Past News: 2005
Dogs mean people, and people mean safer parks
Alex Munter revisits the NCC's dog rules in light of the need for greater security on pathways:
Five years ago, the commission introduced rules that prohibit unleashed dogs on almost all of its 170 kilometres of recreational pathways. Dogs can't go in the water, or even within three metres of the water. Certain activities -- like inline skating while with a dog -- are not permitted at all. As of this past Thursday, dogs -- even leashed -- were banned from almost all of Gatineau Park and the Greenbelt until spring.
With the exception of five designated areas, including Conroy and Bruce pits, NCC rules stipulate that dogs must be leashed at all times. These rules are much tighter than those applied in City of Ottawa parks. Municipal regulations tend to be more welcoming to dog owners, while still carving out plenty of dog-free areas.
As a result, says University of Ottawa law professor Nicole LaViolette, many dog owners are avoiding NCC lands.
"It's made those areas more isolated than they were before. There used to be a community of people who'd go regularly, who knew each other. The NCC never gave any thought to the fact that the high number of dog walkers made those areas safer."
[...]It is understandable that the NCC has little desire to reopen the dog wars. But it could easily strike a fair balance without imposing all manner of bureaucratic regulations on dog owners. Hundreds of volunteers patrolling the paths are great, but thousands more dog walkers also listening and watching could be even better.
Given heightened concern about community safety, it's time for the NCC to take a second look to see if its approach is actually working.
Citizen: Dogs mean people, and people mean safer parks [3 Dec 2005]
NCC denies role in closing Domtar plant
Domtar has announced it will be closing two paper machines on Chaudiere Island, cutting 185 jobs. Giants of real estate dealing that they are, the NCC has long made known to one and all its desire for Domtar's land on the island, but has been reluctant to act while there were still jobs to be had. While the NCC denies having anything to do with the Domtar layoff, look for Domtar to walk away with a very nice payday for the land.
Of course, considering the great things the NCC has done with the portion of the island it already owns (it's another classic NCC wasteland), its plans for the rest amount to little more than empire building for its own sake. The NCC wants the land because the federal government will give them the money to get it.
CBC: NCC denies role in closing Domtar plant [1 Dec 2005]
A Bridge Too Far
A Citizen editorial today comes out strongly against the NCC's persistent vision for a west end bridge across the Ottawa River:
Decades ago is where the NCC's urban-planning mindset is at. Build more roads, build more bridges. If the NCC were on top of its urban-planning game, it would be tub-thumping for commuter rail across the already-built (since 1880) Prince of Wales Bridge which logically joins with Ottawa's train line at Bayview to Gatineau. More people, less cost, and a little imagination at the NCC.
The NCC recently completed a three year study plan and presented it to Ottawa's transportation committee. The study failed to rule out a bridge at Deschenes rapids, which would more or less destroy the Britannia neighbourhood.
Citizen: A Bridge Too Far [21 Nov 2005]
Ed Broadbent to introduce NCC reform bill
Ottawa Centre MP Ed Broadbent has put together a private member's bill to establish legal boundaries for Gatineau Park and reform the NCC in the process, as he outlines in a piece in the Citizen:
Whether or not one agrees with the management style of the National Capital Commission, a test for assessing the performance of a government agency, as I've argued in this paper in the past, is how well it demonstrates accountability, transparency and independence in decision-making. The present structure and composition of the NCC makes passing this test virtually impossible. I therefore, have included proposals for reforming the NCC in this private member's bill that focuses primarily on Gatineau Park.
So the aim of this legislation is not only to provide the park with protected boundaries, but also to establish a more transparent and accountable board structure.
My ethics reforms include a proposal to change the way appointments are made to thousands of federal agencies, boards and commissions, including the NCC. The proposed reforms for the NCC are:
1. Reduce the commission to seven members in total with four, a majority, being residents of the National Capital Region.
2. Separate the role of chairperson from that of chief executive officer to strengthen the accountability of management.
3. Replace the current process whereby the minister or prime minister simply selects whomever she or he chooses with a process that requires all names of prospective appointees be submitted for consideration, in advance, to an all-party committee of the House of Commons. Demonstrated individual merit, not political party affiliation, should be the criterion for acceptability.
4. And finally, amend the government guidelines on closed meetings and enact regulations, requiring the NCC to meet in public, except in the limited number of matters requiring an in camera session, such as personnel and contract issues.
Citizen: Protecting a wilderness gem [4 Nov 2005]
NCC Public Annual Meeting
Time once again for the NCC's annual PR exercise. Every year, the NCC wheels out its board and Chairman Beaudry gives a speech about the NCC's plans this week, followed by a Q and A where the public tells the NCC how lousy it is. Actually, a pretty good time, if you like that sort of thing. Anyhow, it's happening 7pm this Wednesday, November 2 at the War Museum. The meeting will also be broadcast live, on Rogers Television (cable 22 in English and cable 23 in French) and on Canal Vox Outaouais (cable 22).
NCC to demolish Bate Island ruin
The NCC is returning Bate Island to its natural state. At least, that's how they refer to the demolition of the now dilapidated former restaurant after 15 years of NCC neglect:
The National Capital Commission plans to demolish a dilapidated former restaurant on Bate Island, a beauty spot in the Ottawa River, after finding no one prepared to pay millions to refurbish it.
The old restaurant will be torn down next month under a $900,000 program to return the island to a more natural state and make it a more attractive place from which to view scenery along the river.
Bate Island, reached by the Champlain Bridge, is six kilometres west of Parliament Hill, and offers panoramic views of the Parliament Buildings and the downtown Ottawa skyline.
The restaurant, once known as Alexander's on the Island, flourished from the 1950s to the 1970s, and was a popular place for wedding celebrations. Later, after a change of ownership, the restaurant closed about 15 years ago. Since then, it has fallen into disrepair.
Bate Island is a featured NCC Wasteland.
Citizen: Island to return to natural state [28 Oct 2005]
Time to reform troubled NCC
A Citizen editorial today asks, yet again, for the NCC to be reformed:
It is an ailing organization. We remember its misguided attempt to drive a ceremonial boulevard down Metcalfe Street that would have demolished millions of dollars worth of buildings and property taxes. Fortunately, the public fought hard to stop the project and won.
Sometimes the citizenry has not been so fortunate. The predecessor to the NCC flattened a community at LeBreton Flats, letting the land grow weeds for the better part of a half century. We are astonished that the Daly site -- among the most visible and important pieces of real estate in the capital -- became a simple condo.
The public has long wondered what goes on at the closed NCC board meetings. Revelations that the NCC pressures consultants to give it what it wants to hear do not inspire confidence. Ottawa Centre MP Ed Broadbent is calling for more transparency, accountability and governance. Ottawa Centre Liberal candidate Richard Mahoney says the NCC needs major changes: "We should use it as a force for good."
Indeed we should, but it's not yet clear if that's even possible with the NCC as currently constituted. The federal government needs to ask: Do we need the NCC and, if so, what form should it take?
Citizen: Time to reform troubled NCC [28 Oct 2005]
NCC smothers safety report
More bureaucratic shenanigans at the NCC. The Citizen reported today on how the NCC hired a workplace safety expert to inspect and report on various NCC work sites, and then tried to get him to change his report.
The report blasted the NCC for numerous safety violations, including:
The report concluded: "The results of this very basic risk assessment demonstrate many aspects of the commission's activities which have simply been mismanaged for decades."
This was all a little too much for the NCC. They threw the report back, asking for the language and tone to be changed, withholding the final $2000 of the $12,000 contract.
The document and the commission's response were obtained by the Citizen under the Access to Information Act.
Citizen: How the NCC tried to hide a shocking safety report [26 Oct 2005]
Broadbent drafting bill to protect Gatineau Park
Elsewhere in the news, Ottawa Centre MP Ed Broadbent is working on a private member's bill to legalize the boundaries of Gatineau Park, perhaps with the idea of turning it into a national park:
"Mr. Broadbent is looking at giving Gatineau Park some statutory protection," said Catherine McKenney, adding that making it a national park is among several recommendations proposed. "It's the only major federal park that does lack any statutory protection. The park's boundaries were never defined when the park was first created and changes up until this point have always been made behind closed doors. We're trying to change that."
Gatineau Park is managed by the National Capital Commission, which opposes transforming it into a national park. However, Environment Minister Stephane Dion said in February he'd consider requests to make Gatineau Park a national park or give it legal protection.
Stephen Hazell, conservation director of the Sierra Club of Canada, said giving Gatineau Park special legal status is a long- standing issue for park activists who want to see the park well protected from further development.
The NCC continues to oppose any meddling in the management of its park, while Environment Minister Stephane Dion has said he would consider changing the park's status.
Citizen: MP seeks to protect Gatineau Park [26 Oct 2005]
Sparks Street project hits delays
Word about what a joy it is to work with the NCC must be getting around the development community, considering the tepid response to yet another NCC project. This time its their Sparks Street project:
The National Capital Commission's Canlands A project, which is proposed to be the biggest residential project on Sparks Street, is running behind schedule and has only one developer interested in it.
Morguard Corp. of Toronto is the only developer that submitted a design proposal for the project, which is a key part of the NCC's plan to enliven Sparks Street.
The project was to include about 100 apartments, street level shops, some office space and parking, with three floors facing Sparks Street and 14 floors facing Queen Street, according to the initial announcement. The NCC is offering a 66- year lease in exchange for the development of the site near Metcalfe.
[...]The NCC announced in March that Morguard and Claridge Homes of Ottawa were invited to submit design proposals for the project, after they were they only two companies responding to a national call for expressions of interest to develop the site. Claridge did not submit a design plan by the April 28 deadline.
Citizen: NCC's Sparks Street residential project hits delays [25 Oct 2005]
Good riddance to a white elephant
Randall Denley sums up the legacy of the Canada and the World Pavilion in today's Citizen:
If you believe the NCC's public utterances, the quasi-museum next to Rideau Falls closed strictly because of a budget squeeze at the commission. The real story, an internal NCC document reveals, is that the museum was closed because it was an expensive attendance flop that was outside the commission's mandate.
In letters to the private sector company and government departments that gave money to the pavilion, NCC chairman Marcel Beaudry said "the difficult decision to close the pavilion was motivated solely by financial considerations, and by the complexity of sustaining a museum-type infrastructure when faced with financial constraints."
That's still the official word, according to NCC vice-president Gilles Lalonde.
Funny, though, that's not quite the story revealed in the NCC report released to Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin as the result of an access to information request. According to that report, "Visitation levels at the pavilion are low and the facility is operated on a seasonal basis. As a result, this use of funds is not the best value for Canadians."
The report notes "operation of this facility is not central to the corporation's mandate." No kidding. Even though the NCC has a broad and vague mandate, being in the quasi-museum business isn't part of it.
You have to appreciate the droll language. "Interest and visitation have been somewhat disappointing, notwithstanding that there is no entrance fee charged for individuals." Translated, this means "we can't give the thing away."
The pavilion was projected to have annual attendance of 120,000, although it has mostly fallen well short of that. In 2001, it's opening year, it drew only 62,131 visitors. That crept up in 2002, then fell back again in 2003. The NCC says 125,211 visited last year, which would seem to indicate a record level of success. The problem with the numbers, though, is that they include all visitors to the site, even those who only attended outdoor events. No admission is charged, so the numbers are based on visual estimates. Guesses, in other words.
The NCC report suggested that each free visit actually cost the NCC $10 in operating costs.
[...]The NCC has dribbled away some millions in operating money, plus the $5.7-million cost to build and outfit the pavilion, but the bigger problem is in the long term. The commission's misguided dabbling in the museum business has created a white elephant, and a particularly awkward one. [...] the NCC will continue to bear the costs of heating and maintaining the building. The commission estimates that it will cost $75,000 to decommission the pavilion and return the contents. The staff report earlier said the figure would run to the hundreds of thousand of dollars.
Citizen: Good riddance to white elephant [18 Oct 2005]
Construction to begin on final segment of McConnell-Laramee
Construction begins this week on the final segment of the McConnell-Laramee freeway, the bit that cuts through that "integral and defining element of Canada's Capital Region (ref)," Gatineau Park.
Canada and the World Pavilion closes
The NCC's Canada and the World Pavilion closed for good over the weekend. Opened with little fanfare not five years ago for reasons no one is quite sure of, the Pavilion quickly sank into obscurity, and now takes pride of place among the NCC Tombstones of Waste.
Citizen: Five years after opening its doors, NCC's pavilion-with-a-view closes [17 Oct 2005]
Tombstone watch: NCC solicits ideas for monument
For 40 years, the LeBreton Flats has been a monument to the NCC's own ineptitude. But now, according to the Citizen, the NCC wants to build a monument to, er, anything else. Apparently the NCC thinks the new intersection of Booth and Wellington streets in the middle of the flats would be a swell spot for a "gateway" monument. Gateway monuments are apparently big - up to four stories - and expensive - up to $5 million. The revelation (as usual, obtained via an access to information request) prompted the NCC to clarify that "there is no official monument or plan at this point for that site, but this intersection has been identified as a place where a key landmark commemoration could be placed in the near future." Well then.
This follows hard on the heels of the NCC's proposal to scatter landmarks "honoring the country's social, cultural and intellectual achievements" about town. In keeping with the NCC's own historic role in the development of the flats, NCC Watch suggests a four-story bulldozer.
Citizen: NCC solicits ideas for a grand monument at LeBreton Flats [7 Oct 2005]
NCC hosts Capitals Alliance
This one flew under pretty much everyone's radar (including ours) - the NCC recently hosted the fourth (count 'em) Capitals Alliance meeting. Think of it as a mutual support group for beleaguered national capital planning agencies. They gather once a year to reminisce about the good old days when expropriation wasn't a dirty word, and no doubt discuss enviously the latest clearances in Beijing or Harare. Anyhow, after four days of discussion, they've come up with an action plan (the "Ottawa Statement") for the year: hold more meetings in the capitals (it's good to get out of your own capital for awhile), set up a website, "establish and maintain an exchange of information among members" (hey, maybe those meetings and that website 'll help out with this one), and recruit new capitals to the cause.
Queensway Carleton Hospital rent website petition
MP Pierre Poilievre and MPP John Baird MPP have set up a website to petition the federal government to not increase the rent of the Queensway-Carleton Hospital (QCH), which is on NCC land.
The current lease for the land is up for renewal in a few years.
NCC spent $19 grand on Guinness stunt
Michael Hammond reports in the Ottawa Sun that the National Capital Commission spent $18,946 on its Aug. 4 press shindig to tell us what we already knew. The expenses, obtained through an Access to Information request, included $523 for an artificial snowmaking machine, $5,750 to set up an artificial ice rink, $1,444 for 200 promotional bandanas, and $8,795 to fly in a Guinness official to sign a certificate.
Sun: My Guinness! Canal promo tab $19Gs [8 Sep 2005]
Let's have another go at LeBreton
The Citizen's Kelly Egan takes a look at the NCC's bungled LeBreton Flats selection process:
The National Capital Commission's paper trail on the selection of a ground-breaking developer for LeBreton Flats makes for scary reading. No wonder they hold secret meetings.
To recap briefly, after 10 years of head-scratching, consulting and Crayola map-making, three developers were finally competing to build the first chunk of housing on the long-dormant lands on the western edge of downtown.
In the final three months, two of the three developers dropped out of the race and the NCC was left with Claridge Homes, which scored last in the commission's own tortured scoring system.
So the worst became first.
[...]Then comes this gem, from an internal NCC committee that met on Oct. 28, which is several days after the bland Claridge plan was publicly announced as the only one left standing: "One member felt that it was not clear who would be the project architect, which was supported by another member," a summary of the meeting reads.
And these were all senior NCC staff in attendance. It got worse.
"It was unclear who would be the lead individual in the development team. The experience of the members with Claridge was that Bill Malhotra consistently takes a lead role, but that it seems that Neil Malhotra will be the main co-ordinator with (Claridge official) Mr. Jim Burghout. The committee was reassured by the involvement of Jim Burghout, who is an experienced and constructive communicator."
[...]What more evidence do we need that governments, with rare exceptions, should not be in the housing business?
The NCC's process was a bureaucratic strangle. Instead of finding a design gem, it wore down one team after another until it was left with the only one willing to take the real estate risk.
The commission should scrap the whole process and start over. Better still, let someone else take over. The people of Ottawa didn't put up with a hole in the heart of downtown for 40 years to be finally saddled with this.
Citizen: Let's have another go at LeBreton [24 Aug 2005]
Claridge won LeBreton prize by default
The Citizen reports that LeBreton developer Claridge was a distant third in the NCC's evaluation of proposals for the LeBreton project. Minto had the highest overall score of 62.02 out of a maximum of 70, followed by Prevel with 61.65, while Claridge trailed with 54.04. Both Minto and Prevel withdrew from the final stage of the competition after the NCC tacked on demands for a minimum land price of $7.5 million, the right to repurchase the property and a requirement that 25 per cent of the housing be affordable, leaving also-ran Claridge with the "prize." Prevel even had to threaten the NCC with lawyers to get their $50,000 deposit back. Only two days before Claridge signed on, the NCC was begging Minto to reconsider, but Minto was unmoved.
And so we are left with a third-rate project after 40 years of futility. Architect Ron Keenberg sums it up (as quoted in The Citizen article):
It is a normal, pedestrian housing development that could have been anywhere in Canada. It is certainly not a scheme that is reflective of the national capital region. Obviously the NCC knew they were dealing with the bottom of the barrel, but they didn't care. (NCC chair) Marcel Beaudry was a bad developer and he is imposing his low development taste on Ottawa.
Despite the fiasco, the NCC sees nothing wrong with its process and will use a similar one for the next phase of the LeBreton development.
Citizen: Claridge won LeBreton prize by default [23 Aug 2005]
NCC looking for board members
Think you have what it takes to be an NCC board member? Do you possess core attributes such as "Informed Judgement" or "Impact and Influencing"? Perhaps your promotion and animation skills include "Animation" or "Partnerships". If so, the NCC wants you. Download the NCC's Board Member Candidacy Checklist [PDF], fill in all the boxes (tip: be sure to check "Other" to cover all those skills you don't even know you have) and send it off to the NCC.
Citizen: NCC opens up search for board members [23 Aug 2005]
Gatineau Park properties on the block
The Citizen reports that housing developers are eager to buy a vacant 17-hectare farm in Gatineau Park near Pink Lake, to the tune of $1.5 million. Apparently the NCC had been negotiating with the owner for $500,000, but is unwilling to pay more than what it regards as fair market prices. The property, surrounded as it is by the existing park, meets one of the NCC's highest criteria for acquiring land. (The park's official plan says acquisition of private property in the park is a long-term goal to ensure the park's sustainability.)
At the same time, the NCC is looking for buyers for part of a 39-hectare farm that borders the park near Chemin de la Montagne and Alexandre-Tache Boulevard. The property was given to the NCC in 1973 on the condition it be made available to the Canadian public as an "amenity enhancing the character and quality of the national capital region." From the Citizen:
Commission spokeswoman Chantal Comeau said the sale of the property near Alexandre-Tache Boulevard would not violate the Gatineau Park plan or the agreement to preserve the farm for largely recreation purposes.
"When the land was given to the NCC, Mrs. Moore's wishes were put into writing," Ms. Comeau said. "Although we don't have any legal obligation to follow those wishes, we are considering them while looking at future uses for the Moore farm."
Ms. Comeau said five developers offered to buy the Moore farm, but the commission rejected their offers because they were too low.
Citizen: Developers eye Gatineau Park property [9 Aug 2005]
NCC recognizes park visionary
Some closure on on the matter of Percy Sparks' forgotten role in the founding of Gatineau Park. From the Citizen:
In the 1950s, Roderick Percy Sparks used to gather his grandchildren at "Big Pine," an old-growth white pine tree in Gatineau Park, and have them join hands around the tree's massive trunk. Yesterday, Jean-Paul Murray stood against the same majestic old tree and closed his eyes in triumph.
Mr. Murray has fought for years to have the former Ottawa businessman's role in the founding of the 36,000-hectare Gatineau Park recognized. He spent years sifting through archives, and then argued in a 2003 Citizen guest column that the National Capital Commission had mistakenly ignored Mr. Sparks in its literature.
That historical oversight was corrected yesterday when NCC chairman Marcel Beaudry named the exhibit hall at the Gatineau Park visitor centre in Chelsea after Mr. Sparks, a well-known member of Ottawa's business community from the 1930s to the late 1950s.
The NCC had commissioned a study into the history of the park that concluded Mr. Sparks played a major role in its creation, though singling out one person as park founder was not possible.
Citizen: Gatineau Park visionary gets his due [9 Jul 2005]
NCC Bans Ethanol Mascot
The NCC banned Corn Cob Bob, mascot of the Canadian ethanol industry, from Canada Day celebrations, at the request of official fuel sponsor Shell Canada. Shell's Canada Day sponsorship arrangement with the NCC granted it exclusive rights when it came to fuel products. Corn Cob got the chop just days before Canada Day, despite the fact that the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association, a not-for-profit group that promotes clean energy, had secured an information booth at Major's Hill Park through the NCC. The NCC, after first expressing disappointment that the CRFA went public, now feels just awful about the subsequent bad press and PR disaster, and has apologized to the CRFA, blaming the decision on nameless underlings, none of whom will be sacked.
CBC: NCC sorry for nixing Corn Cob Bob from Canada Day [5 July 2005]
NCC mothballs Canada and the World Pavilion
The NCC is closing its Canada and the World Pavilion after only four years. Built for a mere $6 million four years ago, the NCC declared the Pavilion a success even as it announced the shutdown.
The NCC is also closing its special events souvenir booths and boutique across from Parliament Hill and cutting 30 positions over the next three years to try to reduce its operating budget by 5% or $4 million.
They hope to move most of the exhibits to other NCC or government venues. The Pavilion is to close by mid-October.
Some bureaucrats from the Northwest Territories and B.C., apparently.
NCC and Treasury Board defend hospital rents
The NCC, landlord of the Queensway-Carleton Hospital, and Treasury Board took some more heat from the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates for the NCC's plan to raise the rent on the Queensway-Carleton Hospital (reported in The Citizen today).
Testifying on behalf of the NCC, Chairman Beaudry insisted that rules are rules, and they must charge market rates for government land as directed by a Treasury Board policy set in 1985. As he put it so succinctly, "There are policies in existence. We need to follow them. It's that simple." Treasury Board backed him up, stating that it's in the interests of all Canadians that market rates be charged because it's consistent and less open to political pressure. They also suggested that if the hospital was given a break, it would open the door to other requests.
Fair enough. But then, no mention is made of the fact that, back when the NCC was expropriating all this land, they sold the concept to the public claiming it would conserve land for "public institutions" much like, er, hospitals. From a 1963 NCC brochure:
D'une superficie de 41,000 acres, la Ceinture de verdure encercle la Capitale de l'est à l'ouest. Elle a plusieurs objectifs : restreindre l'expansion physique de la ville, fournir pour l'avenir des emplacements d'édifices gouvernementaux, conserver le caractère pastoral et agricole des accès à proximité de la ville, procurer des terrains propres à l'aménagement de parcs et à l'établissement d'institutions publiques, collèges, hopiteaux, etc.
Hopiteaux, etc. indeed. But heck, that was decades ago, hospitals are a source of revenue now. Enjoy your greenbelt folks.
Citizen: NCC, Treasury Board defend rents [15 June 2005]
Taxpayers foot bill for city, NCC spat
The Citizen's Randall Denley looks at the current spat between the city and the NCC over rezoning of NCC land that the NCC wants to sell:
The dispute between the city and the National Capital Commission over the future of four prime pieces of greenspace is driven by an outdated federal policy that compels the NCC to sell land to run its operations. That might have made sense back in the federal deficit days of the early 1990s, but now it has the NCC acting like a hard- nosed land speculator, not a responsible planning partner.
The NCC's thirst for cash drives it to fight the city at the Ontario Municipal Board, seeking designations that will allow development of some of its land. Taxpayers get the bill for both sides of the dispute. Greenspace in Ottawa is being given up for development, all because the NCC needs to get about $6 million a year in land sales. The money makes up one-third of what the NCC spends to maintain its properties.
The land the NCC is selling is surplus, but what's surplus to the NCC can be vitally important to people who actually live here.
The four properties immediately in question are in Westboro near the Maplelawn historic home, a corridor of land in Nepean between Woodroffe and Merivale, and two pieces that abut the environmentally important McCarthy Woods, south of Walkley Road between Riverside Drive and Bank Street.
The NCC wants the properties designated as general urban in the city's official plan. The commission says it has no plans to sell them, at this time, but the general urban designation would make it easier to develop the land when it is sold.
[...]The NCC has declared surplus 411 hectares of land in about 30 parcels. It will start its own urban lands planning exercise this fall, and it's expected to last a couple of years. Since the city has just done much the same thing, maybe it would make sense for the city and the NCC to look at all the surplus NCC properties together. That beats years of disputes over every parcel of land.
The city doesn't need, and can't afford, to obtain all this land, but it should have a rational overview of what's needed for the public good. Then let the NCC sell the rest for development. After all, the city says it wants infill inside the Greenbelt.
Ottawa South MP David McGuinty says he would like to see the pressure to get money from land sales removed. He also wants the city and the NCC to work together on a plan for the surplus properties. It will be an interesting test for McGuinty, to see if he can achieve those goals. The fact those moves haven't yet been made isn't a very positive comment on the quality of federal representation we've received up to now.
Citizen: Taxpayers foot bill for city, NCC spat [30 May 2005]
NCC hospital land controversy comes to committee
The federal Government Operations Committee will be holding hearings on the land dispute between the NCC and the Queensway-Carleton Hospital sometime in June. The hearings will be televised, and hospital officials and NCC chair Marcel Beaudry are expected to testify. The hospital is located on NCC land and its rent, currently $23,000, is due to increase substantially in 2013. Area MP Pierre Poilievre, who sits on the committee, will be presenting a motion to set the hospital's rent to $1. Poilievre first floated the idea in September 2004.
Radio-Canada: Un député propose que la CCN cède le terrain occupé par l'hôpital Queensway-Carleton [30 May 2005]
NCC challenging greenspace zoning
The Citizen reports that a city planning committee has blocked an appeal, approved by city staff, from the NCC to rezone four parcels of land it owns as general urban areas, which would allow housing and other development. City staff wanted to approve the appeal so that the NCC would withdraw its OMB appeals against the city. For its part, the NCC says it will wait to see whether council approves the committee's decision before deciding whether to continue with its OMB appeal.
Citizen: Greenspace zoning potential flashpoint for NCC, city hall [26 May 2005]
GACC releases its comments on NCC's Core Area Plan
The Greenspace Alliance of Canada's Capital has released its comments on the NCC Core Area Plan.
NCC approves its own Gatineau Park Master Plan
The NCC has approved its own Gatineau Park Master Plan. Chairman Beaudry claimed increased emphasis on conservation, but no mention was made of increased user fees or limits on cars in the park, both mooted previously. And yes, the McConnell-Laramee freeway will still be built.
Citizen: NCC shifts focus of Gatineau Park to conservation [7 May 2005]
The bike path behind the Supreme Court, closed since last April, is reopening for the summer.
NCC to sell Gatineau Park property in Wakefield
The NCC is selling 55 acres of Gatineau Park near Wakefield. The sale comes as a surprise to many, as the NCC acquired the land in a swap with the Municipality of La Peche for an adjoining piece of land that is being used as a sewage lagoon, and given that the Gatineau Park Master Plan identified several nearby routes as "ecological corridors" for wildlife access to the Gatineau River. A local developer expects the site will hold up to 100 single-family homes.
NCC: Protector of Greenspace or Protector of Developer Rights?
The NCC frequently behaves more like a private developer than a government body, and has no qualms about taking the City of Ottawa to the Ontario Municipal Board to fight zoning decisions made by the city. In 2003, the Greenspace Alliance of Canada's Capital reviewed the NCC's responses to various zoning initiatives by the City of Ottawa. From the introduction:
The National Capital Commission (NCC) has often stated that it is willing to follow the planning procedures of the municipalities in which it owns land. As a federal body it is not required to do so. However when it says it will follow the procedures, what it really means is that it will use all means to ensure its rights as a landowner are protected, regardless of the wishes of the Council or the people of the city.
NCC Watch makes top ten list of best Ottawa blogs
Citizen columnist Alex Munter rates NCC Watch among Ottawa's top ten local blogs: "If you don't like the National Capital Commission, this site will give you all the facts and figures you need. If you are an NCC fan, it'll change your mind."
Citizen: And the winner is ... [30 Apr 2005]
Under the NCC's management, Gatineau Park has been subject to road-building schemes and the sell off of various properties. What most people don't realize is that the Park is not formally protected - it's just another property owned by the NCC, to dispose of as they see fit. And the NCC has a history of declaring properties "surplus" to its requirements and selling them, generally to the surprise of nearby residents. Which is why the New Woodlands Preservation League, among others, advocates formal legal protection for the park - with or without the NCC.
Talk's good, but NCC slow to act
Citizen columnist Randall Denley tackles the NCC's latest plans for the core in a column today:
Here's what's good about the National Capital Commission's plans to shape the downtown over the next 50 plus years: First, the NCC has passed out of its manic destructive phase. It is no longer proposing ripping out historic buildings or realigning Metcalfe Street to give a better view of the Hill. Grand boulevards from the Hill to the Museum of Nature are a thing of the past.
[...]The NCC spoils the analysis a bit with a fuss over the increasing number and size of festivals in the core. After complaining that not enough is going on, it also complains there is so much activity that it's hurting NCC parks. Who can forget their decision to bar the blues festival from Confederation Park, to allow their grass to recuperate?
Frustratingly, the NCC keeps repeating some of its good ideas, but not acting on them. Who could oppose a walkway behind the Parliament Buildings that would let visitors see the great view? How hard can it be to actually do it? They suggest dramatically lighting architectural and landscape features. Great, what's the holdup?
The NCC notes a number of times how useful a pedestrian bridge across the canal would be. Not that the commission would spend money on it. The city approved just such a bridge earlier this year, and said it would ask the NCC to help pay for it. No can do, the NCC says.
While the NCC's vision for the future contains a bit of common sense, there is a substantial helping of the usual government BS. The subject of one of the reports is how to "program" the core over the next 62 years. Right away, the concept makes one cringe. Is this Disneyworld? Real cities aren't programmed.
Citizen: Talk's good, but NCC slow to act [30 Apr 2005]
NCC releases long term plans for the core
The NCC's assiduous planners (with the help of consultants costing $140 000) have written a new plan. The Core Area Sector Plan "imagines the Core Area of the Capital in the year 2025. It envisions the Core Area as a place to live, work and come together, where Canada is celebrated, as a place to communicate Canada and offer to Canadians places to gather and celebrate their attachment to their country." And so forth. All this imagining seems to boil down to more monuments and "national cultural institutions," with some footpaths, benches, and washrooms thrown in. But don't dismiss the washrooms - they can cost upwards of $250 000. Not that the NCC is paying attention. "We really haven't looked at the costing of the proposals," said Francois Lapointe, director of planning for the federal body, to the Ottawa Sun. "I don't think it's a good use of our time."
But wait, that's not all. Also released was "Reflecting a nation - A Public Programming* and Activities Vision for the Core Area of Canada's Capital," outlining a five-decade "vision" that somehow coincides with the Capital Core Area Sector Plan. Yes, you read that aright: five decades. While there's no mention of flying cars, the vision does suggest widening the canal to accommodate floating barges with cafes and bistros. Tip: there's lotsa dry land and empty space either side of the canal for cafes and bistros, guys. And then there are the usual banal suggestions - more pathways, a new NCC visitor centre, etc.
Public consultations of some sort are to be held March 29 at 5:30 p.m. at the government Conference Centre, 2 Rideau St., and March 30 at 5:30 p.m. at the Four Points Sheraton, 35 Laurier St. in Gatineau.
* The NCC came up with "Public Programming" back in the 80's when it looked like their expropriation days were over and word was getting 'round that maybe their job was done. No fools when it comes to self preservation, public programming now accounts for $20 million of the NCC's budget.
Claridge nears completion of Daly building
Only 14 years after demolishing the Daly building, the NCC has deftly overseen the completion of its replacement - a banal condominium for all Canadians. Or, at least, the 2 per cent who can afford to live there.
OBJ: Claridge Homes nears completion of 700 Sussex [16 Mar 2005]
Two developers bid for Sparks Street project
Another successful NCC tender, as all of two companies have responded to a national call for proposals to develop the NCC's 'Canlands A' site on Sparks Street. The NCC concedes that it is surprised at the lack of interest in the site. Have they considered it might be a lack of interest in working with the NCC?
OBJ: Two developers bid for Sparks Street project [8 Mar 2005]
Treasury board releases Crown governance review
Treasury board released its Review of the Governance Framework for Canada's Crown Corporations today, and the results, at least as they affect the NCC, are mixed.
On the upside, Measure 6 will ensure that the positions of CEO and Chairman of the Board are split:
Adequate processes, functions, and structures must be put in place to ensure that individual directors and the Board as a whole maintain an independent perspective in the governance and oversight of the corporation. One way to ensure that a Board can function independently from management is to require that different individuals perform the duties of chair of the Board of Directors and CEO of the corporation. Most Crown corporations currently have statutes or practices that respect this distinction.
The government will enact the legislative changes required to ensure a split in the positions of CEO and chair of the Board for Crown corporations."
So Chairman and CEO Beaudry will have to choose just one.
Measure 7 seeks to ensure that "a majority of board members are independent from management" by requiring that the CEO be the sole representative of management to a Board of Directors, while Measures 9 through 15 add such requirements as better charters, training, and an appraisal process for Boards of Directors, along with the establishment of an independent audit committee chaired by a director "with financial expertise."
Together, these measures may ultimately result in a board that is able to provide some measure of independent oversight, at least compared with the dismal status quo.
However, the new measures also continue the practice of keeping Board proceedings confidential. So no open board meetings at the NCC:
Notwithstanding the general recognition of the value of disclosure, sensitive information related to human resources, corporate strategies, confidential commercial information, and other operations discussed in the purview of board meetings could cause damage if inappropriately released to the public. Directors could be pressured by community members and would be reluctant to voice their concerns and ask the difficult questions if they were not confident that their intervention would be protected by confidentiality.
This may make sense at Canada "Shall we raise the price of stamps by one cent or two this year?" Post, but utterly fails to recognize that the NCC is far less a commercial operation than it is another layer of municipal government.
OBJ: Crown corps to become more like private sector companies [17 Jan 2005]
Dion considers taking Gatineau Park away from NCC
Federal Environment Minister Stephane Dion said he would look at giving Gatineau Park some sort of special protection - either as a national park or giving it legal protection. Dion was speaking before a Senate energy and environment committee. The National Capital Commission remains resolutely opposed to any change in the park's status as its own fiefdom. While Dion gave no guarantees, park watchers responded positively to his statement.
The NCC has long since lost credibility on its ability to protect the park, in no small part due to the various road building projects they've sponsored over the years, including the McConnell-Laramee freeway and the Mackenzie King Estate access road built in 2003.
Citizen: Minister considers taking Gatineau Park away from NCC [15 Feb 2005]
Protesters planning to block NCC road
The Citizen reports today that Aylmer ecologist Ian Huggett is recruiting "tree-sitters" and other protesters to stop the construction of the McConnell-Laramee freeway through Gatineau Park. The Quebec government is spending $12 million this year to build the road between Lac-des-Fees and St-Laurent, with the Federal government sharing the tab. No schedule has been set for the section through the park itself.
The NCC has long supported the road, Chairman Beaudry himself stating that he wants this road to be part of his legacy. With typical government efficiency, the corridor for the road through Wrightville was expropriated, the houses demolished and the land left vacant in 1973.
Radio-Canada: Le financement est assuré [18 May 2005]
NCC has no intention of cleaning up toxic soil
The Citizen reports that the NCC admits the Scott Paper land is contaminated, but they were just going to use it for a waterfront park anyways:
The National Capital Commission says it has no intention of cleaning up the Scott Paper site in Gatineau, 85 per cent of which an environmental study found to be contaminated.
Instead, the federal agency says it plans to spend $3.8 million to contain the contamination at the eight-hectare site on the Ottawa River, and use it for a waterfront park when the land becomes available in 25 years.
In a letter in today's Citizen, NCC chairman Marcel Beaudry acknowledges that the site is contaminated.
But Mr. Beaudry says the soils are not considered hazardous enough to merit a full cleanup, which an environmental study says would cost about $34 million.
"It is not the intention of the NCC to spend $34 million to clean up the Scott Paper lands. ... The sampled soils contained contamination but were not found to be hazardous waste for the purposes of cleanup," Mr. Beaudry wrote.
Asked if the letter meant the NCC would not clean up the site at all, spokeswoman Eva Schacherl faxed this response: "The NCC does not plan to use the site for excavation and construction development. The estimated cost of environmental risk management for the purposes of using the site as parkland, which is the NCC's intention, including risk assessment, soil capping, installation of soil and groundwater barrier, and groundwater treatment, is $3,864,000."
However, according to documents obtained by the Citizen, the containment costs could be as high as $23.6 million. A document prepared by NCC Environmental Services dated May 26, 2003, says "depending on results and identified land use," the risk assessment, which includes capping and barriers, would cost between "$3,864,000 and $23,568,000."
Some environmentalists, however, say the numbers game should not obscure the fact that it is wrong, even irresponsible, for the NCC to buy contaminated land that could pollute the Ottawa River and surrounding buildings and not clean it up completely.
Citizen: NCC has no intention of cleaning up toxic soil on Scott Paper lands [26 Jan 2005]
NCC's Scott Paper site oozes chemicals
The Citizen reports today that cleaning up the Scott Paper land could cost the NCC $34 million:
To fix environmental problems at the site, the consultants proposed two solutions, the less costly of which includes soil capping, a groundwater barrier and on-site groundwater treatment over five years. This measure would meet federal standards for an urban park and cost $3.8 million.
The other proposal is a full cleanup that involves digging up the site and clearing the contaminants, at a cost of $33.7 million. The land won't be developed for a park for at least 25 years and NCC spokeswoman Eva Schacherl said a decision would be made at that time.
The federal agency acquired the land in 2003 as part of its grand vision to transform the Ottawa River shoreline and beautify the nation's capital. The plan includes an aboriginal centre on the east end of Victoria Island and a string of waterfront shops and restaurants on the west end. An urban park, museum and federal office building on Chaudiere Island would round out the rebuilding.
The NCC bought the site "as is" for $36 million from George Weston Limited and leased it back to the company for $29 million over 25 years. According to documents obtained for the Citizen by researcher Ken Rubin under the Access to Information legislation, George Weston, in turn, leased the land back to Scott Paper for more than $70 million over 25 years.
The NCC also agreed to commemorate the role of the Weston family at the site, possibly with a plaque. In 2028, Scott Paper would have to demolish its buildings and hand over the site to the NCC. However, George Weston turned down an NCC request to guarantee that Scott Paper will leave the site as required, suggesting the agency might have to "enlist the assistance of the courts to obtain possession of the site."
Ms. Schacherl said the NCC considers the purchase of such an important urban site a good deal for taxpayers. She said Treasury Board and the auditor general approved the deal.
Citizen: NCC's Scott Paper site oozes chemicals [14 Jan 2005]
What LeBreton planners can learn from the Swedes
The Citizen published a large feature on two successful large inner city developments in Stockholm, contrasting them with the NCC's plans for the LeBreton Flats.
It is interesting to note that Sankt Erik - with an area somewhat less than twice the size of LeBreton's first phase - engaged 10 builders and architectural teams. The NCC chose one developer for LeBreton as a matter of convenience, saying it would be complicated to manage more.
The challenge for this extraordinary piece of public land, reclaimed for development at huge taxpayer expense, will be to maintain and expect the highest standards. Otherwise, what's the point?
Faced with accusations of encouraging banality, the NCC for its part insists that it will "discover the poetry as we go along." We've been staring at their blank page for 40 years.
Citizen: What LeBreton planners can learn from the Swedes [8 Jan 2005]
Working to consign the National Capital Commission to oblivion since 2000.