Liberals like Richard Mahoney and Senator Anne Cools saying we need more openness, Marlene Catterall says 'leave it the way it is, don't go after Marcel Beaudry'."
Citizen: NCC caught in political crossfire [8 Jun 2004]
Two year Maisonneuve and St Laurent construction project begins
Construction is set to begin on the NCC's $7 million beautification project for Maisonneuve and St Laurent boulevards in Hull. Chairman Beaudry has a typical soundbyte about beautifying the capital to encourage PRIDE. The NCC was, of course, responsible for expropriating and demolishing much of Hull in the 1970s to build federal government office buildings, such as Place du Portage, along with these two six-lane thoroughfares. Thirty years on, and they're getting around to planting some trees.
Where does your candidate stand?
Wondering who to vote for in the federal election? Maybe your candidate's stance on reforming (or abolishing) the NCC will make the difference. The National Capital Coalition for People and Dogs has been asking Ottawa area candidates their position on the NCC and recording the response they get on their Lobby page. They've also provided a handy sample letter you can send to your candidate to let them know how you feel about the NCC.
NCC caught in Adscam
The Citizen reported today that the NCC used $100 000 from the government sponsorship program (article here, link expires in 7 days). The money from Public Works Canada was channelled through Groupaction Gosselin Communications Inc., the Montreal firm that is now at the heart of a criminal investigation by the RCMP. The NCC used the money to organize a program called Future Trek. The NCC claims the program was a success and the money was well spent. Considering the program was intended to "make the nation's capital a meeting place of young Canadians and a symbol of unity," well, how could they go wrong?
Citizen: NCC used sponsorship money for tours [31 May 2004]
NCC announces Flats colours
In what's shaping up to be the most colorful development since, erm, Kanata, the NCC has set a colour palette for the LeBreton Flats:
According to NCC guidelines, buildings must be either brown, pumpkin, pale yellow, taupe, or grey.
[...]Other rules in a 49-page manual for private developers state the buildings' exteriors must be either concrete, stone, or brick.
Who wants to lay odds residents won't be able to hang out their washing?
CBC: NCC sets colour palette for Flats development [26 May 2004]
'Why did they make us move?'
As part of an ongoing series of articles on the LeBreton Flats, the Citizen takes a look at some of the people who were expropriated by the NCC 40 years ago:
The National Capital Commission's plan for a vibrant mixed-use neighbourhood on LeBreton Flats is a bitter irony to some people who remember what was there before the NCC moved in.
To clear the Flats in the mid-1960s, the NCC expropriated homes and shut down or kicked out thriving businesses on land that had been occupied since practically before there was a Bytown, let alone an Ottawa.
In all, about 2,800 people who lived and worked in LeBreton were swept out.
The expropriations showed the NCC at its worst, with written notices coming out of nowhere on April 18, 1962. The move was high- handed and blind to anything but the commission's planning objective: clearing out the working-class rabble who filled the neighbourhood, within view of Parliament Hill, and putting up a shiny new government office complex.
That day, residents were told the title of the land had already been transferred and assessors would be by to decide on fair compensation. The former owners would have two years to clear out.
"It was devastating," says Wilma Philp, who grew up on the Flats and was 18 when her parents were told they'd have to leave their duplex on Lloyd Street, which they shared with an uncle and his family. She'd just landed her first real job, walking-distance away at an office of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company at Kent and Albert streets.
"The whole family lived there, my mother grew up near there, it was where they'd lived their whole married life," Ms. Philp says. "My mother was in tears."
Her older brother, Keith Brown, had left home by then, but he vividly remembers hearing of his firefighter father's reaction from his mother over the telephone.
"My mother said my father sat down in the middle of the floor and cried. He wasn't born or brought up there -- he was from Shawville, Que., -- but that's how much he loved it."
Citizen: 'Why did they make us move?' [25 May 2004]
NCC announces Flats shortlist
The NCC has announced three finalists to develop the first block of land on the LeBreton Flats. The Citizen meanwhile starts a two week series on the Flats.
Citizen: 3 firms in running to develop Ottawa's 'jewel' [15 May 2004]
Ground broken for Sparks Street project
Over on Sparks Street, the NCC broke ground on one of its development projects and announced another.
Entrance fees for Gatineau Park
An NCC report is recommending an entrance fee for Gatineau Park - $4 per person up to a maximum of $8 per vehicle. Marcel Beaudry was careful to point out that this will help reduce the number of cars coming to the park and, as a result, pollution. All well and good. But, as usual, the NCC is saying one thing, and doing another. You see, the NCC, dismayed that the park is currently "reached with difficulty through a maze of regional roads," has plans to "encourage visitors to travel DIRECTLY into the Park via a broad, landscaped boulevard that goes straight from Confederation Boulevard in downtown Hull to the Gatineau Parkway" (quoted from the NCC website).
The landscaped boulevard is, of course, the McConnell-Laramee freeway, which the NCC has been planning for decades. Together with the recently constructed Mackenzie King Estate access road, the NCC's road-building schemes tend to suggest that the NCC's goals are in no way related to discouraging automobile use. The fee proposal is simply a cash grab from an overlarge bureaucracy working at cross-purposes with itself.
A curious side effect of Park fees will please environmentalists: apparently the NCC cannot legally charge fees unless the Park is given protected status, something environmentalists have been lobbying for for years.
CBC: Entrance fees floated for Gatineau Park [7 May 2004]
Ottawa River bike path out
NCC erects sign three weeks later.
Quebec ready to spend on McConnell-Laramee
Big plans to spend on roads this summer from the Quebec Government, including 9 million to finish McConnell-Laramee from Saint-Laurent to Saint-Joseph. The next stage will extend to Lac de Fees, and eventually on through Gatineau Park, with the NCC's full encouragement.
CBC: $1B in summer roadwork for Quebec [21 Apr 2004]
LeBreton Flats plans creep forward
Developers are bidding on the first phase to redevelop the LeBreton Flats. The NCC hopes residents can move in by 2007, only 42 years after the NCC forcibly ejected the last residents and demolished their homes. Perhaps these new pioneers will be more to the NCC's liking.
OBJ: History at home on LeBreton Flats [19 Apr 2004]
Flush with government cash
Sun columnist Greg Weston has more on the NCC's purchase of the Scott Paper plant in Gatineau:
...the NCC purchased the eight-hectare site of the Scott Paper plant last October from the grocery and industrial conglomerate, Weston Inc.
But having paid Weston $36 million for the property, the NCC then leased it back to the company for 25 years for a total amount over that time which, the commission claims, has "a net present value" of $17 million.
For the lucky folks at Weston Inc., the deal effectively provided $36 million cash to invest at returns easily more than double what it is costing in lease payments.
The NCC claims the deal was essential to grab the property now before someone else got it (notwithstanding almost certain expropriation for anyone stupid enough to try to buy the site).
Sources familiar with the transaction, however, say no matter how much the NCC wanted the property, the truth is no one in the Liberal government was about to kick 500 Quebec workers out of their jobs. But there's more.
In one very important clause in the deal, the NCC agreed to take over the property completely on an "as-is basis at its own risks and peril."
Translation: Canadian taxpayers 25 years from now will be on the hook for any and all environmental cleanup from 100 years of chemical and industrial uses.
And finally, there is the small matter of the monument. One of the 17 pages in the agreement is devoted entirely to the terms and conditions of the Weston family building a monument to themselves. This unspecified "suitable commemoration" will be erected in the future park whenever the site stops being used to make toilet paper.
The NCC, on behalf of future generations of angry taxpayers, has agreed to provide "an appropriate and conspicuous location for it (the monument) ... where it can be readily visited or observed by visitors to the property."
Sun: Flush with government cash [11 April 2004]
PM wants open NCC meetings
The Citizen reports that, according to Liberal candidate for Ottawa Centre Richard Mahoney, Paul Martin would like a more open NCC:
Prime Minister Paul Martin wants the National Capital Commission to open its board meetings to the public, according to a friend and confidant.
"Absolutely, (Mr. Martin) is in favour of an open NCC," said Richard Mahoney, the Liberal candidate for the federal riding of Ottawa Centre. Mr. Martin made his view clear during a conversation in December, said Mr. Mahoney.
"Basically, he believes in open government. He believes the NCC has to function more like a level of government. It must be responsible to the people of Gatineau and Ottawa."
Mr. Martin's reported opinion runs counter to that of NCC chairman Marcel Beaudry, who has kept the Crown corporation's doors closed for almost all board meetings. Mr. Beaudry's position is a prime ministerial appointment.
[...]Mr. Mahoney and Defence Minister David Pratt, MP for Nepean- Carleton, have called for Mr. Beaudry's resignation. However, Mr. Mahoney said an open NCC is the critical change.
"If you open up the process, you will get better decisions. You might not agree with those decisions in every case ... (but they) will be more in the interests of the residents of the national capital region and it's the right thing to do."
He doubted that Mr. Beaudry would open NCC meetings, "because he has told me himself that he opposed that idea."
The NCC is like another city council, Mr. Mahoney said. "There is no reason why it shouldn't be any more open than Ottawa City Council." Like council, he said, it should be free to go in camera for issues like personnel and land deals.
Citizen: PM wants open NCC meetings, Mahoney says [9 April 2004]
Dog-walkers win concession from NCC
Dog walkers have forced, after a constitutional challenge, the NCC to concede a small point on unleashed dogs. The NCC will now exempt people who need dogs for medical conditions from their maze of dog regulations.
Mackenzie King Access Road wood left to rot
Last fall, the NCC opened the Mackenzie King access road in Gatineau Park (constructed in unusual - for the NCC - haste after being announced in the fall of 2002). As for the 900 trees that were cut to build the road, they have been left to rot at Meech lake. That's approximately 250-300 cords of wood. Meanwhile, the NCC continues to buy firewood from suppliers for cross-country skiers to burn in the cabins in Gatineau Park.
NCC releases marketing plan
More hand waving over at the NCC, who've just released yet another plan, this time for how they will market themselves into ever larger budgets. The plan "impacts on all areas of the corporation and as such transcends internal sectoral boundaries." You mean like the one between the guys cutting down the trees and the other guys buying firewood? Nah, probably not.
NCC: Five-year marketing plan [7 Apr 2004]
Have an audience with the Chairman and his Board
Time for the NCC's annual audience for interest groups. Groups must register and send a written brief no later than Tuesday, April 13, 2004. The meeting itself will take place Wednesday, May 12, 2004 6:30 pm at the Ottawa Congress Centre, Capital Hall.
Further LeBreton Flats development plans
The NCC has presented its further development plans for the LeBreton Flats at one of its occasional public meetings. According to the article, the flats have been "empty for decades," a "clean slate" that "the NCC is eager to start filling." For those of you just tuning in, the flats have been empty for decades because they were expropriated and bulldozed by the NCC itself, somewhat precipitately perhaps, seeing as the NCC then left it vacant for 40 years. Read the full story here. As for the plan -- well, now the NCC will sell the land to developers to, er, develop. Very sensible. Far as we can tell, there was no point to the 40-year long exercise.
CBC: NCC looks beyond War Museum [27 Feb 2004]
The House: Competing Interests
CBC Radio's The House ran a series on cities last summer - the episode on Ottawa is available (Real Player required), and profiles the National Capital Commission's central role in Ottawa's bureaucratic tangle.
CBC: The House: Competing Interests [Real Audio] [19 Feb 2004]
Area Liberals rally around NCC
In response to calls for his resignation from Richard Mahoney and on the letters and editorial pages of The Citizen, Chairman Beaudry has been busy drumming up support from his local political friends. The Citizen recently published letters supporting the Chairman by former NCC staff and Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier. And once again Ottawa-area caucus members, with the exception of David Pratt, have circled the wagons and released another craven letter of unquestioning support of the NCC and its Chairman. Meanwhile, Marcel Proulx, the Liberal MP for Hull-Aylmer, asked Hélène Scherrer, Paul Martin's new Heritage Minister, in the Commons what she thought of Chairman Beaudry, and she decalared that she had "no intention of doing anything contrary to the board's resolution or the apparent consensus in the national capital region." We're guessing she doesn't subscribe to the Citizen.
So while Mahoney is reputed to be close to Martin and a handpicked candidate, he's being steamrolled by his caucus and Marcel's clearly not going anywhere.
Update Mar 20: Mahoney's website has been redesigned; the NCC petition has vanished and the NCC is now barely mentioned. Letters to the editor from Beaudry cronies and bagmen keep coming.
Mahoney takes call to reform NCC to the streets
Liberal candidate for Ottawa Centre Richard Mahoney took his campaign to reform the NCC to the streets today, handing out leaflets and renewing his call for Chairman Beaudry to resign.
NCC board member criticizes the NCC
The NCC's common front is crumbling. First it was newly nominated Liberal candidate for Ottawa Centre Richard Mahoney making a polite call for reform of the NCC. Then cabinet minister David Pratt broke ranks with the rest of the Ottawa Liberal caucus by backing Mahoney's call for reform. And now the unthinkable: Randall Denley reports that Eric Denhoff, the commission's member from British Columbia, has broken ranks with the NCC and is also calling for reform:
Yet another person is calling for change at the National Capital Commission, and this time it's a member of the NCC board. I don't know how Eric Denhoff slipped through the cracks and got appointed to the board, but the fellow actually has some pretty sensible points of view.
Denhoff, who has held senior positions in government and business in British Columbia, is calling for "fairly radical reforms" at the NCC.
"They should have open public board meetings just like city council does, and I think it's time to move to that," he says. Now, the NCC board meetings are closed and the organization releases sketchy minutes of them under access to information legislation. Denhoff thinks the meetings should be webcast.
Many of the decisions made by the board are just local land use decisions, Denhoff says. "It causes an unnecessary ruckus when these decisions are perceived to be made in secret, no matter how much consultation is done."
The board has discussed opening its meetings a couple of times, he says, "and I think people are more receptive than they were a year or two ago." He notes that the National Arts Centre board has opened its meetings, "and it doesn't seem to be the end of the free world." Denhoff gives the NCC credit for its semi-annual public accountability sessions, but they are only "a tentative, halting step" in the direction of openness.
Denhoff agrees with the suggestion made here last week that the chairman and the CEO positions should be held by different people. That's normal practice for most organizations. Perhaps there was a reason to combine them in the past, but no longer, he says. The change in administrative structure and opening meetings should be done "fairly quickly," Denhoff says.
Denhoff's appointment to the NCC board is until January 15, 2005. Don't expect to see him reappointed.
Meanwhile, Mahoney has stepped up his campaign to reform the NCC by publicly condemning the NCC for withdrawing its advertising from The Citizen, calling the move "yet another example of blatant display of arrogance and unwillingness to accept criticism." The NCC has been digging itself a hole ever since The Citizen reported the NCC's corporate makeover plans last week, and appears to have gone too far when it retaliated by withdrawing $30,000 in Winterlude advertising. Both The Citizen and Mahoney are calling for Chairman Beaudry to resign.
Citizen: At NCC, another voice for change [29 Jan 2004]
NCC pulls ads from The Citizen
The public feud between the National Capital Commission and The Citizen continues. The day after The Citizen published its story on the NCC's new logo, the NCC cancelled a $30,000 ad campaign for its winter beanfest Winterlude. The Citizen is interpreting the move as aggressive retaliation for the logo story:
For at least 12 years, the NCC has purchased space in the Citizen to promote the annual February festival and paid to insert the festival's schedule of events in the newspaper.
But on Wednesday, Citizen account executive Camille Boivin Tyo received a phone call from the NCC explaining that this year, the deal was off. All advertisements were cancelled and a truck, which cost taxpayers $150, returned to the newspaper and picked up 66,000 Winterlude booklets that were dropped off at the Citizen's shipping docks the same day.
Laurie Peters, an NCC spokeswoman, said the decision was "strictly based on business," and the NCC was able to get better value elsewhere. But Ms. Tyo said the NCC's marketing department told her the advertisements were pulled because of editorial content.
"I asked them, 'Does this have anything to do with bad press' and they said 'Yes.' "
Mr. Orban said he's convinced the pulling of ads is directly linked to a story by Citizen reporter Mohammed Adam. Mr. Adam's front-page story on Jan. 20 showed the NCC will spend $500,000 to spruce up its corporate image and prepare a new corporate logo that looks remarkably similar to its old logo.
The NCC claims it's all just a coincidence and that it's simply getting a better deal elsewhere. This after having advertised and distributed their Winterlude flyer in The Citizen for the past 12 years.
David Pratt joins call to oust Beaudry
Randall Denley revealed in The Citizen today (link, expires in 7 days) that Defence Minister David Pratt has joined Liberal candidate Richard Mahoney's call for a change in leadership at the National Capital Commission. This comes a week after local Liberal member Eugene Bellemare declared that Chairman Beaudry had the unanimous support of the local Liberal caucus, in response to Mahoney's call that Beaudry be removed. "My position was not accurately conveyed," said Pratt. David Pratt is the same man who wrote this slavish letter in support of the NCC on behalf of the then current Ottawa Liberal caucus, so his new position would seem to represent a marked shift. Regardless, we applaud him for finally representing the interests of his constituents over those of the NCC.
Citizen: Cabinet minister joins the call: Beaudry must go [24 Jan 2004]
NCC spends $500,000 to trim stems from logo
The National Capital Commission is spending $500 000 to implement a new corporate identity - which is to say, a new logo. Which happens to be the same as the old logo. Confused? According to documents obtained by The Citizen via an access to information request, NCC staff spent 298 days on and more than $16,000 on focus groups deciding on the "new" logo. Replacing the subtly changed logo on signs, stationary and promotional materials, etc. will cost an additional $500 000 over three years. This continues the NCC's recent orgy of spending on its own self-promotion, which has also included conducting polls, revamping its website, and hiring a vice-president of marketing, communication and external relations (Guy Laflamme). All this for an organization that is, at least nominally, a public service.
Citizen: NCC spends $500,000 to trim stems from logo [20 Jan 2004]
NCC orders hockey nets off pond
Pond hockey - iconic enough to be celebrated on the five dollar bill, but as some folks in Kanata have discovered, just don't try it on National Capital Commission land. The NCC has ordered a group of parents to remove some informal infrastructure - nets, lights and the like - from a pond they've been clearing for their kids for the past few years. The NCC trotted out those old bureaucratic standbys, liability and environmental impact, as the reason. The NCC's concern for the environment is, of course, laudable, but we suspect pond hockey to be a tad less deleterious than, say, that freeway they are pushing through Gatineau Park.
Working to consign the National Capital Commission to oblivion since 2000.