About the NCC

Archive: The NCC Board on Privacy

"The public makes more noise than they should"

Despite repeated calls for more openness over decades, the NCC steadfastly stuck to its rights as a Crown corporation - and as a Crown corporation, the NCC had no obligation to open its board meetings. So it didn't, until forced by a review of their mandate conducted in 2006. Back in 1998, the Citizen asked NCC Board members how they felt about opening up their meetings. The results spoke for themselves.

Ottawa Citizen, August 24, 1998, Final Edition, p.C3

Members of the National Capital Commission's board are
vehemently opposed, for the most part, to holding meetings in

We asked them individually whether they want open or closed
meetings, and why. A few couldn't be reached Thursday or yesterday.

The rest -- except for former Ottawa councillor Joan O'Neill --
said letting the public in would politicize meetings, and would give
Ottawa-Hull residents undue influence over land that belongs to all

Here, in more detail, are their answers:

Marcel Beaudry, chairman -- Couldn't be reached for comment.

Joan O'Neill, vice-chair 

"I've always maintained the meetings
should be open to the public," she said, though parts involving
negotiations over buying or selling property would have to be held
in closed sessions (also standard procedure for municipal councils
and school boards).

She said she once presented a motion to examine the possibility of
having at least some meetings in the open, but it was voted down by
a heavy majority.

It's not enough that the NCC reports to elected MPs who do their
own business in public, Ms. O'Neill said; the NCC commissioners
themselves should meet openly as well.

"And if individuals who are appointed are not comfortable with
that, then they don't have to be appointed."

Ruth Carol Feldman, Winnipeg

"I don't have any problem holding the meetings in private, in a
closed session the way we do, because the minutes and everything are
made available to the public afterwards."

As well, she said, the NCC had public consultations in the spring.

She said the meetings move ahead more efficiently if they are

Norma Lamont, Ottawa

"For me personally, as one who is not totally familiar with all
things going on, I'm really uncomfortable having any member of the
media or the public there that can point a finger at me and say
afterward, 'Well why didn't you ask that question or why didn't you
ask this question?'

"I'm not their elected representative. I listen, I read my
documentation, I raise questions when I think it's necessary. ...
I'm uncomfortable having the public watching me to see whether or
not I'm a good member. It makes me uncomfortable. I'm afraid I may
not ask the question properly. I don't need that extra stress in my

"When you're an elected official, you take on those

Irving Schwartz, Sydney, NS

"There is business discussed at those meetings," he said. "There
are things like which building (proposal) we picked for the Daly
site. There are people coming in asking for leases, and we go back
with counter-offers."

Discussing these in public, he said, would undermine the NCC's
ability to bargain and get the best terms on leases, contracts,
purchases and sales.

He also says holding meetings in the open makes them more
political, "and it would impede the operation of that corporation.
There are enough checks and balances in the thing that we're pretty
sure where we are by the time we get there."

"The Champlain Bridge (took) two years and all kinds of
consultations," he said. "It became a political issue. It was not
to be a political issue. The storm on that is purely political in
the end. It should never have come down to that. It was whether it
was practical and whether it was possible and feasible, and what was
best for both communities.

"We're a corporation. We're not a political body."

Roland des Groseilliers, Ottawa

"We have nothing to hide, if that's what you're getting at. The
problem with public meetings, a lot of time the public make more
noise than they should.

"We're really an advisory board. That's really what we are, you
know. We're there to say, 'What can we do that's best for the future
of Ottawa in 20 years, in 50 years' time (or) in five years'

"I have no problem (with) the public knowing about it, but I don't
think it's that efficient."

During the annual open meetings in Ottawa and Hull only a few
people show up, he said. Often those who do come "are just there to
preach their own ideas. They're not necessarily constructive. You
know, they have an axe to grind. Does that really help? No, but we
listen to them."

"If it's open, that wouldn't bother me. But would it be as
efficient? I don't think so."

Pierre Isabelle, Hull

"We had a legal opinion from our (NCC) lawyer, who in turn
received, had obtained, a directive from the Ministry of Justice,
and we also looked at what happens at other Crown corporations, and
we think that closed-door meetings are the way to run
para-governmental organizations."

He said the NCC board members are all close to the communities they
serve and are all accessible, and understand that their job is serve
the public interest.

"It would put the National Capital Commission at risk if all the
meetings were open to the public. It would be difficult to discuss
certain things openly with the public breathing down your neck."

Alec Katz, Winnipeg

Public meetings "are totally unnecessary," though he says they
probably wouldn't do any real harm.

At the annual "Meet the NCC" meetings in January, very few
attend, he said. "They're just a mechanism for bringing out the
disgruntled and the dissatisfied and those looking for a forum to

"Ottawa's very lucky to have the NCC. ... As a matter of fact I
often wish that the other political jurisdictions in the area were
influenced by the good judgment and the quality of design and urban
environment that the NCC prevails (sic) on the area.

"When I look at what's done by the other jurisdictions,
particularly the City of Ottawa, as far as the urban environment is
concerned, it's very unfortunate."

"There's no signage control, no quality of urban space when you go
down Rideau. The Byward Market is only appealing, in my view, when
you're on Sussex, in the area the NCC controls.

"You people are very lucky."

Michael Kusner, Markham, Ont.

The retired professor of urban and regional planning said he was
"really appalled" by debate over the Champlain Bridge widening.
"It appalled me the way the ratepayer groups were functioning. So
for you guys to pursue this issue of having open meetings like a
municipal council, this is ridiculous."

"Where are you going to get the citizens of Vancouver, and how are
they going to be represented at these meeting? Ottawa is not a city
that is functioning primarily for the people of Ottawa and/or Hull.
It's also the national capital."

As an NCC commissioner, he said, "I don't ask local questions. I
ask myself ... How will this impact the national capital that
belongs to the people who live in my area, the Golden Horseshoe? Do
you follow?"

"I said to one of your reporters, I've forgotten where: For
Christ's sake, ask your bloody editor to buy you tickets around the
world and go visit half a dozen capitals. Go and speak to the people
that run those capitals. Then you'll be in a better position to ...
explain to your citizens how other cities are run, instead of
adopting this parochial, narrow, critical view that you people seem
to have adopted."

Andre Dupont, Hull

"You should address that question to Mr. Beaudry. He's the
chairman and he's the spokesman for the commission."

Marc Letellier, Quebec City

Would not discuss the issue. His secretary said he was busy.

John Mlacak, Kanata; Cec McCauley, Inuvik; Nancy Powers, Edmonton

Could not be reached.

Copyright Ottawa Citizen 1998 All Rights Reserved.

The NCC isn't completely clueless: they wouldn't open up meetings featuring this crowd unless someone held a gun to its head, for obvious reasons.