Past News: 2006
Give them three years
Citizen columnist Randall Denley thinks the NCC should be given at most three years to prove its worth in the wake of the mandate review:
The federal agency has a potentially useful role as the point of connection between Ottawa, Gatineau and the federal government, but it needs to come down from the mountain top where it has resided for more than a decade. If the NCC wants to actively engage in the process of city building, it's welcome, but the NCC's history is one of planning to do, not doing.
How many years has the NCC been talking about improving access to the Ottawa River, for example? The reformed NCC should be given three years, at most, to prove its worth.
Citizen: 2007 is a crucial year for the 'city that can't' [31 Dec 2006]
Missing: real accountability
Citizen letter writer Katie Paris sums up what's missing from the Mandate Review recommendations:
Something is missing in the report on reforming the National Capital Commission: real accountability. The NCC is guilty not of small miscues but of blunders: Letting LeBreton Flats sit undeveloped for 40 years is an unpunished failure, and so is choosing a development with as little spark and innovation as what is now being built.
The NCC needs to be held accountable when it makes lousy decisions, and electoral accountability is the only mechanism where leaders will lose their jobs if they ignore the public good. Citizens of Ottawa and Gatineau should be able to vote for the CEO and chair of the NCC.
Unless there is direct accountability to voters, the NCC will continue to act in an arrogant and unresponsive manner. The proposed public meetings and ombudsman are progress, but they will do little to change the fundamental incentives faced by those who run the NCC.
Citizen: Elect NCC head [28 Dec 2006]
Mandate Review submits report
As expected, the Mandate Review's report recommends giving the NCC more money ($25 million per year) and more power to do what it wants, in exchange for opening some board meetings and other minor tinkering, all passed off as "a major transformation." The Citizen sums up:
The review of the NCC's mission, run by a three-person panel led by Gilles Paquet, said the commission should be strengthened, rather than scrapped, which was one of the suggestions that had been floated by Pontiac MP Lawrence Cannon.
Mr. Paquet said the panel's look at the NCC found the Crown corporation is important to the region to fulfil its role as a capital and a functioning urban area. But he said the increasing criticism faced by the commission -- dismissed by outgoing NCC chairman Marcel Beaudry at a public hearing in Ottawa this fall -- has foundation.
"The NCC has, at times, seemingly lost its way," said Mr. Paquet. He said the commission has developed a "culture of secrecy" in recent years that has fed public mistrust.
The panel found that since the 1990s, there have been a series of "flawed initiatives and public relations problems," often involving plans to sell land or take down buildings, such as those on Metcalfe Street. The commission courted conflict with "cavalier relationship management," and was indifferent to Ottawa history and the attachment of residents to greenspace.
And yet, Mr. Paquet said the commission -- which runs Winterlude and Canada Day festivities, plans federal government projects and land use, and maintains the capital's most scenic public spaces -- would be sorely missed if it were not there. He likened the NCC to the human digestive system: little understood, but essential to a good life.
[...]The panel wants the federal government to instruct the commission not to sell land to generate operating funds. To make up the difference, the government would increase its taxpayer-funded contribution by about $25 million each year. The NCC has an annual budget of about $131 million.
The report is available from the Mandate Review website.
Meanwhile, Chairman Beaudry was trying to put the best spin possible on the review, claiming that the mandate review panel report's call to revamp the NCC is "not an indictment" of the NCC, but "an acknowledgment of the [the NCC's] exceptional work," not realizing, perhaps, that by making the claim he was pretty much proving the point. Ever clueless, he then took the opportunity to take a shot at the whole tiresome business of opening NCC board meetings:
Beaudry said at least one of the recommendations has already been well discussed by the NCC's board. The report asks the NCC to open its meetings to the public, a move already considered twice in the past 14 years, Beaudry said. He added that Treasury Board guidelines recommend Crown corporation meetings be held in private.
Hear that? The NCC board considered opening its meetings twice - twice! - in the past 14 years, and found it to be impractical. Enough already!
CBC: Capital commission should quit selling public lands [21 Dec 2006]
Courageous visionary or monumental failure
The Citizen takes a look at outgoing Chairman Beaudry's legacy in an article today:
As he leaves his post -- his term officially ends Dec. 31 -- Mr. Beaudry leaves a trail of unfinished business.
The 160-acre LeBreton Flats is now ready for development but, after four decades, only 800 homes on 11 acres have been approved for construction. The quest for a new bridge across the Ottawa River remains a distant dream. Despite grand plans and visions for the downtown and waterfront, nothing of major consequence has been done.
Mr. Beaudry's most ambitious plan -- a sweeping boulevard on Metcalfe Street from the Canadian Museum of Nature to Parliament Hill -- collapsed in the wake of massive public opposition. Mr. Beaudry also set his heart on the construction of a centre on Victoria Island to honour First Nations people, but that has not yet happened.
Citizen: Courageous visionary or monumental failure [16 Dec 2006]
NCC needs cultural revolution
Over at The Citizen, city editorial page editor Ken Gray notes some of the differences between dealing with the NCC as opposed to the city:
During the last 10 years at the Citizen, I've written 141 stories and columns that have mentioned the National Capital Commission. It took me months of trying to get my first phone interview with NCC Chairman Marcel Beaudry.
"Mr. Beaudry," I said, "you're a very hard man to reach."
"Well, maybe this is the beginning of a new relationship," the elusive chairman said.
I never heard from him again.
Conversely, former mayor Bob Chiarelli was mentioned 533 times in my stories but he was almost always available for interviews. You could call him, walk with him to meetings, ambush him on the way back from the washroom, he'd call you down to the mayor's boardroom, and sometimes knock on your office door.
Former regional government chief administrative officer Merv Beckstead was so accessible he would apologize if he took too long to answer your phone call. I was just happy to get a call at all.
People such as Mr. Chiarelli and Mr. Beckstead realized that nature and newspapers abhor a vacuum, so if they didn't get their side of the story out, someone else would fill that space. And it might be something they wouldn't like to see in print.
This is by way of saying that the NCC is not only out of touch with the community, it doesn't even make the effort to be in touch.
[...] The decline at the NCC has been precipitous. So much so that officials at the Crown corporation don't understand that by placing two prominent NCC employees on the four-member secretariat that advises the review panel, the NCC jeopardizes the integrity of the mandate review and the Crown corporation itself. No self-respecting organization would allow its members to be working on a supposedly independent review of itself. But then, that's the NCC. If that is what we see of this closed organization from the outside, what's going on inside?
Citizen: NCC needs cultural revolution [15 Dec 2006]
NCC to have "new, stronger mandate"
Little over a week before the expected report from the NCC Mandate Review, and Treasury Board pres John Baird is already crowing about a "new, stronger mandate" for the clapped out organization:
"Lawrence Cannon has been working on this hard, and we've got a phenomenal opportunity to protect the Greenbelt, increase accountability and transparency, and a new, stronger mandate for the NCC," Mr. Baird said in an interview.
"It has the potential to be a big win for environmentalists, for people who want more accountability and for people who want vision. It can be a real accomplishment of this minority Parliament. It is exciting."
Nevertheless, "most observers believe the NCC's mandate will be expanded to include, at least, transportation planning and a new funding model will be put in place to prevent it from being forced to sell land to fund and sustain its activities." Transportation planning - much like that freeway they're building through Gatineau Park? Another "big win" for the environmentalists. Oh yeah, and the new NCC will be "more open."
It's a curious end to a process that started a few short months ago with Lawrence Cannon wondering if the NCC was even necessary. Since then, the NCC performed a reverse takeover of the review to the point where NCC flak Laurie Peters now runs interference for the panel and the NCC gets everything it ever asked for, all in exchange for maybe opening up a few board meetings. Looks like a "big win" alright - for the NCC.
Citizen: More open NCC to have stronger mandate: Baird [13 Dec 2006]
NCC triumphs again!
NCC Watch received a bit of a shock reading The Citizen today:
The board of the National Capital Commission has given itself top marks in a performance evaluation for doing a terrific job overseeing the work of the federal agency.
In the January evaluation, NCC board members gave themselves a score of 4.67 out of five, or a little more than 93 per cent, for overall performance. The board says its assessment fits a group that "has served together under a very strong chairperson for quite some time" and "is doing its job well ... "
Meanwhile, according to access to information documents obtained for the Citizen by researcher Ken Rubin, senior managers are less glowing about how their bosses perform, giving them a 4.2 rating, or 84 per cent.
The board scores ranged from a high of 4.9 for having good working relations with senior managers, to a low of 3.4 for succession planning. The highest score from the managers was 4.7 for board collegiality, and a low of 3.8 for playing an "appropriate and effective" role in the development and approval of the corporate plan.
NCC Watch's reaction was, as you can understand, something along the lines of My god, what have we been doing? You see, in a similar performance evaluation, the NCC Watch 17 member Board of Directors (all positions on which, along with the Chairmanship, are currently held by the NCC Watch CEO and Managing Editor for tiresome reasons of governance we won't get into here) only gave itself 3.58463. That's right - a difference of, er, more than one compared to the NCC board. Well, the numbers don't lie - faced with this cold hard calculus, even NCC Watch must bow to the NCC's evident superiority. We will even grant them an extra 0.33 for humility in admitting they aren't perfect, which, let's face it, they probably are.
Citizen: NCC gives itself top marks for job well done [6 Dec 2006]
NCC panel rejects secrecy beefs
The Ottawa Sun follows up on the secret meetings conducted by the NCC Mandate Review:
A panel studying the future of the National Capital Commission continues to refuse to reveal the participants and content of secret meetings it held over two months to discuss the federal agency that has long been derided for its lack of transparency.
The panel is unmoved by the heavy criticism it has received from local politicians and the public for its decision to keep the meetings under wraps.
Bloc Quebecois Gatineau MP Richard Nadeau said the secret meetings have thrown the legitimacy of the panel's public meetings into doubt.
"Are they putting more importance on their secret meetings than the public meetings?" asked Nadeau, who made a presentation to the panel last night during a public hearing in Gatineau. "When you hide things, it smells bad."
The panel's secrecy is being defended by the minister who created it.
"These people have to deliberate and they conduct consultations at the same time," Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon said Friday while responding to a question from Nadeau during Question Period. "In order to prepare the work and the recommendations, they need to work together."
The panel says it will release a list of people and organizations that had private meetings with the panel once the report is released. The transcripts won't be released.
Sun: NCC rejects secrecy beefs [16 Nov 2006]
NCC Mandate Review public consultation meeting, take 1
The first NCC Mandate Review public consultation meeting went down in predictable fashion last night, with Chairman Beaudry denying that anything is wrong and demanding more power for the NCC. Area politicians Jim Watson and Paul Dewar took the opportunity to ask for more openness from the NCC. A parade of well meaning groups also offered a variety of ideas for tinkering with the NCC's funding and governance, or presented plans for various projects, believing somehow that if only the NCC could be renewed or subverted to their ends, all would be well. Some former NCC employees were also on hand to offer their support.
NCC Watch's position remains that "NCC renewal" is a contradiction in terms, and any renewed NCC will ultimately be subject to the same issues of empire building and corporate arrogance that currently plague the NCC.
Citizen: Give NCC more power, chairman says [10 Nov 2006]
NCC Mandate Review won't disclose secret meeting transcripts
The Ottawa Sun reports that the NCC Mandate Review panel is refusing to release a list of individuals and organizations it has met with in secret, let alone the transcripts of the meetings. Evidently oblivious of the irony of conducting secret meetings to review an organization criticized for secretiveness, the review panel's executive director claims all is well:
Gilles Dery, the panel's executive director, says it's normal practice to hold secret meetings. Some of the individuals and groups with opinions on the NCC do not want their views known publicly, he says. Dery says a list of everyone who was consulted will be included in the final report, but the contents of the secret meetings will never be released to the public.
This should prompt further calls to review the review panel. Meanwhile, Chairman Beaudry took the opportunity to once again blame the media "for creating the perception of secrecy at the agency," all the while insisting, without a hint of irony, that there's no reason to open up NCC board meetings as federal guidelines do not require it.
NCC Board Annual Public Meeting
Time once again for the "Annual Public Meeting of the National Capital Commission's Board of Directors." Every year at this time, Chairman Beaudry gives his stock speech about how great things are going at the NCC, the members of the NCC board decorate the podium like so many potted plants, and the public gets to criticize the NCC in a Q&A session afterwards. If this sounds like your thing, join the fun, such as it is, Tuesday, November 21, 2006 at 7 pm, at the Holiday Inn Plaza La Chaudière, Salle des Nations, 2 Montcalm Street, Gatineau. The meeting will also be broadcast live, starting at 7 pm on Rogers Television (cable 22 in English and cable 23 in French) and on Canal Vox Outaouais (cable 22).
Name that park!
You wanted public consultation, you got it! The NCC wants YOU to help them name a new park in the LeBreton Flats. That's right - you see, "in the context of the 150th anniversary of the Capital," the NCC is keen to show how well they are listening to the public, so put on those thinking caps, YOU can make a difference.
NCC Watch has already made our submission - "LeBreton Flats Memorial Park." We think this improves on the NCC's own suggestions, commemorating as it does the destruction of the LeBreton Flats by the NCC 40 years ago. This name would also have "Strong recognition of the local community" (well, not too local - they were all expropriated and pushed out 40 years ago). It also has "Interesting reference to the location" covered. "Highly symbolic"? Check. "National significance"? Check. "Will mark history"? Check. In short, it's a winner. We've also got a great idea for what should go in the park - a 1:1 scale model of the neighborhood they destroyed.
The park naming consultation will take place from November 3, 2006 to January 5, 2007, at which point the NCC will probably name the park The Nation's Place, which has the benefit of being both banal and meaningless.
Dewar crafting bill to crack open NCC
Ottawa-Centre MP Paul Dewar will introduce a private members' bill in Parliament intended to open the NCC, establish "merit-based" appointments, clearly define the roles of NCC members, and mandate elected representatives on the NCC board. Dewar criticized the NCC Mandate Review as "a regrettable reflection of how the NCC already operates," stating that "It's sadly mirroring the behaviour of the NCC, which is not the whole problem but a good part of the problem." He also describes the NCC's process for developing the LeBreton Flats, which resulted in only one bidder for the project, as a "fiasco."
City Journal: Dewar crafting bill to crack open NCC [1 Nov 2006]
Review the NCC review
An editorial in The Citizen today highlights the latest absurdities of the NCC Mandate Review:
So what has happened since the current review started? Well, two of the major players in the secretariat that helps and advises the three-person panel are major players at the NCC. That's a problem.
Now the way the panel has set up the consultation on the review smacks of the way the NCC holds its meetings.
To speak at these consultations, you had to register by Oct. 15 and provide a written submission last week. As well, the panel will accept submissions but isn't compelled to make them public.
Now not only does the NCC need review, the review of the NCC needs review. How much longer can this mess be allowed to continue?
Citizen: Review the NCC review [30 Oct 2006]
MP launches alternate review
With the NCC mandate review now more or less serving the NCC's own agenda, Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar has decided to organize and host an open forum on the NCC's future Saturday, November 4 from 2-4 pm at the Old Firehall on Sunnyside Avenue. The forum will feature as yet unnamed "progressive thinkers" and "land use experts." In explaining his reasons, he cites the overly restrictive nature of the comment submission process and widespread cynicism in his constituency. "This is the wrong process, run by the wrong people, and it is costing far too much," he said.
Minister Cannon responded by praising Chairman Beaudry, the NCC, and the mandate review panel.
Radio-Canada: Un député conteste le processus de révision [26 Oct 2006]
Claim Gatineau Park can't be national park untrue
The Citizen reports that, despite claims to the contrary, Quebec is not blocking making Gatineau Park a national park. The federal government and the NCC previously claimed a national park was not possible as Quebec had refused to transfer its property to the federal government. However, according to Jean-Paul Murray, Senate speechwriter and Gatineau Park activist, this is something of a canard as the province transferred control of lake bottoms and management of Gatineau Park lands it owns to the federal government, specifically for park purposes, and nothing else is required. The Quebec government transferred control of 17 per cent of the park to the federal government in a 1973 Order-in-Council. Senator Mira Spivak has tabled a private member's bill that would prevent the uncontrolled sale of parts of Gatineau Park by giving Parliament control over changes to the park's boundaries.
Mandate review fatally undermined
In his Citizen column today, Ken Gray points out something pretty obvious, once you're looking for it, about the NCC Mandate Review Panel: two of four members (not including two support workers) of the mandate review secretariat are NCC employees. Listed on the mandate review contacts web page are Laurie Peters, NCC spokesperson, and Francois Lapointe, NCC planning director. Amazingly, Ms. Peters is responsible for telling the panel what areas of NCC operations the public has had concerns about.
From the article:
The secretariat supports the panel's work and gives contract and project management advice on financial matters. Certainly other people could have been found to provide communications or financial advice in political affairs in the national capital of consultation. People like this grow on trees in this community. Why go to the NCC for it?
Mr. Drery [the secretariat executive director] said he knew the optics of having NCC people on the NCC review weren't good, but he felt the short time frame for the panel to report to government meant the Crown corporation's people had to be brought on board.
In reality, the appearances are terrible. Are these two people likely to recommend or support or mention, say, eliminating their jobs? The appointment of half the secretariat from the NCC is the kind of trust and transparency complaint that has dogged the NCC for years.
Many residents of the national capital already distrust the NCC. Why? Well, there was the matter of just missing destroying Ottawa's downtown by bulldozing a ceremonial boulevard through millions of dollars worth of good businesses on Metcalfe Street so the Peace Tower's view would be centred on the street.
Then, of course, there was the botched development of the Daly site, a location of national importance occupied by a condominium. Or placing a series of post-Stalinist apartment buildings on LeBreton Flats. Or just leaving the Flats sit idle for about half a century.
[...] In fact, from a public relations and governance view, the panel has already failed because residents can't trust its findings. As a result, don't be optimistic that a new NCC will come out of the study to be revealed in December.
So, after a promising start, the Mandate Review appears to be just one more botched attempt at reforming the NCC.
Citizen: NCC employees working on review of agency [13 Oct 2006]
Last chance to register for mandate review consultations
The NCC Mandate Review Panel would like to remind everybody that this is the last week to register for the NCC Mandate Review Panel Public Consultations.
Visit the NCC Mandate Review website for details.
Public consultation period underway for NCC review
Having dismissed the only rational course of action for dealing with the NCC problem, the recently appointed three-member NCC Mandate Review Panel is opening the floor to the public to solicit, oh, whatever other ideas they can come up with. Public meetings will be held November 8, 2006 at the University of Quebec in Gatineau and November 9, 2006 at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. "Interested individuals and groups" who want some time should register by October 16 and send a written brief of their presentation to the panel no later than October 27. Not quite so interested people have until November 15, 2006 to submit written comments.
The NCC Mandate Review now has its very own website as well.
NCC Mandate Review: Release [18 Sep 2006]
Don't expect any big changes at NCC
Citizen columnist Kelly Egan takes a look at the NCC Mandate Review, and has understandably low expectations:
In April, Lawrence Cannon, the federal minister responsible, announced a review of the NCC's mandate. Here was point one, verbatim:
"Is the National Capital Commission still important? Is it even necessary?"
By early August, a miraculous conversion occurred. When Mr. Cannon announced the makeup of the review panel, abolition was off the table. A new first point appeared, verbatim:
"Assess the various functions of the NCC."
The second task focused on "governance structures" and the third on funding and "cost-effectiveness."
Wow. Score one for the commish.
[...]The review panel chairman, University of Ottawa's Gilles Paquet, has already expressed the view that the NCC isn't funded properly. So in four months, the entire framing of the question has changed, from "do you need to exist?" to "how can we get you more money?"
Hardly a bold prediction but, at the end of the day, the NCC will survive, albeit with doo-dads attached.
[...]If we could sell 10 per cent of the greenspace, or 2,000 hectares, and use those funds to build a new science museum or a subway, or bring to life the Ottawa River islands, or rescue the Sparks Street Mall, would you make the deal?
This is the kind of big proposal, I think, that is worth thinking about in terms of building a great capital.
Instead, we have a farm being restored in Gatineau and talk of an equestrian park. We have the NCC fussing over pine cone pickers along the Rideau Canal, or fending off dog owners, or negotiating leases for hospital land.
How does it get so regularly side-tracked from its core function?
The NCC, if anything, suffers from a lack of grandeur in its vision, not an overabundance, as some would have you believe.
It has many pretty plans locked in brochures and, forever and a day, nothing seems to happen on the ground. Its biggest problem is not open-versus-closed board meetings, it's inertia.
Citizen: Don't expect any big changes at NCC [11 Aug 2006]
NCC mandate review panel announced
The panel tasked with reviewing the NCC is already off on the wrong foot by declaring that they will not be abolishing the NCC. And things look set to go downhill from there. According to The Citizen, panel Chairman Gilles Paquette "sees the NCC's problem as fundamentally a 'governance' issue that needs an appropriate solution. 'I see it as a design problem. It is like an architect, and the challenge is, can we manage to design the building in such a way that it fits everyone?' he said. 'We are going to work hard at it, and then the challenge will be to put together a design that for that house that will work for everyone.'" You know, sort of like an episode of Debbie Travis' Facelift, but with bureaucrats. Our prediction for the big reveal: lots of neutral colours.
Marcel Beaudry has once again confirmed his willingness to not obstruct or undermine the review, and no doubt looks forward to subverting the review panel to the NCC's ends.
CBC: Professor appointed to NCC review panel [2 Aug 2006]
Raise my rent, Episode IX
Meanwhile, back on the Greenbelt, hot on the heels of the Queensway-Carleton Hospital's recent $1 rent reprieve comes news that the Ottawa Municipal Campground's own 40 year lease is coming to an end. Much like the hospital, the campground faces a massive rent hike as landlord the NCC seeks market value rents for its land, expropriated on behalf of a grateful nation all those years ago.
Citizen: A camping gem in jeopardy [2 Aug 2006]
Queensway-Carleton to get $1 rent
Local MPs John Baird and Pierre Poilievre will announce next week that the federal government will slash the Queensway-Carleton Hospital's rent to a token $1 a year for the NCC land it sits on.
The hospital's rent has been a source of controversy since 2004, when the hospital revealed that its lease with its landlord, the NCC, stipulated that it must pay 6.5% of the value of the land, which meant the rent was due to increase from the current $23,000 to $3.4 million when the lease came up for renewal in 2013. The NCC refused to give the hospital a break, citing Treasury Board regulations. John Baird is now Treasury Board President.
The deal amounts to an absolute victory for the NCC - not only will the NCC continue to get its current rent of $23,000 (from the federal government instead of the hospital), it will also get its higher, market-based rent from the feds when the lease is renegotiated in 2013, estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands.
NCC legal holdout
The Citizen reports today that most of the legal challenges to Ottawa's official plan for development have been dropped before going to the Ontario Municipal Board. The biggest holdout is, as always, the NCC, which continues to object to the city's designation of some of its land as greenspace. For more on the NCC's OMB challenges to the city's plans, see the Greenspace Alliance link below.
Saving the last of LeBreton
Today's Citizen has an article about Lorne Avenue, a surviving remnant of the LeBreton Flats:
When the Great Fire of 1900 swept from Hull to Ottawa, the houses along Lorne were destroyed. A huge rebuilding effort followed, between 1900 and 1907 -- in some cases on the original foundations -- with the working-class people of the street embracing brick over wood. They built their more fire-resistant homes and carried on their lives as workers on the CPR, dressmakers, mill workers, shopkeepers, labourers in a large ice-house, and even an undertaker, according to a city directory from 1899. They typically walked to work, often in LeBreton Flats.
When the National Capital Commission expropriated the properties of LeBreton Flats in the early 1960s, as part of urban renewal efforts across Canada, Lorne Avenue wasn't included in the first phase of the project, perhaps because it was on the fringe of the Flats, or perhaps because its houses were in better shape. The NCC ran out of money and didn't do the second phase.
Tellingly, the best thing about the NCC's "urban renewal project" on the LeBreton Flats is that they ran out of money.
Citizen: Residents aim to save last of LeBreton [22 Jul 2006]
War Memorial a jurisdictional hot potato
After the recent Canada Day/War Memorial kerfufle, Sun reporter Jorge Barrera tries to find out who actually has jurisdiction. Seems like nobody wants the thing:
Veterans Affairs says it has nothing to do with the day-to day care of the monument, which holds the remains of the Unknown Soldier.
At first, Gerald Lefebvre, spokesman for Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson, said it was up to public works and Heritage Canada to take care of the site. Later he corrected himself, saying the responsibility rested with public works and the National Capital Commission.
"Really, it is public works that owns and maintains the memorial on behalf of the government, and the National Capital Commission controls anything around the site," he said. "Public works are the main guys."
Well, not quite, according to public works.
"We do major repairs when it is required and the NCC does ongoing maintenance and Veterans Affairs owns it," said Nicole Babin, spokesman for Public Works Minister Michael Fortier.
According to the NCC, Veterans Affairs has oversight over the monument and they decide what happens there. But then things get complicated.
NCC spokesman Lucy Caron said that no one has total ownership of the monument's lands. The NCC owns the plaza all the way up the stairs to, but not including, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Public works owns that chunk, said Caron.
Barring a winner-takes-all cage match, NCC Watch doesn't know how to resolve this dispute, but we do know how to simplify it. Veterans Affairs, Public Works, the NCC - ask yourself, which one of these is most expendable?
Sun: The unknown caretaker [16 Jul 2006]
NCC not accountable for taxpayer money
Columnist E. Kaye Fulton writes in her Osprey Media Group column:
If Ottawa is really serious about making itself accountable, perhaps it could turn a new leaf in its own front yard and confront the appalling gall of the National Capital Commission.
[...] Although most Canadians know little and care less about the NCC, they might if they pondered its multi-million-dollar budget or the reasons why the Crown corporation drives many people who live within its jurisdiction to distraction.
More to the point, they might wonder why MPs languishing in the House of Commons to pass the Federal Accountability Act before summer recess aren't in revolt over scant mention of the NCC in the bill's 200 pages and 44 amendments.
[...]According to the Ottawa Citizen, the NCC sold or transferred 48 private properties, 1,507 acres in all, in Gatineau Park between 1960 and 1997. Of that total, NCC declared 16 properties, or 296 acres, as surplus but won't reveal where they are or what it intends to do with them because, it argues, future negotiating positions would be jeopardized.
Particularly troublesome is that the NCC's refusal came in response to the newspaper's request through Access to Information, a promised area of reform that, like the NCC, is also excluded from the omnibus accountability legislation.
Last March, the Citizen caught the NCC at the peak of absurdity. The paper petitioned and won access to a private NCC document outlining a five-year plan to dispel the public perception that it is secretive and unaccountable.
[...] So why should you care?
For one thing, Treasury Board President John Baird, an Ottawa MP, has mused that NCC funding - which in 2002-2003 amounted to $125 million in parliamentary appropriations - should be increased by as much as $7 million a year to finance capital projects.
That's your money they're throwing around, in private.
Sault Star: NCC not accountable for taxpayer money [22 Jun 2006]
A bankrupt NCC
From an editorial in The Citizen today:
Why are we just discovering now that contamination from Jacques Cartier Park is possibly flowing into the Ottawa River? Why does it take researcher Ken Rubin to find the documents (some of which date back to 1993) that reveal this and other environmental questions at the park? Why didn't the National Capital Commission tell the public about environmental issues on land the citizens of this country (not the NCC custodians of the property) own?
But then we could ask why the NCC last week found itself on the wrong end of a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision that ruled that the NCC discriminated against people with mobility disabilities in building the York Street Steps.
If private companies served the public this way, they would go bankrupt. And that's what we have at the NCC -- a transparency, efficiency and ethical bankruptcy. With so little oversight in the past, it appears responsible only unto itself.
Transportation Minister Lawrence Cannon's reform of the Crown corporation cannot come soon enough.
Citizen: A bankrupt NCC [12 Jun 2006]
NCC steps descriminatory
The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has found that the NCC's York steps are discriminatory because they are not wheelchair-accessible. The NCC reconstructed the steps in the late 90s for $1.7 million. Bob Brown, a Lowertown resident, filed the complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission in 1999.
True to form, the NCC's problems appear to be self-inflicted. From the decision:
The NCC responded to the controversy by arranging a meeting with the Access Committee of the Disabled Persons Community Resources Centre on March 17, 1999, to discuss the situation. The meeting was closed. There was a disagreement between the parties as to whether the Access Committee was the appropriate organization to consult. Mr. Brown was allowed to attend the meeting, but on the basis that he would not discuss it with the Municipal Advisory Committee. He testified that he felt "gagged".
[...] Mr. Warren reported to the Committee that the only solution offered by the NCC was the elevator at the Daly site. The feeling of the Committee was that the NCC had already decided that access would be provided at the Daly site. This was a fait accompli and was not open to negotiation.
[...] The overall message was simple: the preferred alternative was to install a public elevator at the Daly Building. Mr. Warren says that the other options were never seriously addressed. "It was a window dressing exercise."
[...] I am satisfied that the NCC sincerely believed that the provision of an elevator at the Daly site would provide reasonable accommodation. This may help to explain why the NCC did not engage in the kind of open, exploratory discussion that the law requires in 1994 and 1999. Mr. Brown, Mr. Warren and Mr. McMahon, all of whom are unable to climb the steps, found the attitude of the NCC patronizing.
Top NCC job open to all Canadians
The feds are starting their search for a new NCC Chair. From the Citizen:
The federal government is set to launch a search for a new chairman for the National Capital Commission and in a sharp departure from tradition, it is asking any qualified Canadian -- not just people from the Ottawa region -- to apply.
With Marcel Beaudry's 14-year term coming to an end in September, Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon told the Citizen he wants a replacement some time this summer.
A first for the NCC, the public search for a chairman means the next boss of the commission will likely not be the patronage appointment it has been for decades. And with a nationwide search, the replacement could well be someone from outside the area, with scant knowledge of the region.
"We will be getting the process under way whereby we will invite any interested party, any interested Canadian who so wishes to be chair of the National Capital Commission, to put forward their resume and we will take it from there," Mr. Cannon said in an interview.
"I'd like to launch this process as soon as the federal accountability act is adopted. We want to be able to have something in place as rapidly as possible so that the person can get some time to assimilate, and also be part and parcel of the NCC review process."
Citizen: Top NCC job open to all Canadians [31 May 2006]
On the Waterfront, Again
Gatineau is teaming up with the NCC to drop a cool $32 million on the Gatineau waterfront. The NCC spent the 60's building "scenic" drives, and they haven't tired of the concept, as the new project will include terraced views, lookouts and so forth. Coincidentally, last month, local federal ministers Cannon and Baird both expressed interest in waterfront development. At the news conference, Chairman Beaudry magnanimously announced that people living along Jacques Cartier Street will be allowed to stay: "It's not a question of saying 'we've got this great view, we're going to be tearing everything down and we're going to be putting castles out there.' These people have been living there. That's the history of the place." Minister Cannon was also present at the announcement.
Citizen: NCC, Gatineau to spend $32M on waterfront park [6 May 2006]
Abolish the NCC? Not likely
Ken Rubin points out in the Citizen today that, despite questioning the NCC's purpose, the Conservative government looks more like it wants to continue, and even expand the NCC:
As Rubin says, "it sounds like not only is the NCC staying around, but that it is going to continue to have a big-time developer role, however secretly and badly it has performed that role in the past."
Minister Cannon announced a mandate review of the NCC last week.
Citizen: The Tories don't really want a reformed NCC [20 Apr 2006]
'An incompetent babysitter'
Minister Cannon's questioning whether the NCC is really necessary has generated a small flurry of news items, most expressing only grudging support for the NCC's continued existence.
But only Randall Denley gets it right:
When Tory cabinet minister Lawrence Cannon asked if the National Capital Commission was still necessary, he raised the right question. Too bad no one is jumping up with the correct answer.
Despite years of complaining about the NCC, our timid politicians are afraid to see it go away because that would mean they'd have to undertake the responsibilities of a real city without a federal big brother to help them. How scary.
None of the three main candidates for mayor wants the NCC abolished and city councillors who have reacted to Cannon's review of the NCC's future have focused primarily on the threat of downloading cost to the city. This is a narrow view, to put it kindly.
[...]The NCC is incompetent, unnecessary and harmful to the maturation of Ottawa.
[...]The NCC is simply unnecessary. Buildings such as Rideau Hall and 24 Sussex Drive can be maintained just as badly by Public Works. The same for interprovincial bridges. The Gatineau Park can be run by Parks Canada, even though some believe there is an important distinction between a federally owned park and a national park. Surely there is no legitimate national interest in a federally owned Greenbelt.
There are real gains to be made by blowing up the NCC. Nearly 20 per cent of its $124-million budget is spent on administration. Another 18 per cent is spent on festivals and promoting the capital. Why is it the job of a federal agency to organize a winter festival in Ottawa? If people here want a winter festival, surely we can undertake it. The same for tourism promotion.
[...]It's high time we grew and looked after all the city's parks, planning, tourism promotion and festivals. It's what real cities do. One can't help but notice that every other city in Canada seems to be able to function without a federal babysitter. Politicians who don't get that aren't really worthy of leading the kind of city Ottawa can become.
Citizen: An incompetent babysitter [18 Apr 2006]
Cannon questions role of NCC
In a speech today, minister of transport, infrastructure and communities Lawrence Cannon raised questions on the role of the NCC, including whether it was still pertinent. But questions were all he had, falling short of revealing any concrete plans for reform and insisting that changes would only come about after a "full and frank discussion."
One concrete change that has come about is separating the roles of Chairman and CEO - but only after Chairman Beaudry retires in the fall.
The NCC, meanwhile, was quick to ingratiate themselves with their new overlords in their usual self-serving way. Still, how reassuring to learn that the federal agency is committed to fully cooperating with the federal government.
Citizen: Is the NCC necessary? [14 Apr 2006]
Citizen editorial slams NCC
The Citizen, while stubbornly falling short of advocating the full scale abolition of the NCC, had several pointed criticisms in an editorial today. Some nice quotes:
Everything you need to know about the National Capital Commission is summed up by the way a five-year initiative to dispel the idea that the NCC is secretive and unaccountable was revealed. It was obtained through access to information. Rather than produce a five-year plan to appear open and transparent, why not just be open and transparent?
[...]The NCC, a creaky, out-of-touch bureaucracy, hunkers down behind the walls of the Chambers Building, fearing controversy and debate. On his castle throne, the woefully inaccessible Marcel Beaudry ponders the end of his 14-year reign. His tired, confused term concludes in September.
As this happens, the NCC is concerned attendance at its annual meetings is declining. Of course it's falling. No real business is conducted at these public-relations dog-and-pony shows. People are not stupid. They want input into real decisions at open board meetings -- something the NCC has steadfastly refused to allow.
Read the whole thing.
Citizen: A new and improved NCC [23 Mar 2006]
Fewer people attending NCC meetings
The Citizen has uncovered, via access to information, that attendance at the NCC's showcase annual public meetings has dropped regularly as people realized they were simply empty PR exercises. Participation in the annual general meetings has fallen from 250 people in 2001, to 100 in 2002, 80 in 2003, and 40 in 2004 and 2005.
The meetings were started back in 2001 in response to a report by consultant Glen Shortliffe. The NCC also hired former casino marketing executive Guy Laflamme around the same time. The NCC's goal, of course, was not to change how it operates, but to improve its public image.
The attempt appears to have failed. The Citizen published a poll over the weekend that found 30 per cent of respondents favour minor reform, 28 per cent want major reform, and seven per cent would just as soon consign the NCC to oblivion.
Citizen: NCC plan aims to improve public image [22 Mar 2006]
Annual Interest Group meeting announced
The NCC has announced its annual interest group meeting will take place Wednesday, May 3, 2006, at 6:30 pm at the Christ Church Cathedral Hall, located at 420 Sparks Street, Ottawa. Interest groups must register and send a written brief to the NCC no later than March 27, 2006. The general public is also welcome to attend.
No need to arrive early, we understand there will be plenty of seats available.
NCC still seeks partner for Sparks Street project
The NCC is still looking for a developer to build on its site at 106-116 Sparks Street (the 'Canlands A' site). This is the second time they've tried to get someone on board for this project; it was first announced back in 2004. Two developers submitted proposals in 2005 and both subsequently pulled out. This happens all the time with NCC projects - it's starting to look like another Daly building fiasco. The site includes the former Centre Theatre and a bank building; the buildings are currently vacant. The NCC purchased the properties along with several others in the same block during a spending spree back in 2001 at greatly inflated prices.
CBC: NCC seeks Sparks Street developer [23 Mar 2006]
Time to rethink the NCC
With a new government in power, seems like a good time reconsider the NCC's role, and Citizen editorial board member Kate Heartfield digs right in, suggesting right off the top that new minister Lawrence Cannon "should begin by asking himself why the NCC exists." And it only gets better:
The NCC's attempts to further beautify the city in the last decade or so have been ridiculous. Remember the proposal to widen Metcalfe Street so it would line up with the Parliament Buildings? Or the defunct Canada and the World Pavilion? This is what happens when you have an organization with a budget and no reason to exist. All the NCC can do to Ottawa now is mess it up.
There are plenty of ordinary projects the NCC could do that have nothing to do with making Ottawa capital-worthy. But there's no reason for the NCC to do those things. We have a city council, a provincial government, and federal departments in charge of heritage, parks and public works.
It was the NCC that razed LeBreton Flats four decades ago, but there's no reason the city government couldn't be in charge of redeveloping it now. The city manages development in other neighbourhoods within a stone's throw of Parliament Hill, and does at least as good a job as the NCC is doing with the Flats.
It is an insult to democracy to suggest that only the NCC can take the long view when it comes to developing Ottawa, as city council is too dependent on the goodwill of its constituents. Ottawa's residents have as much interest as anyone in ensuring that the capital is a beautiful place, now and in the future.
Citizen: Time to rethink the NCC [14 Feb 2006]
NCC house from hell
From the Citizen, another NCC Horror Story:
When Duff Conacher moved into a rented five-bedroom bungalow on Kingsmere Lake in Gatineau Park in June 2000, he thought he had found an idyllic place to live a few minutes from downtown Ottawa.
Now, the co-ordinator of Democracy Watch, a government accountability lobby group, thinks the place he rents from the National Capital Commission for $1,500 a month is the house from hell.
Tests have determined the well water used for drinking is contaminated with uranium and E.coli bacteria and the air inside the house contains 3.5 to five times the Canadian guideline and seven to 10 times the U.S. guideline for radon gas, a leading cause of lung cancer.
His well water supply has been interrupted several times, pipes leaked and the drinking water sometimes smelled of heating oil from an underground tank. The house is contaminated with mould, and the septic tank overflowed into the backyard. Three other tenants who helped cover the rent moved out months ago.
The Regie de logement, Quebec's landlord and tenant tribunal, is this month to hear Mr. Conacher's demand that the NCC refund $58,560 in rent and pay $8,800 for his inconvenience. Mr. Conacher said the NCC has declared the house uninhabitable and wants to demolish it because it would cost $30,000 to seal the floors and basement walls and install ventilation equipment to rid the house of radon gas.
He refused a $5,000 settlement offer from the NCC because he would have to give up any future legal claim, should he become ill.
NCC spokeswoman Eva Schacherl could not comment on Mr. Conacher's case, but said the policy is to demolish houses the NCC owns within Gatineau Park that need extensive repairs and return the land to greenspace. She said the NCC has not declared the house to be uninhabitable, but has told the tenants it must be demolished.
Yep, the house is to be demolished at the end of the lease, but it's not uninhabitable. The NCC - not your ordinary slumlord.
Citizen: How pollutants turned a man's idyllic Chelsea home into the house from hell [1 Feb 2006]
NCC discovers warmer temperatures will mean it's less cold
In today's Citizen, Randall Denley reviews the NCC's latest brainstorm, a $31,000 report on how they will cope with better weather in the event of global warming. Various disaster scenarios include possibly having to move the tulip festival forward a few weeks and maybe even being forced to rename it. They should have a competition sometime in 2040.
Key insights from the report, per Mr Denley:
Temperature influences how long ice sculptures will last once carved.
Really cold temperatures tend to reduce overall attendance at Winterlude, while balmy February temperatures can attract more people.
Natural snow cover is expected to decline in the national capital region as the climate warms.
Cross-country skiing in the national capital region is reliant on natural snow because the linear nature and long distances of its trails make widespread implementation of snowmaking systems technically difficult and very expensive.
Global warming? Relax - the NCC is all over it.
Citizen: NCC pays $31,000 for study a child could have done [19 Jan 2006]
Senator to table new Gatineau Park bill
Hard on the heels of a bill proposed by Ed Broadbent last fall to protect Gatineau Park, Senator Mira Spivak intends to table a similar bill this year. The bill would "prevent the uncontrolled sale of parts of Gatineau Park by giving Parliament control over changes to the park's boundaries."
According to a Citizen article today (behind the subscriber wall):
Commission records show that between 1960 and 1997, the NCC sold or transferred 48 private properties -- for a total of 1,507 acres -- from the park.
Those transactions include: 13 properties, or 430 acres, that have been sold, 13 properties comprising 345 acres transferred to the Quebec Ministry of Transport, six properties, or 436 acres, that have been offered to Chelsea.
There are also 16 properties, or 296 acres, that have been declared surplus, but the NCC won't say where they are or what it plans to do with them, because such information "relates to future transactions," and releasing the information would harm the commission's negotiating position.
The NCC refused an access to information request about the 296 "surplus" acres, stating that the matter "relates to future transactions and would be detrimental to the NCC's future negotiation position."
Local Liberals disagree on NCC
What a difference a few years and an election make. Time was when the local Liberal caucus slavishly supported the NCC. But when Ottawa Liberal MP Mauril Belanger suggested the next NCC chair be from outside the Ottawa region, Ottawa Centre Liberal candidate Richard Mahoney shot right back that the chair should be from Ottawa. Both appear to support public NCC board meetings. But while Belanger stresses that his remarks are no comment on the current regime, Mahoney says "the NCC must undergo fundamental organizational reform, starting from the top, to make it a truly democratic institution." Chairman Beaudry's current term finally ends in September.
Citizen: Belanger wants new NCC chief to be from outside Ottawa region [4 Jan 2006]
E.R. Fisher abandons Sparks Street
E. R. Fisher, on Sparks Street for more than 100 years, has decided to move all its operations to its Westboro location. At the current location since 1942, they owned the building until the feds expropriated it in 1972. They own their location in Westboro. Fisher also cited "frustrations of dealing with three levels of government - federal, the NCC and the city."
Working to consign the National Capital Commission to oblivion since 2000.