Past News: 2008
Make a decision on rail, already
In the Citizen, Kelly Egan wonders why the NCC can't just make a decision one way or another about using the Parkway land for rail transit, already:
The National Capital Commission continues to be cagey about the possible use of transit trains on a leg of the Ottawa River Parkway.
Why? How many more months, years even, must it cling to "maybe"?
The Crown agency has been saying the City of Ottawa should not presume it can plunk its trains and wires and platforms and fences along a three-kilometre stretch of the parkway, leading to Lincoln Fields.
One night this week, here was chairman Russell Mills on the subject:
"I think it would be a mistake, as I said, for anyone to presume what the board might decide."
Here was chief executive Marie Lemay: "The parkway is not a done deal."
Here is board member Jacquelin Holzman, a former mayor of Ottawa:
"If the city thinks they are going to get an easy ride on the western parkway, they are sadly mistaken."
It is high time the NCC said yes or no.
The current position is untenable, particularly after the city a approved the $7.2-billion transit plan only days ago. Its preferred route -- there's a shocker -- is to use a section of the parkway to take transit westward.
When is the NCC going to let us know? When the track hits Dominion station?
Egan also reveals that NCC CEO Lemay helpfully pointed out the difference between its Parkway and other, ordinary roads:
"This special affiliation between the multifunctional green setting and the roadway plus pathways is what distinguishes the parkway from municipal roadways," Ms. Lemay wrote to the city in April.
"The option of using the parkway corridor could pose challenges to the diverse cultural and geographic landscape, integrity and function of the parkway corridor."
The parkway, in fact, is just a prettied-up road by the river.
It carries loads of traffic. The Champlain Bridge was not expanded to three lanes to carry leaf-watchers to Gatineau Park. It is an integral part of the Ottawa-Aylmer commute.
So, the NCC is hung up on challenges to the special affiliation. Well, NCC Watch is happy to clarify matters for you guys - you see, in addition to lots of cars, you will have trains, too. And you know, this just might create a special affiliation between the multifunctional green setting and the railway plus roadway plus pathways, which really should distinguish the NCC portion of the light rail from ordinary municipal light rail. It'll be, you know, special. So think about it and get back to us whenever it feels right.
Citizen: Town, Crown and the parkway [5 Dec 2008]
City warned off using parkway for rail
From the Citizen:
The National Capital Commission yesterday reminded the City of Ottawa that it cannot bank on using the Ottawa River Parkway for a key part of its $7.2-billion transit plan, and urged a serious consideration of other options.
[...]"This is our property and we've said all along that the western parkway is not a done deal. I met Mr. O'Brien and confirmed that," Ms. Lemay said. "The plan they are adopting will not dictate the course of the parkway."
Russ Mills, chairman of the NCC board, also cautioned the city not to make assumptions on the parkway that may come back to haunt them.
"It will be a mistake for anyone to presume what the board may decide. They should be aware that most of the board members do not live in the national capital region; they are here to build a national capital for all Canadians and that's the way they look at it," Mr. Mills said. "It will be a mistake for anyone to assume either it will be approved or not approved and start planning and spending money."
[...]"If the city thinks they are going to get an easy ride on the western parkway, they are sadly mistaken," Ms. Holzman said.
Ms. Holzman told her board colleagues that the city may be moving full-speed ahead with its plans to box in the NCC. By putting all their eggs in the parkway basket, it would come down to a situation in which the NCC would feel it has no choice but to cave in. Ms. Holzman said the NCC board will not be stampeded into a decision.
"I want to raise the concern that board members should not feel that they are being jammed into making a decision,' Ms. Holzman said.
"I want to be very sure that the city knows it is not a fait accompli that just because buses are using the western parkway temporarily, the NCC board is going to approve that route for trains."
The bit about buses using the western parkway temporarily is a bit of a laugh - they've been there for 30 odd years. And no one really says why rail is so much more objectionable than the four lane divided highway that's there now.
Citizen: Don't count on parkway for rail, city told [4 Dec 2008]
NCC Annual Meeting
The NCC is holding its "Annual General Meeting," which is basically an extended Q&A session with the Chairman and the CEO, along with the Board members, who come along to fill out the dais.
It all goes down Wednesday December 3 at the Beethoven Room of the Hilton Lac-Leamy. This year you have to register to ask a question, after which there will be a draw to see who gets the honour of an audience. Details at the NCC's website.
Chaudiere Island: "big plans"
Mind you, these aren't recent big plans, these are the same big plans the NCC has been touting for more than a decade:
Now, the National Capital Commission is preparing a plan to transform Chaudiere Falls and Island, as well as the nearby Victoria Island, to make them more accessible to the public.
The plan still faces a hurdle, because much of the land is owned by the paper manufacturer, Domtar, which while not using the land, has yet to agree to sell it.
"[The site is] extremely important for the capital, Canada's capital. This site, it's crucial. It holds tremendous opportunity," said Marie Lemay, CEO of the NCC.
"The vision of the NCC is to be able to bring the public to the river and the riverfront. The concept...was developed back in 2005, [when we] talked about a vibrant island with mixed use, and a lively development, mixing residential and commercial, and bringing [the area] to life," Lemay said.
Who knows, maybe if the NCC actually did something with all that land they control on Victoria Island, someone would give them two cents for their plans for Chaudiere Island.
LeBreton Flats: "mistakes were made"
Last week, NCC CEO Marie Lemay attended the Ottawa Real Estate Forum, an industry shindig of some sort, and, by the looks of it, gave the sort of bland content-free presentation we've come to expect from the NCC. However, according to the Ottawa Business Journal, the NCC then took its licks from the other participants:
Charlesfort Developments president Doug Casey also took a critical position in the discussion on the factors shaping Ottawa's future and heaped scorn on the National Capital Commission (NCC) in general for its "lacklustre" development projects, and, in particular, its handling of the first phase of the LeBreton Flats redevelopment project, which has been publicly lambasted as uninspiring.
"You can't dictate design ... and by doing so you ended up with only one proponent," he said, drawing applause from the audience.
Seated beside him, NCC chief executive Marie Lemay conceded some mistakes were made and said the NCC must do a better job engaging the private sector, as well as members of the public, in future redevelopment phases.
But she also noted that criticism so far has been largely directed at a single residential tower in a larger planned complex.
This is something of a first - the NCC apparently conceding that not everything they have done on the LeBreton Flats has been a raving success.
Ottawa Business Journal: 2008 Ottawa Real Estate Forum wrap-up [13 October 2008]
LeBreton Flats inhabited again
People have started to move in to phase 1 of the NCC and Claridge brown box on the Flats. This marks the first time anyone has lived in the area since the NCC demolished the neighbourhood in 1962. Centretown News spoke with author Phil Jenkins, who wrote a book on the history of the flats:
"The NCC then set out to prove that [the houses there] were slums, and knock them down," says Jenkins.
"[Nearby] Lorne Avenue looks exactly like LeBreton Flats would have today and it is now a heritage conservation street. So there's a little bit of irony there."
[...] Jenkins says that the new development has revived many Ottawa residents' emotion about the area.
"People take their city personally, they take their landscape and cityscape personally," he says. "People are watching [Tower 1] going up and I think they are profoundly disappointed. They know that's not a neighbourhood. That's warehousing. That doesn't look like a neighbourhood."
Others, including Ottawa architecture critic Rhys Phillips, have also criticized the building.
"I had aspirations for a neighbourhood that was aware of its own history," Jenkins says. "But that seems to be considered a sin by the NCC."
Considering the NCC's role in the 40-year (and ongoing) fiasco, seems understandable that they have no interest in history.
Centretown News: Community spirit returns to LeBreton Flats [25 September 2008]
NCC panel to blame for bad designs
Architectural critic Rhys Phillips and architect Ron Keenberg, both quoted in yesterday's article on the NCC-Claridge beige box on the Flats, offer some pretty scathing criticism of NCC's architectural design panel in the Citizen:
The architects on the National Capital Commission's design panel should resign because they are responsible for the commission's failure to produce great buildings in the capital, a prominent Ottawa architect says.
Ron Keenberg, who has won numerous Governor General's awards, says the rather mundane NCC buildings in the city, including the ongoing LeBreton Flats project, show that the architects on the design committee are not championing great architecture. He says it is vital to make radical changes now before the second phase of the LeBreton development -- which could begin in three years.
"The architects on the NCC design review committee should all resign because I believe that it is their responsibility to make sure that major projects in Ottawa, in the national capital region, especially on lands like LeBreton Flats, be at a world-class level," Mr. Keenberg said. "But they do not do that. They accept anything and everything, or they say to the developer, 'Make this little wee modification here or there, and all will be fine.' The only way to influence the second phase is to restructure the NCC's review committee and get people on it who are prepared to demand the best architectural excellence available in Canada."
[...]Ottawa architectural critic Rhys Phillips agrees that the NCC has a poor record in producing high-quality architecture, pointing out that on some of the most prominent and desirable lands in city, it has produced buildings that are just adequate, when the sites cried for something grand or spectacular.
"The NCC is engaged in a process of city building that is a disaster. It is one debacle after another," Mr. Phillips said, pointing to LeBreton as the latest example.
While the architects on the design committee remain culpable, he says, they are often toothless, because the process gives them little room to champion quality.
"It is like they've given you three paintings to pick from and all of them come out of the starving artists' school, and you desperately try and pick the one that comes closest to not looking like it is a piece of slop," he said. "The only thing you can really hold them accountable for is not resigning and basically exposing the fraud that is the process that's going on."
The NCC's process, of course, has not changed, as the recent announcement of the development on Sparks Street clearly illustrates.
Citizen: NCC panel to blame for bad designs [5 August 2008]
"I wish we could curse in these comments"
Meanwhile, the Citizen has started a Sound Off comment thread on the NCC-Claridge beige box on the Flats to get some feedback from their readers. Let them know what you think.
NCC and Claridge 'rearranging deck chairs'
The Citizen has obtained a series of memos between the NCC and Claridge that explain some of the delays in getting the NCC-Claridge beige box on the Flats built.
The National Capital Commission rejected key parts of Claridge Homes' design for the first building in its LeBreton Flats development because changes to the original plan contravened federal guidelines for the project, documents obtained from the NCC show.
The NCC not only rejected a design for the flagship glass tower now being built on the Flats, but also refused to approve a plan for a six-storey building that was to be the core of the second stage of the development.
Construction on a compromise design is now well under way, but for more than a year, the commission worked with Claridge to come up with an acceptable design for the first tower.
[...]The NCC design committee also would not approve the second stage of the project because officials didn't like a modified design for the doors of the ground-floor units, which it found to be "contrary to the planning principles and objectives" of the LeBreton Flats design guidelines.
[...]The documents show that two years after the NCC approved the first phase of the landmark development, it was still in constant discussion with Claridge about changes to the design. One memo said changes to the tower were "significant enough in colour, finish and appearance to cause some concern among members."
The NCC refused to comment on the documents, while Claridge president Bill Malhotra was just irritated - "I don't understand why you guys are wasting your time on things which are absolutely not relevant. You guys are just wasting your time, you don't have anything better to do?" Meanwhile, critic Rhys Phillips and architect Ron Keenberg were also quoted:
Rhys Phillips, an architecture critic, said the fundamental mistake was made four years ago and now the NCC and Claridge seem to be "arguing about rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic.
"You basically have a design that is somewhat better than what you see on Rideau Street. It is pretty bland, lacks animation and tends to be rather institutional," Mr. Phillips said. "It doesn't matter whether it is curtain or window wall, blue or green. It is a moot point. It is just going to be second-rate."
[...]Prominent Ottawa architect Ron Keenberg said no one should blame Claridge because the NCC is getting what it bargained for when it selected the company as the builder. Mr. Keenberg said Claridge is in the business of making money. It is the NCC, whose duty is to demand architectural excellence, especially on as prominent a site as LeBreton, that should be blamed for any failure, he said.
"You are getting an OK apartment block, nothing special, but nothing bad. If it was built on Montreal Road or Richmond Road, we'd probably say, 'that's nice.' On LeBreton Flats, I'd have expected more. But the NCC got what they wanted," Mr. Keenberg said.
Citizen: NCC, Claridge wrangled over LeBreton [4 August 2008]
National parks cost too much
So apparently making Gatineau Park into a national park would cost a lot more than keeping it as an informal park for all Canadians:
Turning Gatineau Park into a national park managed by Parks Canada would cost taxpayers a "significantly more" [sic] each year than the amount being spent on the park now by the National Capital Commission, says a government memo obtained by CBC News.
"Simply transferring the operating budget for the Park from the NCC to Parks Canada would not be sufficient," said the document dated April 21 obtained through an access to information request.
[...]The document was written by Parks Canada CEO Alan Latourelle in response to calls from activists with the Canadian Park and Wilderness Society [sic] to transform Gatineau Park, which is mostly owned by the federal government, into a national park.
The predicted higher costs under Parks Canada management are caused by the standards that national parks must meet under guidelines set by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, including maintaining the "ecological integrity" of the park.
The memo said maintaining the ecological integrity of Gatineau Park would be a challenge due to the increasing roads and private property in and around the park and growing demands by users such as mountain bikers and snowmobile clubs.
How much more they don't say. The price of building a freeway through the park, perhaps?
Tombstone of waste watch
The NCC has grand plans to rebuild two major downtown intersections, and decorate them with monuments. From documents obtained from the new, open NCC via Access to Information requests, the Citizen reports:
In a major remaking of downtown, the NCC wants to transform the messy Rideau-Sussex-Wellington-Colonel By intersection into a grand new gateway into the heart of the capital, complete with a commemorative national monument.
And on the western edge of the ceremonial route, officially known as Confederation Boulevard, the NCC will dramatically alter the Wellington-Portage intersection into a major landmark and western entrance into the city. The new intersection will be adorned with a "national commemoration of the highest order."
[...]According to the documents, the Sussex-Rideau-Colonel By intersection is the starting point of the project because it is the "historic centre of the capital." To reflect its importance, several plans are under consideration to reconfigure the intersection, but they would require the removal of the pedestrian tunnel underneath Colonel By, and the space in front of the Government Conference Centre, including the ramp.
[...]The Wellington-Portage redevelopment, however, offers less difficult challenges. On the edge of a waterfront area steeped in its own rich history and linked to Ottawa's lumber heritage, it is also the bridge between Ottawa and Gatineau. The NCC wants to turn it into the western gateway to the city.
The Sussex-Rideau-Colonel By work amounts to little more than fixing the work they botched the first time around - the odious pedestrian underpass never should have been built in the first place. But what of the monuments? Well, apparently they "would celebrate all aspects of Canadian life, everything from culture and economics to ideas and events. The only barrier to what can be done is the limit of one's imagination." The NCC is in charge, so the options are more or less limited to banal (the Peacekeeping monument) or laughable (the Human Rights monument).
At the east end, of course, there's already a "grand gateway into the heart of the capital, complete with a commemorative national monument" - any new monument would be redundant considering the war memorial is better situated and already provides whatever gateways are required. At the west end, NCC Watch suggests a monumental commemoration of the NCC's monumental 50-year blunder on the LeBreton Flats. A four-story bulldozer should do the trick.
Citizen: NCC to spend millions on grand entrances into city, documents show [16 July 2008]
Sparks Street development announced again
"The proposed development between Sparks and Queen streets may not win any awards for creative or unpredictable design..." An intro like that can herald only one thing - a new building from those master builders at the NCC. And so it is, as the NCC announced that a developer had finally been found for its 'Canlands A' project on Sparks Street between Metcalfe and O'Connor. When last heard from two years ago, the
The NCC this week approved a two-building complex at its "Canlands A" property, which is between Sparks and Queen streets, just west of Metcalfe Street and within easy walking distance of Parliament Hill. Today, the Sparks Street side of the property is two boarded-up buildings and the Queen Street side is a parking lot.
The commission, after many years of false starts, has chosen David Choo's Ashcroft Urban Developments as the developer for the property, with a design from Ottawa architect Roderick Lahey. Under the deal, the developer will have use of the land for 66 years, beginning Dec. 1 of this year, paying $166,500 each year. The two parties can renew the lease when it comes due.
Ashcroft won the project after a national request for proposals. The NCC has owned the land since the 1970s.
One is invariably reminded of the NCC's triumphs with the Daly building and on LeBreton Flats as yet another "national" request for proposals nets a single bid from another boring Ottawa developer. But no question that Ashcroft is eminently qualified to build the beige buildings the NCC demands.
Citizen: NCC to add sizzle to Sparks Street [3 July 2008]
LeBreton Flats: still a failure
Ottawa Sun columnist Susan Sherring takes a look at the lack of progress on the LeBreton Flats, where the NCC admits "there's not even a timetable":
Despite the years of study, the development managed by the National Capital Commission has been labelled a failure by some. How can that be?
"There's a significant amount of inertia around the federal government. I'm not sure that the main goal was to create. What was it they wanted out of the exercise, a great addition to the city, or to maximize return to the federal government?" says Alta Vista Coun. Peter Hume, chairman of the planning committee.
"That's a question to ask. If it's financially driven, then you create significantly different structures. You would think what would be paramount in their minds would be enhancing capital city."
Critics complain there's a sameness to the project, a blandness, speaking of boxy profiles and a palate of greys and browns.
One of the most vocal opponents of what's been done to date is Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar.
"They finally did Phase One, and they did it irresponsibly. I think it's been a lack of co-ordination, a lack of vision with the NCC stuck in an ivory tower.
"I understand how disastrous Phase One was. It was a real opportunity to do things differently."
Somerset Coun. Diane Holmes, who's been around council off and on for years, echoes Dewar's sentiments.
[...]"It is good we're getting housing on the flats. It's taken a very long time. I think the NCC wanted the easier way, and in the end, that's not good for the area."
[...]Francois Lapointe, the NCC's director of capital planning and real-asset management, puts much of the blame on the laborious process of having the three different levels of government trying to work together, trying to figure out who would develop the land, and who would be responsible for what.
[...]While the NCC has shouldered much of the blame, Lapointe refuses to delve into the discussion.
"I'm not going to comment on that. There were three players around the table. What's important is we have a situation now where things can happen. We need to look forward," he said.
If only that were happening.
The NCC admits it wants to improve the next phase but there's not even a timetable for that.
"We're in a holding pattern right now," he said, explaining Gatineau Park is now the focus of the commission's attention.
"I'll be very frank. (That's) what we've been focusing on. We're holding off on LeBreton," he said.
[...]How long will it take for the next development?
"There's still a lot of work that needs to be done. We took an approach, we were criticized for that. I'm not going to give you any timeframe," he says.
So now that the NCC's cyclopean eye has focussed on Gatineau Park, LeBreton has dropped off the agenda. But what the hell, the NCC has never been in any rush where the Flats are concerned.
Sun: The flat of the land [27 May 2008]
NCC to buy Gatineau Park property
Having been surprised by news of a development proposal in Gatineau Park in January, the NCC announced today that they are buying the property:
"The acquisition of this land on Carman Road reaffirms the National Capital Commission's commitment to preventing further development in Gatineau Park," said Marie Lemay, NCC Chief Executive Officer. "Since becoming aware of the Carman Road project in January, I said that the NCC would take this seriously. This acquisition is the proof that we have done so."
And who knows, if they'd taken this whole park thing seriously even sooner, say, before the development was approved by the municipality, maybe they could have saved a few bucks.
Citizen: NCC to buy Gatineau Park property [22 May 2008]
PMO to decide fate of NCC tombstone
The fate of the NCC's vacant mouldy tombstone, the Canada and the World Pavilion, is now with the PMO, according to the Citizen:
Several prospective tenants have lined up to snag this scenic site by the Rideau Falls, including the Governor General, the Australian high commission and the municipal Ottawa Art Gallery. The battle has become so politically sensitive that the Prime Minister's Office has taken control of the file from the NCC.
Insiders say that the Governor General is the most likely winner of a long and vigorous lobbying campaign by the various parties to occupy the building and that the Ottawa Art Gallery, despite interventions from Mayor Larry O'Brien and vocal grassroots supporters, has virtually no hope of moving there from its cramped, drab location downtown in Arts Court.
The Aussies are in with a chance as payback for giving Canada a nice spot in Canberra for our high commission. Perennial no-hopers the Ottawa Art Gallery remain out of the running.
Group argues for legal protection of Gatineau Park
The Ottawa Valley chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society is making a push to have Gatineau Park protected. From the Citizen:
On Monday the Ottawa Valley chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society released a new booklet arguing for legal protection of Gatineau Park and for its establishment as a national park.
To make its point, the organization took reporters to Meech Lake Valley, where the nearby extension of Highway 5, carving road out of the countryside, is an ugly backdrop to the spectacular scenery of Meech Creek and its surrounding rolling hills.
The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Ottawa Valley Chapter, has prepared a a report entitled "Gatineau Park: A Threatened Treasure", which urges governments at all levels to develop a comprehensive strategy on the future of the park that respects the sensitive ecology and controls future development.
[...]Gatineau Park, 361 square kilometres of natural beauty, is most immediately threatened by roads, traffic and new development, says the Parks and Wilderness Society. The extension of the McConnell-Laramee Boulevard, now known as Boulevard des Allumettieres, cut a swath through the park near Lac des Fees and was a huge disappointment to conservationists. They worry about the next big road battle over the park: the extension of Highway 50 through the park south of Pink Lake.
[...]Today, to mark Earth Day, Paul Dewar, the New Democratic MP for Ottawa Centre, plans to launch a petition campaign at the Gatineau Park welcome centre to have the park protected under federal law. Mr. Dewar is also planning to reintroduce a private member's bill into the House of Commons that would require that Parliament approve changes to the park's boundaries and give the NCC first rights to purchase property within the park that comes up for sale.
The NCC, making great strides, recently figured out the boundaries of the park.
Citizen: Group argues for legal protection of Gatineau Park [21 Apr 2008]
NCC Board confirms Gatineau Park boundaries
Good news, Gatineau Park watchers! The NCC Board met up, had a meeting, and issued a press release to prove it. And what a release! Why, we're just going to print the entire thing right here.
The National Capital Commission's (NCC) Board of Directors, during their board meeting held this afternoon in Ottawa, demonstrated its continued commitment to the long-term protection and integrity of Gatineau Park by confirming that Gatineau Park does in fact have boundaries. The Board also discussed a strategy for not losing track of the boundaries again in the future, another example of how the NCC is working to maintain Gatineau Park as an important greenspace in Canada's Capital Region.
"The National Capital Commission is committed to preserving Gatineau Park and its ecosystems for future generations of Canadians," said Marie Lemay, Chief Executive Officer of the NCC. "To this end, we will continue to work towards drawing all the boundaries on the official Gatineau Park map in pen whenever possible. You know, so they are more difficult to erase."
Since the 1930s, federal ownership of the lands in the Park has increased through the continuous and gradual acquisition of private properties within Park boundaries. In keeping with Gatineau Park Master Plan (2005), the NCC is developing its border stabilization strategy that identifies portions of Gatineau Park boundaries that are currently drawn on the official map in pencil, to determine which can be redrawn using a pen, subject to availability of resources and mutual agreement.
Preventing further border erasure and coffee stains on the Gatineau Park map, along with reducing general wear and tear, continues to be the NCC's long-term objective.
"The map was brought in and we all saw the boundaries, plain as day," said a Board member of long standing whose name is unimportant. "The map had an official looking stamp, and we even looked the park up on Google Maps, clearly demonstrating the NCC's commitment to protecting the park."
In 2009, the NCC will also formalize its first conservation plan for the Gatineau Park map. The plan builds on a number of studies completed on the map, including a study that determined its location in a long forgotten filing cabinet in the basement at NCC headquarters.
For further information about the National Capital Commission, members of the public can contact the NCC at 613-239-5555, 1 800 704-8227 or visit the website at www.ncc-ccn.gc.ca.
The NCC: still not just pussyfooting around.
NCC: NCC Board of Directors Reconfirms Gatineau Park Boundaries [4 Apr 2008]
Leash patrol strikes again
The Ottawa Sun's Greg Weston writes about his off-leash bust in today's Sun:
The hulking lawman took a step backwards and adjusted his bullet-proof vest, evidently taking no chances this one scary golden retriever might be packing heat.
"Guess you know why I'm here," the NCC cop said.
[...]"Dogs have to be on a leash," the lawman said. "I'm going to have to charge you, and give you a $125 ticket."
[...]I'd seen it all before. About a year earlier, two other members of the federal dog squad had busted the outlaw Cinnamon on the same patch of lawn.
Both times, it was at night, the place was deserted and the mutt was walking at my heel bothering no one en route to an off-leash city park.
While murderers, muggers, looters and other politicians wander the streets, an army of federal fuzz is running up overtime on our dime, hunting down leashless Lassies.
Actually, they're not cops, but "conservation officers."
Whatever they are conserving, it certainly isn't taxpayers' money as they travel the capital in a fleet of shiny trucks doing their dogged doggie duty in pairs, decked out in enough expensive gear for the Afghanistan war, save the artillery.
The NCC bowser brigade should not be confused with the large numbers of provincial conservation officers on the public payroll, nor with the many hound hounders working for municipal canine control departments.
These are federal mutt-minders wandering the nation's capital on the payroll of taxpayers from Comox to Come By Chance.
God forbid a local dog-catcher might deal with pet problems on federal land - nosirree, clearly we need a separate bureaucracy.
If all this sounds like a waste of public money, it is at least in the grand tradition of what may well be Canada's most redundant government agency.
Once considered somewhat useful, the National Capital Commission now sucks almost $100 million a year out of Canadian taxpayers' pockets for federal pooch patrols and other essentials of life as we know it.
That would include things such as the $10,000 of our tax money the federal agency spent last Christmas sending poinsettias to MPs, senators and big shots.
[...]Talk about public money going to the dogs -- two officers of the NCC and almost 40 minutes to issue a ticket for "failing to restrain a domestic animal."
The NCC's conservation officers - still commanding the respect they deserve.
Ottawa Sun: Leash police a fine bunch [30 Mar 2008]
Creating a thriving pedestrian street
Mariah Cook contrasts Copenhagen's Strøget, Europe's longest pedestrian street, with Sparks Street in the Citizen:
Strøget is one of the world's great streets. Lined with historic buildings, it winds for 1.8 kilometres through the heart of the city and connects two squares. The attractively decorated stores run the gamut from top Danish companies such as Georg Jensen, for jewelry and works in silver, to fast food and jeans.
In contrast, Ottawa's pedestrian street - the Sparks Street Mall - has seen better days. On many winter mornings, smokers shiver in doorways. A few office workers hurry past vacant storefronts, blank walls, and undistinguished window displays. Busiest at lunch, the five-block mall offers little reason to linger past quitting time.
Yet, this is one of Ottawa's special streets. Full of history, it is located between Lyon and Elgin streets, one block south of Parliament Hill and surrounded by major national landmarks. Some of the city's finest heritage facades are found here. Intriguing shops such as the Snow Goose and the Astrolabe Gallery offer an alternative to chain-store homogeneity.
[...]This is a tale of two pedestrian streets. Both were created in the same period as a radical urban experiment - Strøget in 1962, Sparks in 1967. But they went in different directions. Strøget flourishes. Sparks struggles. How to revitalize Sparks has been a weighty question for years for retailers, city officials and the National Capital Commission.
It's not far-fetched to look to Copenhagen for ideas. It and Ottawa are capital cities with significant similarities. Copenhagen is 1.4 million, Ottawa nearing one million. Copenhagen knows about winter.
City planners in both cities strive for the same goals: more people living, shopping, walking and cycling in the inner city. And it can't be shrugged off as a European lifestyle that has nothing to do with us. Until 40 years ago, the Danes did not have a café culture. Now, outdoor cafés stretch the season to nine months by providing gas or electric heating lamps, wool blankets and cushions.
So, what happened in Ottawa?
"What they wanted to do was welcome the pedestrian back into downtown," says Mr. Gordon. But the welcome was shortlived. Sparks Street began to decline in the 1970s, when the federal government started to acquire buildings on Sparks, and adjacent streets were redeveloped as high-rise office districts, often with internal concourses.
Sparks became "an isolated island of pedestrian-friendly space in a traffic-dominated district," write Mr. Gordon and Mr. Bray. As the predominant land-owner, the federal government faces criticism for contributing too little to the street's vitality. Short-term leases on its shopfronts discourage merchants from investing in improvements.
Some federal buildings are largely empty, kept for some future use, and present a blank face to the street. Other buildings are closed to the public because of security.
"It kills the street," says Mr. Gordon. "It's fine to have a lot of federal civil servants on upper floors, but ground floors facing out should be small shops with doors on the street."
[...]There were high hopes that the CBC building, which opened in 2004, would become Ottawa's version of Citytv's MuchMusic building in Toronto, drawing crowds and generating excitement. The developer's architects and CBC executives promised a street-level window onto the live action of a one-acre newsroom.
Instead, it's almost impossible to see in and the architecture has been described by critic Rhys Phillips as "just another low-cost, banal building."
"The CBC has been the biggest disappointment," says Councillor Diane Holmes. "A whole block of deadness."
Up until a couple of years ago, the NCC's magic bullet for Sparks involved leveling buildings for a square and an underground parking lot. Time for someone else to take charge.
Ottawa Citizen: The Stroget Solution [22 Mar 2008]
What price poinsettias
Another NCC Christmas tradition was revealed in the Citizen today:
The National Capital Commission spent nearly $10,000 last year sending Christmas poinsettias to MPs, senators, bureaucrats and other officials, newly released records show.
[...]Records tabled last week in the House of Commons in response to a question from Mr. Reid show that the cost of the program totalled more than $46,000 for the past 10 years.
But the price of sending out of the flowers doubled last year because it included the cost of shipping and delivery that had previously been done by NCC staff.
The records show that poinsettias sent to MPs cost $881, with another $326 spent to send them to senators and $8,193 to send them to unspecified unelected officials.
The NCC says that sending poinsettias is a holiday tradition that dates back more than 25 years, when the commission used to grow the flowers in its own greenhouse. The commission switched to a private supplier in 1995.
"It really is a gesture of thanks for those that have collaborated in building a capital for all Canadians, from the chair to people that he or she has worked with," said spokeswoman Kathryn Keyes.
LeBreton consultation report
Ottawa-Centre MP Paul Dewar has released a report on the community consultation he conducted about LeBreton Flats development.
Paul Dewar: LeBreton Flats Redevelopment [25 Feb 2008]
NCC CEO speaks
New-ish NCC CEO Marie Lemay spoke with the Citizen this week:
Ms. Lemay, a 45-year-old engineer who has lived mostly in the Ottawa-Gatineau region since childhood, won the CEO job after 15 years of work with municipal governments, followed by a stint as chief executive of Engineers Canada, the national association of engineers. She says that in her work for that group, she travelled the country extensively and she wants to have the capital reflect the diversity she saw and found so interesting.
"We've got to find a way to be the real reflection of Canada. I think that part's missing," the University of Ottawa graduate said.
[...]Ms. Lemay was hired by the federal government, but reports to the NCC board. She started the job in January.
There have been regulatory roadblocks to making all board meetings public because big financial decisions are classified as cabinet confidences, but Ms. Lemay is hopeful that will soon be changed.
She said community distrust of the NCC will be reduced when citizens can see how and why decisions are made. Ms. Lemay said it's unfortunate that the dedication and expertise of NCC staff have not been understood by people in the community, but that "there is a cultural change happening," that will see the commission's employees more open with the public.
"Somehow there's been this wall that's been built around the NCC. I'm hoping that we're going to be able to break down this wall and reach into the community," she said. "We have to do business a little differently. We have to actively listen. I have to regain (citizens') trust."
One way the commission hopes to break with the past is by getting involved with community projects right at the beginning, rather than playing the sometimes negative role of government approval agency after the bulk of the work has been done. An example of this is the Lansdowne Park redevelopment, in which the commission, which has a lot of property next door, has said it will be a partner.
The NCC plans to get back into the transportation planning business after years of inactivity, due largely to budget cuts in the 1990s. The commission is well positioned to plan transportation links between Ottawa and West Quebec and Ms. Lemay says no one else is working on building those links.
As well, Ms. Lemay has high hopes that the NCC will become a national leader on the environment. While it has been criticized for some of its decisions - paving part of Gatineau Park for a road, for instance - Ms. Lemay wants the environment to be a priority in all decisions.
Pavilion overtaken by mould
Oh look, the NCC's vacant tombstone of waste, the Canada and the World Pavilion, has been rendered uninhabitable by mould:
But when an engineer from Public Works and Government Services Canada investigated the state of the building, which is owned by the National Capital Commission, he found toxigenic mould.
"There is a high risk to the Crown to proceed with this project," engineer Joseph Wong reported.
"This facility presents a risk for developing significant mould-related problems that can induce allergies and other health and comfort problems," he wrote.
He reported that replacement of walls to solve the mould issue in the office areas had not fixed the problem.
"The issue of mould will not go away," wrote Mr. Wong. "It will be a great challenge to mitigate the potential dispersion of mould spores within the building due to the traffic and openness of the space."
[...]The source of the water appears to have been a leaking water intake at the Rideau Falls power plant next door, owned by Fortis Power. Repairs were done last summer and fall and now the NCC is waiting to see if there is more water infiltration when the spring runoff begins.
In one of his e-mails last spring, Mr. Wong said the high water table in the area could pose a long-term threat. "This problem will never go away," he said.
Typically, the Citizen had to obtain this information via an access to information request. What else did they discover? Dig:
Early in 2007, the Governor General's office was eyeing 50 Sussex Dr., steps from the prime minister's residence and Rideau Hall, as a showplace for its Chancellery of Honours. Despite some Ottawans' desire to see it put to other uses, documents released to the Citizen under access to information legislation show there was a rush within the federal government to get the picturesque property ready for the Governor General.
There were plans to have the Governor General's operation moved in, at least temporarily, by July 1, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean would open the new quarters to mark the 40th anniversary of the creation of the Order of Canada.
So the NCC made a secret deal last spring and the Governor General would be in the Pavilion now if the mould hadn't gotten there first. So much for the Ottawa Art Gallery and its plans for the Firestone Collection.
The NCC is currently undertaking openness and transparency initiatives. These are evidently irrelevant to the actual day-to-day operation of the NCC.
Ottawa Citizen: NCC's spectacular Sussex Drive property plagued by mould [11 Feb 2008]
NCC unaware of plans for Gatineau Park
Fresh from revelations that they don't really know who owns what in Gatineau Park, the Citizen reports that the NCC doesn't know what others are doing in the park either:
The National Capital Commission had no idea that the municipality of Chelsea had approved an 18 unit housing project off Highway 105 on private land within Gatineau Park, the NCC's chief executive officer said Thursday.
Marie Lemay said the NCC was unaware of the estate lot housing project planned at Carman Trails Outdoor Centre on Carman Road west of the highway near Farm Point. She said the NCC did not have the opportunity to acquire the property and the housing project is not the preferred option for the land.
[...]"I would like to be able to answer why we were unaware of the project, " Ms. Lemay said. "I will be in the future and that is part of the new collaboration and the new approach that has to take place.
"The objective of the NCC is to acquire property within the park whenever it has the opportunity. But it will be more expensive for the NCC to buy land that has houses on it. We have to be aware where those pieces of land are and what is planned on them so we can be proactive about acquiring property."
Recall that the NCC spent the better part of the last decade creating a Master Plan for Gatineau Park. Something of a waste of time, then.
NCC stands up for portrait gallery in Ottawa
The NCC took a break from stymieing attempts by the Ottawa Art Gallery to put its collection in the unused Canada and the World Pavilion to announce they think the Portrait Gallery of Canada should be located in Ottawa-Gatineau. From the Citizen:
The National Capital Commission's board sent a message to the Harper government yesterday that the Portrait Gallery of Canada should be located in Ottawa-Gatineau, but it stopped short of urging the government to reconsider its plans for the institution.
Under the Conservatives' plan, the gallery could end up in the capital or one of eight other cities, built by a private developer.
The NCC board, under chairman Russell Mills, unanimously passed a motion at a meeting yesterday calling for the gallery to be located in the capital region along with the rest of the country's cultural institutions.
Former Ottawa mayor Jacquelin Holzman, a board member, presented a companion motion that called on the government to reconsider allowing the gallery to be located outside the capital area, but she received no support.
A plan to call on the government to also scrap its decision on private sector involvement was also discussed, but abandoned.
Ottawa Citizen: NCC wants portrait gallery in Ottawa [25 Jan 2008]
The NCC's Keystone Cops
Readers will be pleased to know that the NCC's finest are still patrolling parks and pathways on the lookout for petty offences with their customary zeal. Arthur Milner describes his experience being busted by the NCC in the Citizen:
In mid-August, I received by mail a notice that I had been found guilty of an offence - "Possess Liquor" - and that the "Place of Offence" was "Rideau Ottawa." I was fairly certain that I hadn't been drinking in public on Rideau Street recently and I wondered who would have used my name and address. I had to swear, in person at the Provincial Offences Office, that I had no knowledge of the crime; and I formally requested that they reopen the case.
I went to the Ottawa Police station, where there was no record of the charge. A week later, the Provincial Offences Office agreed to reopen the case and, a week after that, I received the "Reopening" in the mail. But the charge wasn't public drinking, it was having a dog off leash on NCC property. The fine was $125 and I was to appear in court Dec. 4.
A couple of weeks before the trial, I was sent a package of information by the National Capital Commission. It contained the officer's notes. There were a few omissions and discrepancies. He never describes George, for example, and I am quite certain that I gave him my name before we entered the garage; nor did he mention my reason for refusing to show ID. He did note that he had written the incorrect offence number on the ticket (which had led to my conviction for "Possess Liquor"). But what was most interesting was his description of what had happened after we entered the NAC garage:
"I called the RCMP for assistance. I followed him to his vehicle (and he) put his dog in it. I recorded the plate number and told him he would be charged for the off leash offence. I left as he got in the car and started the engine. I met four RCMP officers outside the lot and we waited for him to come out. Two bike officers went in to look for him. ... The RCMP constable and myself went back to the car. Mr. Milner was not in it, but the dog was. We then drove around the area for 15 minutes, looking for him without success. I informed my supervisor who came on scene ..."
Four RCMP and two NCC officers, all for George and me! It doesn't seem quite so funny now - after Robert Dziekanski. Good thing I managed to elude them.
The NCC's conservation officers - still commanding the respect they deserve.
Ottawa Citizen: On a tight leash [24 Jan 2008]
Parkland ownership a puzzler
From the three bureaucracies are not better than one files, the Citizen reports on land that may or may not be in Gatineau Park, and may or may not be owned by some government or another:
Ask the National Capital Commission, Parks Canada and the Quebec government who owns a 61.5-square-kilometre section of Gatineau Park near Lac Lapêche and it's impossible to get a straight answer.
In fact, no one really seems to know who owns the property, which is nearly half the size of Kanata.
Jean-Paul Murray, a Gatineau Park activist and Senate speech writer says the confusion is due to bureaucratic mismanagement and a lack of political will to make Gatineau Park into a national park protected from new housing development and roads that split it up.
[...]NCC officials today say that a 1973 federal-provincial agreement gives that agency ownership of the property. But the NCC says the Quebec government refuses to recognize the claim because it was never registered.
Jean-Guy Côté, a spokes-man for Benoît Pelletier, the Quebec cabinet minister responsible for the Outaouais, tells a different story.
He says the province transferred the land to the federal government in exchange for a site for the CEGEP de l'Outaouais on Cité des Jeunes Boulevard. But, he said, officially, the province still owns the property.
"The government of Quebec owns that land in Gatineau Park and the federal government owns the land on which the CEGEP stands," Mr. Côté said. "Quebec wants to transfer the land because it is used for Gatineau Park and the CEGEP is on federal property.
"Mr. Pelletier approached NCC officials a few years ago to reach an agreement, but because the case is complicated, it is taking some time," he said.
"The Quebec Ministry of Municipal Affairs is in court now because the City of Gatineau wants the federal government to pay taxes on the CEGEP and the federal government doesn't agree that the land is theirs."
[...]Quebec claims the sub-surface mineral rights to the entire park, according to Parks Canada records released under the access to information law.
[...]Mr. Murray said it is clear that the exchange has taken place, because the land around Lac Lapêche is used for Gatineau Park and the provincial government uses the site on Cité des Jeunes Boulevard for the CEGEP de l'Outaouais.
He added that he couldn't understand why the NCC argued until recently that Quebec owns property in the northwest corner of the park.
"How do you misplace or misinterpret who owns 61.5 square kilometres of land?" Mr. Murray asked.
Step 1 - give the land to the NCC. There is no step 2.
Ottawa Citizen: Parkland ownership a puzzler [21 Jan 2008]
NCC Board Meeting
The next public board meeting (as opposed to the in camera meetings they continue to hold) takes place Thursday, January 24, 2008, at 1 pm, at the Government Conference Centre, Main Hall, Union Station.
LeBreton Flats Dialogue
Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar is holding a "Community Dialogue" on development of LeBreton Flats:
Once one of Ottawa's prime industrial areas, LeBreton Flats saw some 2800 residents moved in 1962, when the federal government expropriated the land and bulldozed the homes and businesses that had existed there. The purpose was to improve the view of the Parliament buildings when approaching from the west.
Plans for redevelopment have come and gone, but in 2004, the National Capital Commission announced its plans to begin in earnest and put the first Phase of the development out for proposals, and Phase One is underway.
The NCC is set to embark on Phase Two, and will use the same process as it did for Phase One.
Alert readers will recall that the NCC's famously bungled "process" for Phase One resulted in all of one bid, from Claridge, known more for their deep pockets than the quality of their projects.
The Dialogue will take place Saturday, January 19, 2008, from 10-2 pm, at the Bronson Centre, 211 Bronson Avenue.
Working to consign the National Capital Commission to oblivion since 2000.