Champlain Bridge: Bad decision made worseThe Ottawa Citizen -- Final
City August 19, 1996
Bad decision made worse: The NCC's dubious approval of a third lane for the Champlain Bridge was given in deceptive secrecy
The National Capital Commission is proving with embarrassing clarity an old truth of government: Bad process yields bad decisions. This time we have the NCC reconsidering a bad decision to add a third lane to the Champlain Bridge.
This is an issue of conflicting demands. Residents on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River want a bigger bridge to speed the flow of commuters. Residents on the Ontario side oppose the added traffic and the construction of new approach roads.
The commissioners of the NCC decided June 28 to approve a third lane -- defying contrary advice of an outside consultant. It was a bad decision, made worse by a defective process of secrecy and contempt for public opinion.
Put aside the most powerful argument against the third lane: that it would induce more traffic, more traffic jams, longer commuting times across the river.
Instead, consider the evidence now emerging that the NCC commissioners did not even inform themselves of the facts. Quite literally, the commissioners did not know what they were talking about -- or voting on.
It is apparent that the commissioners, gathered from across the country for their June meeting in Ottawa, were too hastily and insufficiently briefed on the consultant's report, and perhaps misinformed in the advice they got from the NCC's own staff. Specifically, they seem to have been confused about the cost difference between adding a third lane and improving the existing two lanes.
But that is not a surprise. It is what happens when decisions are camouflaged in secrecy, manipulated by insiders protected from the discipline of public scrutiny.
And it is what happens again and again at the NCC, to the cost of people throughout the region on both sides of the river.
The connection between good process and good policy isn't complicated. Openness allows mistakes to be discovered early, permits the public's interests to be heard and establishes public confidence in the outcome. Decisions are wiser, fairer and accepted more strongly.
The NCC -- unelected, unaccountable to the people of the region -- has refused to see the logic of this. So it blunders on, undemocratic as ever.
If Chairman Marcel Beaudry were truly practical and fair, he would do three things now.
He would order the early publication of the consultant's second report on the bridge, being prepared for an NCC meeting next month. That way, everybody can work from the same facts.
He would open NCC meetings to the public. This urgent and overdue reform would only satisfy the minimal standard of democratic government.
And he would join with elected local councils, alongside federal and provincial authorities, in a thorough and democratic analysis of the region's future transportation needs. Bridges. Roads. Railways. Everything.
In the end, these misjudgments and reversals on the Champlain Bridge just prove the point: Arbitrary and secret decisions can only embarrass the NCC, and work against the interests of the national capital region.
Copyright The Ottawa Citizen 1996 All Rights Reserved.