Past News: 2009
NCC bill still in committee
Bill C-37, introduced back in the summer, is still grinding its way through parliament, with forty or so amendments tabled against it according to Le Droit:
Présenté le 9 juin dernier, le projet de loi C-37 assure une protection accrue au parc de la Gatineau, en plus d'introduire un train de mesures touchant la gouvernance de la CCN. Le document législatif est scruté à la loupe par le Comité parlementaire des transports, de l'infrastructure et des collectivités, sur lequel siègent notamment les députés Marcel Proulx (Hull-Aylmer), Richard Nadeau (Gatineau), Mario Laframboise (Argenteuil-Papineau-Mirabel) et Mauril Bélanger (Ottawa-Vanier).
Le comité parlementaire a entendu de nombreux témoins, dont le ministre John Baird, qui coparraine le projet de loi. Au total, 41 amendements ont été présentés, tant par les conservateurs (14) que par les bloquistes (14), les libéraux (8) et les néo-démocrates (5). Pour le député Marcel Proulx, le projet de loi ratisse si large, qu'il était impensable qu'il soit adopté avant la fin de l'année. « C'est loin d'être strictement un projet de loi qui protège le parc de la Gatineau, dit-il. C'est une réforme de la gouvernance de la CCN, ce qui ouvre toutes sortes de portes. »
(The article is also available in an English translation at GuideGatineau.)
Le Droit: Le projet de Cannon fortement revu [23 Dec 2009]
NCC conflict in Gatineau Park
The Gatineau Park Protection Committee has issued a press release asking the NCC to disclose the reason behind a board member's conflict of interest in Gatineau Park. Board member Robert Tennant recused himself from a discussion of Gatineau Park property acquisitions at an NCC Board Meeting in February, declaring a conflict. In response to an Access to Information request by the GPPC, the NCC replied that Tennant was under no obligation to disclose the nature of his conflict.
Use the Rail Bridge for Rail
Over on his blog, the Citizen's Ken Gray has a post about a proposal for the unused Prince of Wales rail bridge that is circulating:
[The National Capital Commission, STO, the City of Gatineau, and the City of Ottawa] are actively considering turning the rail bridge into a road bridge, at least according to Christine Leadman, the Kitchissippi councillor for the area.
That's likely to cost tens of millions of dollars to achieve what? Create a staging area for STO buses at Bayview? That's prime downtown land, suitable for intensification. Why you put a library, some housing ... heck, even a trailer park, bowling alley or roller-derby oval would be better than a bus-staging area. How long do we want to treat the LeBreton, Bayview, Hintonburg, Mechanicsville area like a dump?
NCC fails to preserve architect's designs
More heritage problems for the NCC, this time in Vincent Massey Park. Kelley Egan explains in the Citizen:
Only government could spend $2.2 million to put up a spiffy bathroom in a public park.
Only Ottawa, caught up in all its commandments, could make the story even stranger, possibly dishonouring a governor general's son in the process. Suffer with us.
At Vincent Massey Park, at the end of a long parking lot, there is an unusual entranceway. It was designed by Hart Massey, the son of the GG for whom the park is named and an acclaimed architect in his own right.
His design consists of three big pieces, mostly done in a white, glazed brick. The first is a bus shelter, with a roof, a long wall and bench seating. Inside the park, there is an entrance court, then a refreshment stand and covered eating area, and, finally, public washrooms about 50 metres away. The canopies are unusual in that the steel trusses and slender poles give the roof the feel of floating, stylized tree branches.
[...]The Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office is an outfit that evaluates the possible heritage value of federally owned properties. It reviewed the park entrance and gave a "recognized" designation to the bus shelter and what it calls the "refreshment stand."
[...]For reasons unclear, the washroom building, about 50 metres away, but obviously of the same design, received no designation or protection.
The park owner, the National Capital Commission, intends to demolish that building and, as reported last week, replace it with a new structure that is cleaner, greener and capped with a saddle-shaped roof. The project is to cost $2.2 million.
[...]Architecture critic Rhys Phillips is one person who thinks it's wrong.
[...]The critic believes the NCC has been a poor guardian of the capital's built heritage.
If the Massey washroom building was shoddy and not up to code, then the answer is to restore it, not tear it down, Phillips said. By the same reasoning, we'd be tearing down the West Block on Parliament Hill, he argued.
With the new Vincent Massey washroom coming in at $2.2 mil, the Rockcliffe outhouse now looks like a bargain.
Citizen: Massey's work down the toilet [25 Nov 2009]
Sussex barriers may be removed
Meanwhile, on the NCC's mile of rebuilt history, the security barriers at the U.S. embassy, put up back in 2001, may finally be removed. From the Citizen:
Sussex Drive will be reconstructed between George Street and St. Patrick Street over the next year and city officials want to use the project as an opportunity to get rid of the barriers, which were first installed after the terrorist attacks on the U.S. in 2001.
The barriers, considered an eyesore by city officials and visitors alike, also take two lanes of traffic out of the downtown core; one on Sussex and one on Mackenzie Avenue.
The construction project is a partnership between the city and the NCC, which is estimating in its documents that the cost will be $7.7 million. The NCC's share is $3 million, including $1.2 million for "aesthetic treatment" of the security elements along the edge of the embassy. The NCC is scheduled to endorse the treatment of the embassy frontage in January. The NCC board approved the overall project last week, along with an impressive new landscape plan for Colonel By Drive in front of the new Ottawa Convention Centre.
The Sussex Drive reconstruction is a complex project that includes new water mains, sewers, relocated utilities, pavement, trees, signage, granite curbs, new streetlights and premium street furniture to create "a welcoming streetscape." The commission will use the opportunity to repair foundation walls on buildings it owns from George to York streets and from Clarence to St. Patrick.
Citizen: NCC ready to revamp Sussex [25 Nov 2009]
NCC avoids taking sides on Lansdowne
The Citizen reports on the NCC's annual meeting, where opponents of Lansdowne Live provided the novel spectacle of someone complaining to the NCC about a banal development that wasn't built or proposed by the NCC:
Opponents of Lansdowne Live took shots at the project before the board of the National Capital Commission Wednesday, but the NCC gave no signal it wanted to get too heavily involved or take sides in the bitter debate.
Three representatives of the Glebe Community Association -- Caroline Vanneste, Robert Brocklebank and June Creelman -- urged the board of the NCC to either throw all of the commission's planning weight into the project or to cancel its involvement.
"There has been a huge public outcry about what has happened here," Creelman said. "It's banal on the canal. What is happening now is way too mediocre."
The NCC are acknowledged masters of banal mediocrity (viz. the LeBreton Flats); we can only hope that Lansdowne will be spared most of the dead weight of the NCC's planning.
NCC picks Navy monument design
The NCC has decided on a design for a monument honouring the Navy, they've announced in a press release:
The winning design reflects many facets of the Canadian Navy in its use of the naval black, white and gold colours to create a distinctively sculpted open space charged with meaning. At the heart of the monument site is a white form suggestive of a multitude of naval associations, ranging from sails to classic ship design lines to icebergs to naval attire. The design also makes use of gold spheres, which speak of the sun, moon, stars and the global reach of the Canadian Navy.
Sounds about par for the course. Whatever it is, it's gonna be built at Richmond Landing starting early next year.
NCC: Canadian Navy monument design selected [28 Oct 2009]
NCC misleads Parliament on park boundaries
OttawaStart has a post from the Gatineau Park Protection Committee highlighting the NCC's own confusion about Gatineau Park's boundaries:
The NCC's CEO Marie Lemay and Chair Russell Mills appeared today before the Commons Transport Committee to support the Conservative government's Bill C-37, the so-called Action Plan for the Nation's Capital.
"Ms. Lemay has had 22 months on the job to get her act together and she should know better than to say the size of Gatineau Park has increased by some 1,700 acres," said Mr. McDermott. "The lands Ms. Lemay refers to may be part of the National Interest Land Mass, and the NCC may wish they were in Gatineau Park, but legally they are clearly outside the park," said [GPPC co-chair] Mr. McDermott.
The NCC's own 1995 documents say "The boundaries of Gatineau Park [were] established by the Order in Council in 1960," adding that "new Gatineau Park boundaries [would require] an amendment to the 1960 Order in Council which legally created the park." However, no new Order in Council has ever been adopted to ratify the park's so-called 1997 boundary. In legal terms, only the 1960 boundary is valid, which means the Meech Creek Valley is legally outside the park, and that the park has suffered a net loss of 1,842 acres since 1992.
"Not only did Ms. Lemay get it wrong on the boundaries, she also misled the committee over NCC ownership of 12,500 acres of Gatineau Park, falsely claiming the titles still had to be registered," said Mr. McDermott. "That is utter and complete nonsense, since all the NCC needs to claim ownership of those 12,500 acres is a transfer of control and management from the province, which is exactly what it got by virtue of a 1973 agreement," said Mr. McDermott.
[...]Gatineau Park's boundaries were set by a legal instrument years ago. On April 29, 1960, the federal government approved Order in Council P.C. 1960-579 which included a plan "indicating the Gatineau Park boundary." Moreover, various documents prepared by senior officials for the NCC's executive management committee confirm that the 1960 decree set the park's legal boundary and that any changes to it would require a new Order in Council.
Over the last two years, however, the NCC has been changing its story on the exact nature of those boundaries. For instance, it told Senator Mira Spivak in 2004 that "the legal boundary of the park ... had been established by federal Order in Council in 1960." And then, in a complete reversal about a year later, it told Ottawa-Centre MP Ed Broadbent that "the 1960 Order in Council did not establish the park boundary." Adding to the confusion, NCC Chairman Marcel Beaudry said in a letter of April 12, 2005 to senators that Treasury Board had approved the park's new boundary in 1997. However, in response to a written question from Senator Spivak seeking clarification, the NCC now said that the Treasury Board decision had not established the park boundary...
And in the wake of these contradictions the NCC has also claimed that Gatineau Park's boundary was set by everything from the Meech Creek Valley Land Use Concept, to National Interest Land Mass designation, to section 10(2)(c) of the National Capital Act.
Little over a year ago, the NCC was trumpeting the fact that they had actually managed to figure out the park boundaries.
OttawaStart: NCC Misleads Parliament -- Again [28 Oct 2009]
NCC bill in committee
The Citizen has coverage of committee hearings for the new NCC bill (C-37) introduced in the summer:
The expropriation powers of the National Capital Commission should be repealed to protect private property rights within Gatineau Park, federal Transport Minister John Baird told a House of Commons committee meeting Monday, while an advocate argued that the land must be given legal federal status, otherwise it is really just a park in name only.
Baird, who introduced a bill to protect the boundaries and natural environment of Gatineau Park, said the government wants to guard the rights of private property owners in the park.
Bill C-37 stops short of declaring Gatineau Park a national park, but designates its boundaries and allows the NCC to administer it. The NCC will also be required to maintain the park's "ecological integrity."
The chairwoman of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society's Gatineau Park Committee, Muriel How, said Bill C-37 has serious deficiencies, since it does not adequately deal with the issue of ecological preservation or provide the legal means to control private development within the park.
[...]Baird said Bill C-37 won't satisfy all concerns about the NCC and Gatineau Park, but it does require public board meetings, a five-year master plan and a list of lands to be preserved in the national interest. He said new regulatory powers would allow the commission to protect the park's ecological integrity.
Critics of the bill argue that new housing permitted within the park has been chipping away at its boundaries and causing erosion around some of its most beautiful lakes.
Steward or greedy landowner?
The Ottawa Business Journal takes a look at the NCC's latest manoeuvrings over land that the city wants for its (rather pointless, it has to be said) extension of the transitway to Moodie Drive:
There's something exhilarating about living in the National Capital Region, where one is often compelled to stickhandle through more layers of government in an afternoon than most see in a lifetime.
But it's especially exhilarating when all those scrumptious layers start bickering with one another.
It's pure entertainment, really. Though it usually means as a city, we don't get a whole lot done.
But while the rather catty letter sent by the National Capital Commission last week to Ottawa deputy city manager Nancy Schepers - a letter which, in effect, told the city to get its grubby paws off certain NCC Greenbelt lands designated for a light-rail system - is a great example, it also illustrates another, more disturbing pattern.
And that is that the NCC, for decades tasked with "building a great capital for Canadians," has in effect become a big landowner first and foremost.
A builder of a great capital? That one seems a very distant second, in many cases.
OBJ: The NCC: Steward or greedy landowner? [7 Oct 2009]
NCC and New Edinburgh residents reach deal
Citizen columnist Mariah Cook notes that the NCC has reached a compromise regarding fences in a New Edinburgh park that is being remediated by the NCC:
The NCC has proposed:
Following the meeting, [NCC CEO Marie] Lemay wrote: "The remediation work will require that all plants, fences and other decorative elements encroaching on NCC property be removed. Some type of visible barrier must be installed, in order to mark the property line."
An unusually (freakishly, even) accommodating solution from the NCC, then, with CEO Lemay herself intervening after such a typically unpromising start to the project earlier this month (see below). One wonders who actually lives on Stanley - a clutch of cabinet ministers perhaps? The entire fence building exercise is, of course, entirely pointless.
Users fear recreation plan will block off Gatineau Park
More on the NCC Gatineau Park recreational plans in the Citizen:
Skinouk, which operates both recreational and competitive programs for its 300 members, had hoped to develop trails in the park suitable for hosting national competitions in accordance with the standards of Cross-Country Canada, the sport's governing body. Though the club has hosted national competitions in the past, the standards have recently become more demanding.
That hope has now been dashed, said Skinouk's race co-ordinator, Pierre Millette.
"The consultations last Wednesday put the last nail in the coffin," he said. "We find it deplorable that we have the burden of proof with respect to the environment, while I don't know how many cars go through the park, and have a much greater impact on the environment."
Millette said that by clearing one or two kilometres of new trails to link existing trails, the club could have created competitive-level circuits of 7.5K, 5K, 3.5K and 1K. With technically-challenging ascents and descents, those trails would have been open to the general public as well as club members, he said.
"We don't think one or two kilometres of trails will have a big impact on the environment," Millette said.
Gatineau Park workshop recap
guidegatineau has a recap of the NCC's Gatineau Park planning workshops:
On September 15, 2009 I participated in the first of two workshops the National Capital Commission is holding to consult with the public about how people use Gatineau Park recreationally; and more specifically how these activities can best be managed in the future.
The bottom line is that there are changes coming.
There are going to be more restrictions imposed on park users.
What those restrictions are, we don't know yet. But now is the time to speak up if you have ideas on how the park should be managed.
Although discussion at the meeting was polite and usually constructive, managing recreation in the park has the potential to be a contentious issue and once or twice, more incendiary topics did get raised.
If you are a frequent park user, you may want to find out what's coming down the pike for your favourite sport. The deadline for this round of feedback is October 5, 2009.
NCC board bravely runs away
Showing more of that mettle for which they are so renowned, the NCC board is trying to neuter a proposal for a monument to victims of communist regimes. From the Citizen:
The NCC board passed a motion supporting the concept of the commemoration, "but perhaps with a different title," after objections about the title were raised by nearly all members who spoke.
The title -- "monument to the victims of totalitarian communism" -- has already been changed once. In the first proposals, one by a non-profit group called Tribute to Liberty, the other by Open Book Group, it was to be called "monument to the victims of communism."
After beginning discussions with the NCC in March 2008, the groups had back-and-forth discussions with a committee of experts who suggested that the title be changed because it could be perceived as "unduly critical of Canadians who might associate themselves with communism," Egan said.
The group then changed the name to include the word "totalitarian." The title still did not sit well with the board.
"I was unsettled by this name, and other members of the committee agreed with me," said Hélène Grand-Maître, speaking in French. "We should make sure that we are politically correct in this designation."
Board member Adel Ayad said the name was troubling for its "very tight definition" and for the presence of the word "communism" in the title, as Canada has a communist party.
"It's not communism itself that we should be fighting here. It is rather totalitarianism we are against in any form," he said.
Richard Jennings suggested replacing "totalitarian communism" with the phrase "oppressive regimes."
Some also suggested that the monument should focus more on Canada as a refuge for victims of oppressive regimes.
The criticism that the monument's focus is too narrow came as a surprise to Zuzana Hahn of the Open Book Group, who points out that the monument represents people from three of the world's seven continents.
"We feel that we are just broad enough," she said. "We represent everybody from Vietnam to South America and through Europe."
The monument aims to honour the 100 million people who died under communist regimes across the world and to recognize the experiences of Canadians who emigrated from communist countries. The monument will also thank Canada for its role in providing a homeland for those coming from communist regimes.
The NCC, still standing on guard for thee.
UPDATE: Kelly McParland weighs in on the National Post Full Comment blog:
For God's sake. What's really alarming about this is not just the level of timidity that afflicts members of the chronically hyper-apologetic class, but the fact it exists so openly within the ranks of an official federal organization. These terror-stricken milksops apparently take for granted that such levels of obsequiousness are not only acceptable, but are expected of them. Isn't every Canadian supposed to apologize regularly for their views, and live in perpetual fear of offending anyone anywhere, at any time?
On the NCC, apparently so.
UPPERDATE: And the Calgary Herald editorializes:
Evidently, this is one group of bureaucrats in urgent need of a history lesson. Tribute to Liberty, the group behind the memorial, has already added "totalitarian" to the intended wording to appease federal naysayers, but is now facing further difficulties over what NCC members allege is a "provocative" reference to communism. The NCC wants to excise any reference to a specific ideology from the memorial and dedicate it to the victims of totalitarianism in general, watering the project down into bland nothingness. One commission member, who appears never to have cracked a history book to inspect the contents, even suggested Canadians are out of line for criticizing communist regimes because of the officially sanctioned internment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War. The NCC could not be more wrong.
UPPERMOSTDATE: Presumably weary of being mocked in the national press, the NCC has moved at what is for them light speed and approved a title for the monument: "A Memorial to Victims of Totalitarian Communism - Canada, a Land of Refuge".
Citizen: NCC approves monument against 'oppression' [11 Sep 2009]
Trouble at the mill
The NCC is having a hard time finding a tenant for its newly renovated mill building at Chaudière Falls, vacant since the last tenant, a legendarily bad restaurant, left a few years back. Could it be because there is absolutely nothing nearby? Yes, it could. From the Citizen:
The search for a classy new tenant to transform the old mill at Chaudière Falls into a major waterfront destination is turning into something of a fiasco as the National Capital Commission fails for the second time to find the right proposal.
However, the NCC, keen to develop the site because it sees the Ottawa River as part of its vision to transform the capital, is willing to try again. It has put out yet another request for proposals, hoping to be third-time lucky. It hopes to attract a museum, art gallery, spa or retail destination to the site and to turn it into a city hot spot.
[...]Built in 1842 when Ottawa was a backwater lumber town, it served for a number of years as the Mill restaurant. Since that lease expired and the restaurant closed, the NCC has spent $1.6 million to restore the building in hopes of getting a big draw to a site that covers more than 7,000 square feet on two floors.
Despite interest shown by more than 40 businesses earlier this year, not one made an offer. Saying the recession may have dampened interest, the commission put out a second call in June that attracted two proposals. Neither made the cut. NCC officials acknowledge the building is too small for a portrait gallery and may not be appropriate for a museum because it might not meet temperature and humidity requirements. Its location and heritage also pose problems.
"This is a historic site and that creates specific requirements," said NCC spokesman Jean Wolff. "We want to protect the heritage of the site and that requires a different way of handling it. That's part of the difficulty."
Keenberg, however, says the NCC might have to acknowledge what he thinks is obvious: The site is just not suitable for commercial development. Pedestrian access and walk-on traffic is so limited that business owners might not imagine the site's working financially.
The Mill sits between two busy roads with virtually no pedestrian traffic, beside the vacant Victoria Island and the equally vacant LeBreton Flats, neither of which, thanks the the NCC's meticulous planning, are scheduled to be anything other than vacant in the near or distant future.
NCC neglects duty to protect Gatineau Park
More construction in the park, the Citizen reports:
Continued construction in the eastern part of Gatineau Park shows that the National Capital Commission has neglected its duty to protect the park from development, a park activist said Thursday.
Jean-Paul Murray said one house is under construction on Carman Road off Highway 105 in Chelsea and three more homes will eventually be built on adjacent lots.
Murray said the work is shocking because the NCC purchased more than 35 hectares of land on the same road to stop a planned development that caused an uproar in 2008.
The purchase came after the NCC announced in April 2008 that it would buy up to $385 million worth of private property to stop further development in the park.
[...]"They keep saying it is the capital's conservation park and the main focus of the master plan is conservation. In what way is building houses in the park conservation?"
[...]Marie Lemay, the NCC's chief executive officer, said the commission sent the owner an offer to buy the land, but it had already been subdivided for housing. She said the NCC decided not to acquire the lots because they are near Highway 105 and are not ecologically sensitive.
Lemay said the house under construction on Carman Road is not a sign that the commission has failed to protect the park.
Citizen: NCC neglects duty to protect Gatineau Park: activist [4 Sep 2009]
"Email answers do not work for me at this time"
Citizen writer and blogger Mariah Cook has an item today on the new open and transparent NCC's "remediation" of a park in New Edinburgh:
A public meeting will be held Thursday, September 3 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the Dufferin Room of the Crichton Cultural Community Centre, 200 Crichton Street, second floor.
It is organized by the New Edinburgh Community Alliance to review the project. The NCC has declined to attend.
[...]A chain-link fence is to be built along the entire length of the park behind the adjoining houses. A mix of fences, stone walls and open gardens is there now. The sole declared purpose of the fence is to block access and the informal encroachment of gardens. Residents query why this significant public expenditure is necessary.
Why has the information and consultation process been so abrupt, and clarification difficult to obtain from the NCC?
[...]I sent a list of questions to an NCC media relations officer and requested a written response by email.
"I'm sorry, but email answers do not work for me at this time," was the reply.
Designing Ottawa: What is the NCC up to at New Edinburgh Park? [2 Sep 2009]
Pathways to frustration
Much ado about the NCC's bike paths during a slow news week at the Citizen. First, Kelley Egan weighed in; spot the howler:
Much is known about usage on NCC paths, but much is not.
The commission does not keep track of how many accidents occur on its pathways, a spokesman said Tuesday, or injuries. Nor does it know how many electric bikes are wheeling about.
It has a sometimes-posted 20 km/h speed limit for cyclists, but admits this is a rule without legislative force. It does not ticket anyone for speeding. And, frankly, how could the Crown agency expect an accomplished cyclist to go that slow?
The paths are a victim of their own success, with traffic steadily climbing.
According to surveys conducted for the NCC, there were 17 million trips on NCC paths (including a portion of Gatineau Park) in 1998, but 31 million in 2008.
The proportion of pedestrians, meanwhile, is shrinking: from 30 per cent in 1998 to 24 per cent a decade later.
Similarly, the share of cyclists has grown over the decade, from 56 per cent to 64. In other words, almost two-thirds of users are now cyclists. With greening attitudes, more central infill, a broadening path network, that ratio will probably rise.
Two wheels now rule. It is a point worth discussion: Is the safest long-term option to kick everybody but cyclists off the paths?
Houle and Jonah would like to see improved signage about e-bikes on the paths themselves, clear information on the NCC website and perhaps an education campaign. The NCC, meanwhile, has a 2006 strategic plan for pathways. Shared use and courtesy are big concepts. Twin, separated paths are not.
"I think the NCC has a good record of being attuned to what the people in the National Capital region want," said spokesman Jean Wolff.
Not two days later, and NCC CEO Marie Lemay, freshly in tune with the masses, is on the front page explaining how the NCC is open to considering the possibility of twinning paths:
The National Capital Commission is open to twinning some of its recreational pathways to handle the capital's thriving cycling community, says chief executive Marie Lemay.
"I think we have to look at all the options," said Lemay. "Twinning is one we have to consider, where we can."
But let's not be hasty:
Lemay says, however, that the solution to enhancing bicycle use in the capital involves more than the NCC.
"I think there's a bigger picture here than just the pathways."
As the NCC's chief executive, Lemay said she has convened a regular meeting of the 13 municipalities in the national capital region.
One of the first issues to crop up was the need to better co-ordinate cycling paths, she added.
To that end, an "intra-agency" committee involving the NCC and each municipality is to be struck this fall. She expects some progress by the spring.
Citizen: Scooters, cyclists war over right to use NCC trails [12 Aug 2009]
NCC looks at reducing cars in Gatineau Park
Having spent the last 40 years building roads in Gatineau Park, capped by the freshly built McConnell-Laramee freeway - the NCC's self-styled "Gateway to Gatineau Park" - the NCC now wonders how to reduce the number of cars in the park. From the CBC:
Park director Marie Boulet said giving visitors transit alternatives would be good for the heavily used green space.
"It is not uncommon that we have real traffic congestion in the park," she said. "We're concerned with the impact motor vehicles can have on the park environment. But also on the recreational experience in the park."
Boulet said the NCC is currently gathering data in order to come up with alternatives to cars, which could include building transit links inside the park.
NCC's finest harass scouts
The NCC's pseudo police have been at it again, this time busting up some scouts having a campfire. From the Citizen:
Desjardine and his friend [...] biked from their homes in Crystal Bay to where the Grandview path meets the Ottawa River with a package of hot dogs and four cans of Dr. Pepper.
The Nepean Third Scouts Troop veterans - each spent nine years in the club - also brought with them their pocketknives and a small axe.
They stopped at a fire pit that they said had clearly been used before and started a campfire. With their hot dogs almost ready to go, the cloudy skies gave way to rain, so they decided to build a shelter with nearby trees and a makeshift tarp.
Desjardine says he cut down four poplars whose branches were already dead.
The NCC says he cut down live birch and cherry trees.
Just as the youths were about to finish the shelter, four NCC officers crashed the party. Desjardine said they tried to intimidate the teens by lecturing them about causing trouble and saying they could be criminally charged for carrying weapons.
[...]In a written statement, an NCC spokeswoman said the commission had received a complaint from a nearby resident about fireworks and a smell of smoke coming from the area around Shirleys Bay.
"When conservation officers arrived on site, they found two youths building a shelter. According to the report, one of the youths had an axe," Marilyne Guèvremont said.
Guèvremont said it was illegal to cut trees on NCC property, adding it was also illegal to cut, break, injure, deface or defile any rock, shrub, plant, flower or turf on the commission's land.
As well, campfires are prohibited except on designated campgrounds, such as Lac Philippe in Gatineau Park.
As to why campfires - if handled responsibly - were not allowed, Guèvremont said it was simply illegal according to the commission's regulations.
"Is the question about finding a responsible way to do something illegal?"
She said the NCC believed the officers exercised their judgment appropriately, adding the teens were liable to pay fines of up to $500 and could even have faced jail time.
Desjardine admits not knowing he and his friend were on NCC property, and he probably would have acted differently if he had.
The NCC's conservation officers are frequently overzealous in performing their duties.
NCC sandbags veterans group
The NCC's design mandarins are causing problems for a group trying to honour veterans of the Battle of Hong Kong:
In just over a month, soldiers who served in the first Canadian ground units to see combat in the Second World War are to finally have a national monument to mark their service.
But demands by the federal government for the design of the Battle of Hong Kong memorial to be more interesting have doubled the cost just as construction is set to begin, the Winnipeg Free Press reported from Ottawa.
[...]The association has been working for more than five years on getting a national monument, including raising $150,000 needed to build it.
"They said it wasn't artistic enough, or innovative enough," said Carol Hadley, chairwoman of the committee working on the wall.
"It didn't fit with their concept for Ottawa."
[...]The association's original plan was for a four-metre granite wall engraved with the names of the units, the soldiers, two women and a dog who served in the campaign. It was to be installed along Sussex Drive, midway between the Parliament buildings and the prime minister's residence.
But in December the association was informed the design wasn't good enough for the National Capital Commission, the Crown corporation which oversees government land and structures in the Ottawa area, she said.
The NCC and the association went back to the drawing board and the new concept is for a seven-metre concrete wall inspired by the mountains in Hong Kong where the soldiers fought.
Despite replacing the pure granite wall with a concrete wall with a granite facade, the new bill will be $300,000, twice what the association has raised.
A request for help from the federal government was denied, so the association has sent a plea to its members to try to get the word out.
Recall for a moment that the NCC design team approved the human rights monument.
Associated Press: Canadian veteran's group worried about Hong Kong battle memorial [6 July 2009]
More tinkering with the National Capital Act
The government today announced an "Action Plan for the National Capital Commission." This Plan of Action consists of a few mild proposals for changing the National Capital Act:
Highlights of the proposed legislation (Bill C-37):
This follows on from previous tinkering after the Mandate Review from a couple years back, and leaves the NCC to go about its business in much the same way they always have.
The NCC board meetings are already public - excepting those portions that aren't - so no real changes there. The NCC has never been short of plans, just worthwhile achievements, so requiring them to submit yet another plan every 10 years is something that, if we were in the government's shoes, we'd have kept to ourselves.
The government release does mention that "a transparent regulatory regime be established before properties can be designated as part of the National Interest Land Mass." So perhaps when the government is done, the mysterious and arbitrary process by which the NCC buys and sells land will become less mysterious, although probably no less arbitrary.
The release also includes vague language about "due regard for ecological integrity" and "principles of responsible environmental stewardship" - more specifics in due course, no doubt.
"Enhanced regulatory authorities" is, of course not something you want to hear about an already regulation-happy group like the NCC. And, lest they forget, they've put those elusive park boundaries in a schedule - well that should come in handy.
The legislation will be introduced in parliament this summer.
Citizen: New law would let NCC designate Gatineau Park lands [9 June 2009]
Leave governance to elected officials
Michael Polowin, writing in the Citizen, believes the NCC should leave governance to elected bodies:
I have given this long thought, and reached the conclusion that the NCC in its present mandate has outlived its usefulness, and needs to be substantially cut back.
[...]There are thousands of ways that the NCC regulates life and business, and it does so without direct accountability to the public.
[...]First, we should consider limited development in the current greenbelt, combined with a provincially mandated greenbelt somewhere outside the city, one that cannot be leapt (as is now the case in southern Ontario). Let's preserve wetlands, recreational areas and agriculturally valuable lands, while allowing scrub lands that are otherwise lying fallow to be used to intensify development of our city. In other words, get the NCC out of the greenbelt business; it has failed miserably.
[...]Height limits were intended to protect views of Parliament, but seriously, can you see Parliament from anywhere on its south side? No, you can't. The real effect of height limits is that they create more buildings and thus more sprawl. They create less profit for developers, and less profit leads to cost-cutting, which leads to boring and banal buildings.
Artificially low height limits were an NCC thing. Taller buildings would promote a more vibrant downtown, better architecture and more taxes paid to the city on more valuable real property. We will constrain sprawl as fewer buildings accommodate more people.
Return the NCC to its previous mission of beautifying the city. Let it keep the parks and bikepaths. They can make my jogs and bike rides more pleasant, but not regulate life or business in the capital. Let those we elect do the governing, for good or for ill.
For more on the impact of height restrictions on the city's tax base, see Greber's legacy.
Citizen: Leave governance to elected officials [26 May 2009]
LeBreton Flats inhabited again II
The Citizen looks at Claridge's lone tower on the Flats:
In 2004, three companies competed in an National Capital Commission contest to redevelop the prime piece of land which was once home to modest housing and shops, but two dropped out at the last minute, leaving Claridge Homes as the sole bidder: 4.4 hectares of LeBreton Flats for a little more than $8 million, with Montreal architecture firms Dan S. Hanganu Architects and Daoust Lestage at the helm.
Some questioned the default win and called the Claridge proposal bland, institutional and ordinary.
At the time, the NCC said the proposed design was excellent, but lacked poetry and needed revision.
The NCC reminded the public that a detailed design for each building had to be individually approved by their national advisory committee before anything was built.
"It's a process," Malhotra says of the experience "It's been beneficial, and at times, you know, you're just arguing about pointless things."
The Claridge phase is a done deal, and even at 4.4 hectares only accounts for a portion of the Flats that is to be developed. Unfortunately the article doesn't address the most important question - how will the NCC proceed with the remaining phases to be developed?
Bill granting protection for Gatineau Park expected
Debate on one bill to protect Gatineau Park has been adjourned because the government will introduce its own. From the Citizen:
After years of debate about proposals to protect Gatineau Park from development and overuse, the Conservative government is expected within the next several weeks to present its own bill giving legal protection to the park.
The Senate adjourned debate on a private member's bill by Senator Mira Spivak on Wednesday after Conservative Senator Pierre Claude Nolin told senators that a government bill to protect the park will be introduced soon.
[...]Speaking in the Senate, Nolin said unlike national parks, the boundaries of Gatineau Park can be changed, its land can be sold and roads can be built without parliamentary approval.
Catherine Loubier, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon who is also responsible for the NCC and Gatineau Park, said the government hopes to present a bill on the park and the role of the commission before the end of June.
"We are going to be more active in the coming weeks in the review of the NCC's mandate," Loubier said. "I can't confirm that we are tabling a bill today, but Minister Cannon is still living up to his commitment to provide more protection for Gatineau Park."
Various bills for protecting the park have come and gone over the years; the NCC has generally opposed the idea.
Citizen: Gatineau Park nears national status [7 May 2009]
Inter-provincial transit links project starts again
What do you get when you combine OC Transpo, STO and the NCC? From the Citizen:
Gatineau is building a bus-based rapid transit system, Ottawa is hoping to build a light-rail system with a downtown subway, the job of figuring out the best way of linking the two falls to the National Capital Commission, and they all want to hear from you on what should be done.
The first meetings happen May 15 in Ottawa and 19 in Gatineau - there is a website with the details.
NCC ombudsman office now open
The NCC ombudsman, a position recommended by the NCC Mandate Review some time ago, is finally operational. From the Citizen:
The National Capital Commission's ombudsman is open for business, ready to take complaints about the federal agency.
Lawyer Laura Bruneau, appointed to the part-time post by the NCC's board, said Wednesday that she will have a two-track approach to complaints. She will intervene and try to resolve a complaint, but if that doesn't work, she will start an investigation and present a formal report.
[...] Ken Rubin, one of the commission's longstanding critics, said he would not likely use the ombudsman's office. He said that if he wanted something changed at the commission, a more effective way is to go to the chairman, the minister responsible, a parliamentary committee or the press to raise the issue.
He said an ombudsman should be able to probe the organization on his or her own, without any specific complaints.
The ombudsman also has a website.
"The monument part seems completely gratuitous"
Maria Cook takes a look at the NCC's plans for the Sussex-Rideau intersection in the Citizen:
Achieving the balance is a critical issue because it has to do with a change of attitude and to what extent traffic engineering dominates urban design choices. "If only we could get the traffic engineers to agree to take down the ugly traffic lights and install something more reasonable," says Rideau-Vanier Councillor Georges Bédard.
The space in question is a triangle with busy roads on two sides and a blank wall. It used to be the site of the Grand Hotel, which was attached to the east wall of the former Union Station, now the Government Conference Centre.
What makes it work from a traffic perspective is the MacKenzie Avenue ramp extension and the sunken underpass -- which has become a hangout for the homeless.
In three scenarios under study by the NCC, the underpass and the ramp would be removed.
[...]The NCC sees the space as having potential for some sort of monument, though with the Rideau Canal, a world heritage site, and Confederation Square nearby some people question whether there is a need to compete.
It may be enough to make it an attractive urban space, a pause on the ceremonial route, as well as a breathing point in civic life, whether you're getting on a bus at the Rideau Centre, passing in your car or riding your bike.
"The monument part seems completely gratuitous," says Paul Kariouk, architecture professor at Carleton University. "It's never going to have the significance of the Cenotaph. This thing could be a glorified traffic circle." Kariouk says there should be an ideas competition. "If it's a vital threshold into the city for dignitaries let's rethink what that could be. It's almost like the front door to downtown.
"It has to have some quality that allows you for a moment to forget the city," he says, as well as "a stunning night presence" with illumination.
Genies and truck routes
One of the ways the NCC likes to promote itself is by bringing award shows to town. This year it's the Genies, and the NCC just can't get over themselves:
The NCC has worked since 1899 to make the Capital an expression of the Canadian identity. Thanks to the steady, persistent and focused efforts of generation after generation of planners and landscape architects, Canada's Capital is today a model of unspoiled shorelines, scenic parkways and boulevards, preserved heritage, monuments and expansive parks. Just as importantly, the Capital has become a place for national encounters, commemorations, learning and celebrations such as the Genie Awards.
Where will the national encounter/commemoration/celebration take place? Why, the Aviation Museum, where guests can take a last, long look at the Aviation Parkway, which, thanks to the steady, persistent and focused efforts of generation after generation of planners and landscape architects, is about to be turned into a truck route. This is being done to alleviate truck traffic downtown, where one of the previous generations of planners and landscape architects turned King Edward Boulevard into a smoking ruin.
So don't worry folks, it's all part of a plan bigger than any one single generation of planners and landscape architects. Hari Seldon, eat your heart out.
NCC: The nation's capital to host the 2009 Genie awards [14 Jan 2009]
More on the NCC plans for Sussex-Rideau
Centretown News reports that the NCC's plans for the Rideau-Sussex-Wellington-Colonel By intersection were discussed at the most recent NCC meetup, and some artist impressions passed 'round. First revealed in the Citizen last July, the NCC's plans apparently include rebuilding the intersection and adding a monument of some sort:
The plans are far from complete and only represent the beginning stages of the project, officials say, adding that many planning obstacles need to be overcome and consultations held before any work begins to take place.
One issue already raised by some NCC board members is the substantial grade problem at the site - sloping ground with streets converging at awkward angles.
"Our next step is to talk to the City of Ottawa and Public Works, since they own the Conference Centre," says Irwin, "(then) hammer out an agreement and define timelines."
A planning document discussed at the meeting referred to "potential construction within the next five years."
The brief report noted that the intersection is "an important entry point into the capital core" and that the proposed redesign will be reviewed as part of a consultation among NCC, federal and municipal officials, area property owners, BIA representatives and citizen groups.
The intersection is one of the prime locations identified in a 2006 study of Confederation Boulevard as being an "eminent landmark" in the capital's development and deserving of a major public commemoration.
Of course it was an even more "important entry point into the capital core" when Union Station was a functioning train station instead of an anonymous and mostly empty federal building. According to the NCC's own web page on the "Urban Design Study" they are conducting, they are looking to "transform" the "space" to "represent a truly Canadian experience" and "symbolize Canada's values, ideals and role on the world stage." If it ends up being typical of the NCC, that translates into flagpoles for each province and territory. Frankly, we don't care, as long as the pedestrian underpass goes.
Centretown News: NCC planning local version of Times Square [5 Feb 2009]
Board of Directors meet coming up
The swells on the NCC Board of Directors are having a get together Thursday, January 22 at the Westin Hotel Ballroom. The agenda is now up at the NCC Public Board of Directors Meetings page. Among the topics will be the always controversial interprovincial bridge, the currently preferred plan being a crossing at Kettle Island using the Aviation Parkway. The last time something like this happened, over at Champlain Bridge, these meetings were closed and the Board didn't have to look anyone in the eye while it voted. Otherwise, the script looks the same.
NCC: Public Board of Directors Meetings [15 Jan 2009]
Paul Bennett has a piece in the Ottawa Business Journal examining a generally overlooked aspect of Jacques Greber and the National Capital Commission's planning legacy - an unsustainable cap on property tax revenues:
Greber's influence on this city's modern day geography is immense. He conceived our greenbelt interspersed with urban islands called garden cities, including for example Orleans and Kanata. He also proposed commercial building height restrictions in the downtown to preserve the silhouette of the Peace Tower's clock from strategic viewing planes along the banks of the Ottawa River and he relocated railway lines to less visible domains. Our Garden City wisdom encouraged the development of thousands of hectares of raw land into single-family homes where the highest part of any building is the dormer windows that grace single home rooftops.
Greber's urban vision is troubling today because it unwittingly caused a simultaneous increase to infrastructure spending with a reduction in tax revenue potential.
[...]Economic laws affect both city form and its function. As to function, one acre of residential land will barely contain 8 single-family homes with a collective tax base of perhaps $30,000 a year. The same acre of land on Carling Avenue will earn the city $200,000 as an apartment building or $400,000 in taxable revenue developed for office space. In the downtown, the same acre will produce over $3,000,000 in taxable revenue each year, and more than double that if height restrictions were relaxed to any reasonable extent!
As to form, Greber's height restrictions have wiped out over 12,000,000 square feet of taxable floor space in Ottawa's business core. Moreover, since 1979 builders have erected over 10,000,000 square feet of new office space in that core and have left it with barely six properties remaining with less than 3,000,000 square feet of floor capacity. This number is arguably a puny 12-year office supply. Land is virtually a non-renewable resource. By using more land to produce fewer buildings everywhere, Ottawa is quite literally running out of space.
If offices cannot be built downtown where they belong, the city will have to increase office space development in our backyards. Is this the city form we all aspire to achieve? The Greber plan is an example of 1940s urban artwork at its grandest and most naive.
[...]Thanks to Greber's earthy vision though, Ottawa has enjoyed the appearance and character of a little City but with big aspirations. Our little bigness is a comfort to we residents, and it has helped shape our community's undemanding personality and we like it that way. The greenbelt is a popular and cherished aspect of our community, but at what cost do we embrace its sprawling finery? Homeowners have by and large paid a disproportionately lower share of the City's annual tax requirements. If we are going to continue to rely on a stable commercial sector to pay the bills and finance new forms of transit, things have to change and fast. We must accommodate a larger commercial land base or reduce height restrictions to existing land, or both, lest we face the consequences of more development in our back yards. The alternative is to increase residential taxes to absurd levels, which is clearly ours and our politicians' death wish.
[...]It is no small irony that Ottawa's dated master plan is causing it to struggle today to finance new rail infrastructure that Greber himself worked so hard to remove in the first place; a classic confrontation between function and form that is fuelled by economics.
Gutting the tax base - just one more way to count the cost of the NCC's planning. The unparalleled bungling on the LeBreton Flats doesn't just represent a lost opportunity, it represents millions of dollars in lost tax revenues, while the building dispersal programmes contributed to inefficient sprawl. And imagine if they'd followed through on their plans for Metcalfe Grand Boulevard.
OBJ: Ottawa Is Just A Little Big [12 Jan 2009]
Working to consign the National Capital Commission to oblivion since 2000.