"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 public. 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 Canadians. 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 closed. 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 life. "When you're an elected official, you take on those responsibilities." 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' time?' "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 speak. "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.