NCC Watch

Working to consign the NCC to oblivion

Search string: "gatineau"

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Thursday, November 5, 2015

NCC returns to heritage

Responsibility for the NCC is returning to Canadian Heritage, where it was back in the days of the previous Liberal government, which means some minister from Montreal is running the show. But local ministerial MP Catherine McKenna says she'll be "working with Mélanie Joly to reform the NCC." From the CBC:

The only Ottawa-area MP in cabinet will not directly oversee the National Capital Commission, but says the agency is in need of reform and that she plans on working toward it with the minister of Canadian Heritage.

It doesn't satisfy Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod, of Nepean-Carleton in Ottawa, who announced on Twitter Thursday morning that it's "unacceptable" for a minister outside of Ottawa-Gatineau to be handling the NCC file.

[...]McKenna said the controversial Canadian Memorial to the Victims of Communism, planned to sit at an already approved site between the Supreme Court of Canada and Library and Archives Canada in downtown Ottawa, was something she heard a lot of frustration about during the campaign.

The final design of the memorial has not yet been voted on. It has undergone significant revision.

"I think it demonstrated greater problems," McKenna said of the memorial. "We're in 2015; we need to be doing better in terms of transparency and consultation, and also the appointments process ... being selected based on merit."

She said she'd like to see the NCC reach gender equity and include people with different backgrounds.

Equity and diversity - well it sure will feel good to check those suckers off on our NCC reform wish list.

CBC: Catherine McKenna, Ottawa MP, says National Capital Commission needs reform [5 November 2015]

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The NCC's culture of secrecy

In the Citizen, Longstanding access to information researcher Ken Rubin provides a timely reminder that the NCC has never been a friend to transparency in government:

Even though in November, 2007, the NCC was finally forced to open up parts of their meetings to the public, key matters are still reviewed in in-camera sessions, with sanitized summaries being released months late ­­- and only because I file requests.

Sanitized as their records are, the value of uncovering matters of local interest can be found in the following items that resulted in Citizen stories:

  • 1988 consultant plans proposed for the parliamentary and judicial precinct were released after months of delays and an Information Commissioner complaint
  • secret 1989 discussions about introducing user fees at Gatineau Park
  • 1990 documents on delays and cost overruns associated with building a museum of photography next to the Chateau Laurier
  • 1992 records on the NCC's opposition to a popular idea of a park at the site of the former Daly building (the space now houses a luxury condominium, from which the NCC receives revenues)
  • 1988 to 1994 data that revealed the NCC was selling off chunks of its public greenbelt space to private developers
  • 1991 data on spending $10,000 for the installation of condom dispensing machines at NCC public washrooms
  • 2002 records that revealed that the NCC had spent $250,000 renovating an outdoor bathroom in Rockcliffe Park
  • a 1995 report by one Ottawa experienced appraisal firm that said the used sales value of furniture, furnishing, built-in closets and wallpaper left behind after the Mulroneys departing 24 Sussex Drive and Harrington Lake was only worth $39,050 despite the NCC having paid the Mulroneys $150,000 for these items in 1993
  • a 2003 investigation that mapped the incredibly vast capital area financial land holdings of NCC Chairman Marcel Beaudry and family and friends
  • 2004 NCC data that showed the NCC's "competition" for developing phase one of the publicly owned LeBreton Flats space ended with Claridge Homes getting the project, even though they "qualified" in last place in the ratings.

These are examples of finding out what the NCC was none too keen to have made public. Yet the NCC still likes to decide key community matters behind closed doors, exempt matters it would prefer to keep hidden and delay others from early public input.

The continuation of its secrecy practices is once again demonstrated in its provision of minimal information about the four consortiums' January 2015 proposals for a large scale redevelopment anchor project at LeBreton Flats. My access request on this and other queries made by the Citizen remain unanswered.

Rubin also memorably obtained transcripts of some NCC board meetings via access to information and published an article in the Citizen about the contents. The NCC's response? They promptly stopped recording their meetings.

Citizen: The NCC's culture of secrecy [26 August 2015]
Citizen: Behind Closed Doors [24 August 1998]
Citizen: What the NCC views as secret [3 February 2000]
NCC Watch Archive: Ken Rubin
Ken Rubin: Website

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

NCC, city continue their "public conversation"

First up, Mayor Watson. From the Citizen:

No other Canadian city faces the kind of federal interference that Ottawa does at the hands of the National Capital Commission, a frustrated Mayor Jim Watson said Monday.

The Ottawa mayor's comments come just days after the NCC announced that its board of directors believes Rochester Field on Richmond Road in Westboro, which it owns, is a better option for light rail than along the Ottawa River, unless the city is prepared to dig a deep tunnel for the trains in order to preserve its proposed route along the river.

"No other city in the country has an organization like the NCC who micromanages and meddles. You can't give me one example of any other city that has that kind of duplication of activity and meddlesome behaviour," Watson said.

He added that most NCC board members don't live in Ottawa and "don't have to live with the consequences" of their decisions.

"No one holds them accountable, so I think the public should be outraged at this kind of behaviour by a group that is constantly poking a stick in our plans to improve transit for the future of our city," he said.

Nothing revelatory here, but it is nice to have it said out loud now and then.

In an op-ed in the Citizen, meanwhile, CEO Kristmanson styles the NCC's "meddling" as "expanding the options":

Following a detailed review of documents and data provided by the city, the NCC's experts concluded that the only way our shoreline objectives can be achieved is if the transit line is constructed as a tunnel.

Last week, when the NCC's Board examined the latest evidence [at an in camera meeting], it concluded that the public and the city should be informed right away of its conclusions. The sooner the city is made aware of our analysis the better able it will be to complete its environmental assessment.

Preserving access to the extraordinary beauty of the riverfront has significance for our children and grandchildren. Its ecological and recreational potential cannot be readily reclaimed if an imposing infrastructure is given priority [and they should know - ed.].

As the city densifies and grows, protecting the best of our capital becomes all the more important. In fact, hundreds of residents and experts have joined us to envision a waterfront linear park extending from the Canadian War Museum to Britannia. Enhancing this world-class gem can only unfold in harmony with light rail submerged in a tunnel configuration.

The city has other options. This includes moving light rail away from the shoreline by turning into Rochester Field. This crucial open area is owned by the NCC, which will make the land available.

If the line moves inland, the city can determine a route that best meets its overall objectives, including the opportunity to place transit stops close to where people live. It would be up to the city to determine if a transit line that extends up from Rochester Field would be a tunnel, buried below grade, or run on grade.

By making Rochester Field available to the city the NCC is expanding the options, which we ask be fully compared in the ongoing environmental assessment.

Studying only the shoreline option, with partially buried configurations, as the city is doing today, will not move an effective light rail solution closer to reality.

In short, forget the waterfront, we've already done enough on that score.

And we leave you with this audacious thought from Peter Raaymakers at Public Transit in Ottawa: what if Kristmanson's offhand reference to the NCC's blue sky plans for a grand linear park along the waterfront involve actually taking out their freeway?

In an opinion article in the Citizen explaining the NCC's position, Kristmanson mentioned - almost in passing - the possibility of establishing a waterfront linear park where the Parkway currently runs. The "Sir John A. Macdonald waterfront park," as Kristmanson called it, would run from the War Museum on Lebreton Flats to Britannia Beach, incorporating the many existing beaches, rapids, and lookouts along the way.

In order to make it a waterfront park in any meaningful way, the parkway itself would have to be removed. Jacquelin Holzman, the former mayor of Ottawa and current member of the NCC Board of Directors, told me that the park "is front and centre in the vision of the NCC and the Board" and said that the NCC has engaged stakeholders and neighbours on the subject.

The fact that the NCC didn't explicitly outline these plans while explaining their position to the city is a massive failure of communications on their part. Refusing to allow public transit parallel to their existing freeway is a nonsensical decision, but if they are actively considering the removal of, or major changes to, that freeway then it makes more sense. A waterfront parkway is no place for a light-rail line - even if it's a segment of only 1.2 kilometres, and even if it's partially buried.

Establishing the Sir John A. Macdonald Park could be the most ambitious conservation project of the National Capital Commission since Gatineau Park was created in 1938. The NCC's mandate is to take part in projects like this one, conserving key lands for uses that couldn't otherwise be envisioned in order to improve quality of life in the National Capital Region. They've wasted these waterfront lands for over 50 years by turning them into a commuter corridor, but at least they are finally making larger plans for them.

But does it count if we have to wait for flying cars before it happens?

Citizen: Ottawa mayor bemoans NCC's 'meddlesome behaviour' [24 November 2014]
Citizen: Mark Kristmanson: The NCC is expanding the options for light rail [25 November 2014]
Sun: Watson vs. NCC round two [25 November 2014]
Citizen: Peter Raaymakers: The NCC finally has a vision for the waterfront [25 November 2014]
Citizen: No plans to rip up Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway, NCC's Kristmanson says [26 November 2014]

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

NCC finally gets a CEO

A CEO has finally been appointed - a former NCC bureaucrat. From the Citizen:

Kristmanson, a largely unknown NCC bureaucrat for the past decade, was on Monday named to the top job by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.

Kristmanson succeeds former CEO, Marie Lemay, who left 18 months ago to become a deputy minister in the federal bureaucracy. The job had been unfilled since then, though Jean-François Trépanier, the Crown corporation's executive vice-president, had been interim chief executive.

Kristmanson's appointment, which followed what Baird called a "lengthy, rigorous and non-partisan process," came as a surprise to just about everyone.

[...]At the NCC, Kristmanson was once director of public programming, overseeing events such as Canada Day and Winterlude. That programming role migrated to the Department of Canadian Heritage last year when the NCC's mandate was narrowed to land-use planning and maintaining official residences.

[...]University of Ottawa professor emeritus Gilles Paquet, who chaired a panel that reviewed the NCC's mandate in 2006, said it appears the government has "chosen a technocrat rather than a political animal" to head the NCC.

That could be a problem if Kristmanson has been "totally captured" by the technocracy that has dominated the NCC for years, Paquet said.

"When you live in an organization for 10 years, you become part of that culture. The culture has been a technocratic culture - top down, very little attention paid to the communities out there. The will to co-operate is not there to begin with."

The role of the NCC's chief executive is political in some ways, Paquet said. "There's an extraordinary need, if you want a renaissance of this region, for people to come together, to rally, to conciliate."

The head of the NCC needs to be willing to "persuade, bribe, do anything he needs to for the city," Paquet said. "These are political skills rather than technical skills."

In an interview with Joanne Chianello in the Citizen, Kristmanson predictably played his cards close to his chest, but he did allow that the birdfeeders, recently removed from Gatineau Park for reasons that amounted to 'just in case', would return. So hold on to your hats, it's gonna be a wild ride.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Mayors not ready to give up on NCC yet

The Ottawa and Gatineau mayors have joined forces to criticize the NCC and demand a seat at the table. The Citizen's David Reevely reports:

The National Capital Commission doesn't know enough about local affairs and is getting in the way of progress, the mayors of Ottawa and Gatineau charged Wednesday, and putting them on its board is their solution.

After their first formal meeting since Gatineau's Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin was elected last fall, he and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson emerged with a list of grievances, from "relentless obstruction in the City of Ottawa's efforts to create a world-class transit system for the National Capital Region" to the "unilateral decision to close Rue Gamelin" in Gatineau. They signed it and sent it to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, demanding reforms that should start with adding an elected official from each city council to the 15-member NCC board.

[...]The commission's refusal to accept Ottawa's plans for running a light-rail line along the Ottawa River near Highland Park clearly angered Watson the most. The board's constant demands for the city to spend more on the project, which is already estimated to cost $980 million, are just unreasonable, he said, calling them "micromanagement and second-guessing." He scorned the commission's demands in the first stage of the rail line, now under construction - which went as far as approving the shrubs the city intends to plant around its new stations.

Watson also complained about the state of Sparks Street, where the NCC is a major landlord and famously indifferent to the needs of small businesses. Few restaurateurs want to invest in outfitting kitchens if they can only get the short-term leases the NCC insists on, for instance.

[...]The fact the NCC board had an open meeting last week, where member Robert Tennant got involved in the debate on the city's rail plans, helped expose that Tennant's private urban-planning firm also works for a client whose development plans are directly implicated in the rail project, Watson pointed out. More openness and accountability is always a good thing, he argued.

The mayor said he's not worried that an attack on the commission will make getting its co-operation on things like the rail project more difficult.

"Are you suggesting there's going to be retributions because we dared to offer a way to open up and make the NCC more accountable?" he shot back in response to a reporter's question. "I think that would backfire on the federal government, if they're going to all of a sudden start saying, 'These mayors are asking too much and we're going to take out on them, charging more for parking in Gatineau Park and we're going to make it more difficult for light rail.' I hope they don't go down that path because I don't think the public would be too pleased and impressed with that.'

Chairman Mills, however, fired right back, sticking to the tiresomely familiar 'we're doing it for all of Canada' line. From the CBC:

The chair and interim CEO of the National Capital Commission brushed off suggestions the organization meddles in local affairs and said they do not support the idea of having municipal representation on the commission's board.

[...]He said as the caretaker of the 10 per cent of land in the region owned by the federal government, the NCC should have that authority. While Mills said the current negotiations with the city are progressing well, in the past he said they have had to fight to keep rail lines from going up along the Ottawa River.

"The NCC needs to retain the authority to stop bad ideas for federal land like a railroad on the riverfront," he said.

Ah yes, the railway on the riverfront. Well, he's got a point - it could impede access to the freeway.

Citizen: Ottawa, Gatineau mayors demand seats on NCC board [29 January 2014]
CBC: Jim Watson, Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin call on PM to change NCC [29 January 2014]
Mayors' Joint Letter [29 January 2014]
CBC: NCC rebuffs call from mayors for more local voice [30 January 2014]
OBJ: Mayor Watson demands more local representation on the NCC board [30 January 2014]
Statement from NCC Chair Russell Mills [30 January 2014]
Sun: City of Ottawa is being hijacked by NCC without regard to cost or consequences [31 January 2014]

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Bixi files, NCC vows to continue

Insolvent bike share operation Bixi has filed for bankruptcy, but the NCC insists its capital operation will continue to operate. From the Sun:

Capital Bixi is getting ready to roll again this spring even though the company that runs Ottawa-Gatineau's bike-share fleet is filing for bankruptcy protection, the National Capital Commission said Tuesday.

"It is too early to tell if or what or how there will be impacts on Capital Bixi," NCC spokesman Jean Wolff said. "One thing is clear for us, that there is a contract in place to provide the operation and management of the service. We are carrying on with our work towards the season opening April 15."

The NCC owns the 250 bikes at 25 stations but they're operated by Public Bike System Company. It filed a notice of intention to file for bankruptcy protection so it can restructure while promising to continue operations and services.

[...]Meanwhile, the NCC is trying sell the system before the service contract expires in 2015 - a move planned when it launched 100 bikes and 10 stations in 2011.

In the Post, Tasha Kheiriddin points out some of the flaws in the bike sharing utopia:

It's hard to make a business case for bike sharing. Car sharing, yes: An automobile is expensive to purchase and maintain, and not everyone uses it enough to justify the cost. But bicycles are the cheapest form of wheeled transportation you can buy. Can't afford new? Pick one up second-hand: As of writing this column, the website Kijiji listed hundreds of bikes for sale in Toronto, for as little as $25. For the amount of money Bixi has cycled through, the company could have bought a set of wheels for every user in its target markets.

Capital Bixi has all the appearances of a white elephant - if the NCC manages to unload it on someone, so much the better and none too soon. The whole operation could be replaced by a kiosk by the canal to rent bikes to tourists. If the NCC really wants to encourage cycling in the capital, they'd do better by improving the existing path network, or extending 'Sunday Bikedays' to - what the hell - the whole freaking day.

Sun: Bixi bikes to keep rolling, says NCC [21 January 2014]
Citizen: Bixi bike-sharing operator files for bankruptcy protection [20 January 2014]
Post: The Bixi bubble bursts [21 January 2014]
CBC: Ottawa Bixi program still a go despite bankruptcy protection [21 January 2014]
CBC: Bixi struggles raise concerns about Ottawa bike share's future [24 September 2013]

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Still no CEO

David Reevely recaps the continuing mystery of the missing NCC CEO and reviews some of the challenges facing the clapped out organization in the coming year. From the Citizen:

The next chief executive of the National Capital Commission will take over a beleaguered Crown corporation, one that's been operating without a permanent top manager for nearly a year and a half.

In that time, the commission has battled with the City of Ottawa over light-rail routes, presented two studies on transportation across the Ottawa River (one on transit, one on a new east-end bridge) that promptly sank, absorbed budget cuts and, toughest of all, seen its festival-planning responsibilities amputated and grafted onto the Department of Canadian Heritage, with dozens of staff going with them.

All the while, its people have waited for a new chief executive to take the place of Marie Lemay, the cheerful administrator and engineer who departed for the bureaucracy in the federal infrastructure department at the end of the summer in 2012. A replacement has been on the verge of being named for months, according to the minister in charge of the NCC, John Baird.

[...]The NCC's main job now is land management: acquiring and maintaining property in the national interest, from the Greenbelt to Gatineau Park to the capital's official residences. Will it become primarily a janitorial service? Or will the new boss take up some of the causes Lemay championed, such as making the capital bike-friendly and encouraging, in at least a limited way, new life along the NCC-controlled banks of the capital's major waterways?

[...]Whether the new chief executive is a dreamer or an administrator or something else, he or she will need to help the commission's people up, dust them off and give them new direction. This will also mean working out how the NCC co-operates with other federal agencies, from Canadian Heritage to Parks Canada.

[...]Part of the National Capital Commission's job is to co-ordinate between the cities on either side of the Ottawa River, particularly when it comes to transportation. The NCC has tried and had two major recent failures.

It spent years on a study that recommended ways of integrating Ottawa's and the Outaouais's transit systems. Start small, it suggested, by changing duplicate route numbers. Eventually, over time, let's move toward one combined system, with commuter trains crossing the river and one joint system for planning service. The report came out. The politicians in charge of transit on each side of the river panned it. Nobody has talked about it since. It wasn't even presented to Ottawa's transit commission as an item of interest, let alone something to act on.

Much the same thing happened to an even more detailed study in support of an east-side bridge to get truck traffic off downtown Ottawa's streets. The study concluded, as practically every study of the subject has, that using the Aviation Parkway to get to a new bridge across Kettle Island makes the most sense. The politicians who'd have to vote to pay for it promptly denounced the proposal and the study ended; even its website was scrubbed from the Internet.

Citizen: The four big challenges that await the new NCC boss, whoever it is [4 January 2014]
Citizen: No new CEO in sight for National Capital Commission [2 January 2014]

Friday, October 4, 2013

Dewar: NCC blindsided

NDP member for Ottawa Centre Paul Dewar feels the NCC been done wrong when the government transferred responsibility for national celebrations to Heritage. Meanwhile, the employees involved have made the move to Heritage while the NCC must now look for smaller digs. From the Citizen:

The significant shrinking of the NCC's role, revealed in a couple of lines deep in the federal budget, came without consultation or warning, Dewar says, something that speaks to the federal government's view of the agency and its relevance.

"The day the budget was announced was when people at the NCC became aware of this," Dewar said. "They can't tell you this, but I will: They blindsided the NCC."

The employees affected by that change - 81 full-time and 13 students - moved from the NCC headquarters in the Chambers Building on Confederation Square this week to begin work at the Department of Canadian Heritage offices in Gatineau. With a smaller staff and reduced responsibilities, as well as a shrinking budget, the NCC is planning to move out of the centrally-located heritage building it has occupied for nearly two decades.

When the employees - who make up about 18 per cent of the NCC's workforce - moved to Heritage, many of the NCC's responsibilities moved with them. Heritage will now take over responsibility for running Canada Day celebrations, Winterlude, the Christmas lights program, national commemorations "to be established in the capital region", public art commemorations and visitor services, among other things. A number of NCC employees working in communications, IT and finance also made the move, which leaves the NCC with responsibility for Gatineau Park, the pathways, parkways and property maintenance.

The Department of Canadian Heritage will create a Capital Experience Branch "to ensure a broad national experience is brought to all celebrations in the National Capital Region," said a department spokesman by email.

Meanwhile, a series of budget cuts have reduced the money the NCC gets from Parliament by about $9.5 million a year.

[...]Dewar said the move is hollowing out the NCC instead of reforming it and enlivening its mandate.

"What we are left with is (an organization) that is going to be a landlord taking care of mowing the lawn and washing the windows. Clearly that is not sufficient.

"They are hollowing out a resource, taking money away and putting it into Heritage without any real understanding as to what the effects will be."

A landlord taking care of mowing the lawn and washing the windows - sounds like a good match. Let the hollowing out continue!

Citizen: NCC 'blindsided' by cuts in federal budget: Dewar [4 October 2013]

Friday, August 16, 2013

Gatineau Park critic profile

Long time Gatineau Park critic Jean-Paul Murray is profiled in the Citizen:

His central goal is to protect the boundaries of the park and the land inside it, which means gradually acquiring private property. He wants the NCC to have a policy of letting current owners stay there, but only if the NCC has a right of first refusal when they sell.

[...]Four years ago he told the Citizen: "The NCC won't fulfil its master plan to protect the park unless it is forced to do so. The government only acts to protect the park when there is public pressure."

He added this month: "The NCC has been at times good but sometimes they are in a heavy state of denial ... They keep saying the NCC does not have a policy for acquiring private property. Well I'm sorry, they do. It's called the National Interest Land Mass and it's called the master plans, all master plans (for the park) all the way back to 1952."

There have been eight bills tabled with the aim of defining park boundaries and protecting for the land, often with Murray's assistance. Past sponsors include Ed Broadbent and Senator Mira Spivak of Manitoba. Murray remains a great fan of Spivak.

[...]At Meech Lake, Murray accuses both the municipality and private landowners of violating (through inaction) a 2011 county bylaw to protect the shoreline with natural vegetation.

"It's pure anarchy in the park," he says. "The real cause is the multiple jurisdictions: federal, provincial, municipal, and then at the end of the line everybody passes the buck to the other level of government."

Citizen: A voice crying for the wilderness [16 August 2013]

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Concrete replaces granite on Confederation Boulevard

Much touted by the NCC as a singular success, Confederation Boulevard is nevertheless being downgraded from granite to concrete. From the Citizen:

[T]hat distinctive "pink Canadian granite" - a point of pride with the National Capital Commission - is a vanishing commodity. Granite paving stones are being dug up and replaced with cheaper, more durable coloured concrete along Confederation Boulevard, Ottawa's ceremonial route.

[...]The federal government paid for recent work to dig up granite pavers and replace them with concrete with $1.125 million in Economic Action Plan funding. And the National Capital Commission recently issued a tender to do some of the remaining work replacing granite sidewalks near the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau.

[...]But the granite pavers proved problematic and costly. When heavy equipment drove over them for maintenance, they would crack, damage that would be expensive to repair. In 1994, the NCC established new paving standards for Confederation Boulevard and started using concrete. Gerald Lajeunesse, former chief landscape architect with the NCC, helped look for a more practical solution and found it in the form of concrete mega-block pavers which were four inches thick, compared with the two-inch granite pavers, not to mention significantly less expensive and better able to withstand abuse. One former NCC official estimated the granite pavers cost five to 10 times as much as concrete.

[...]Lajeunesse said he thinks replacing the granite sidewalks with coloured concrete was the right call. "I think it was done appropriately. It is still a grand boulevard, maybe not as grandiose as some had first envisioned it, but it is still very good," he said.

[...]the granite detailing remains a point of pride with the NCC. In its "bus tour reference tool" it offers bus tour guides talking points about Confederation Boulevard. "How can you tell if you are on Confederation Boulevard? Look for the tall lampposts, each bearing a bronze maple leaf at the top, and the broad tree-lined walkways, lined in pink Canadian granite."

Architect critic Rhys Phillips has other thoughts on the replacement of granite with concrete on Confederation Boulevard's sidewalks.

"I think pink granite looks good. Pink concrete looks like the kitsch that it is."

At least we have Confederation Boulevard's new slogan - "still very good." Considering that Confederation Boulevard is little more than theme park history, the pink concrete is, in fact, rather more symbolically appropriate than the granite ever was.

Citizen: Taken for granite: Pink concrete replacing capital's 'noble' stone [13 August 2013]
Citizen: Ottawa, the ersatz capital [28 August 2013]

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Watson calls for reform

Ottawa Business Journal reports that Mayor Watson may be hardening his approach to dealing with the NCC:

Fed up over his inability to reach a compromise with the National Capital Commission on several key municipal files, Mayor Jim Watson signalled he'll be suggesting changes to how the federal Crown corporation goes about its business.

[...]"Over the course of the next couple of months I'm going to be speaking about how I think we can reform the NCC to make sure that it is more of a help than a hindrance," said Mr. Watson, who made the comments to tourism officials at an event organized by the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association.

He referred to the NCC as "another level of government that no other city in the country has to deal with."

Mr. Watson, without going into specifics about what he wants changed, singled out a number of policy areas in which the NCC has created a "problem" for the city's attempts to attract visitors.

[...]A particular source of frustration appears to involve the city's plan to extend its light-rail transit project to the west. The city is currently working on a route that would take the project farther west of the current construction route, which only goes as far as Tunney's Pasture.

[...]"When we're trying to get light rail even farther west and take one and a half acres of scrub land and they're saying 'sorry you can't do that, try another option that's going to cost you another $600 million,' that's a problem," said Mr. Watson.

OBJ: Watson calls for NCC reforms [16 May 2013]

Thursday, January 17, 2013

NCC looking for better ways to manage its rental properties

The NCC, never the most popular of landlords, is renewing its contract for property management. From the Citizen:

The National Capital Commission is tweaking the way it manages its $100-million portfolio of rental properties. And it is inviting the property management industry to offer advice about how to do it.

The NCC rents out about 600 residential, commercial, agricultural, institutional and recreational properties in the National Capital Region.

They include about 240 single-family homes in the Greenbelt and Gatineau Park, 15 apartment units in the ByWard Market, and 94 commercial properties, many of them along Sussex Drive. There's also 5,400 hectares of agricultural land, mostly in the Greenbelt.

The properties are leased to individuals, institutions, government agencies, not-for-profit organizations and commercial operators for terms ranging from one to 99 years.

Collectively, they contributed a significant share of the $19.3 million in revenues the NCC earned in 2011-12 from rental operations and easements.

The NCC privatized its leasing and property management operations in 1996. Minto managed the rental properties until 2009, when a new contractor, Dell Management Solutions, took over.

With Dell's contract set to expire in March 2014, the NCC plans to invite bids for a new multi-year property management contract this spring, with a decision by the fall.

But this time, the NCC wants to split the contract into two parts: one for its residential properties, and the other for the commercial and other properties.

Citizen: NCC looking for better way to manage its rental properties [17 January 2013]


Saturday, September 15, 2012

City to help NCC complete Confederation Boulevard

As part of its Sussex widening project, and in a spirit of cooperation, the city wants to help the NCC finish the job of demolishing Lowertown, in progress lo these many decades, for a green, park-like setting. From the Citizen:

Planners are looking to tear down rental homes owned by the National Capital Commission at 273 and 275-279 Sussex Dr. for a project that includes adding two cycling lanes to a curved stretch of road near Bolton and Cathcart streets as part of larger improvement work between King Edward Avenue and St. Patrick Street. The project is led by the city with NCC involvement.

In July, the NCC's board endorsed the idea of knocking down the homes for the work, and the plans now go to the city government for approval to remove the buildings from the Lowertown West Heritage Conservation District.

Although such demolitions should not be supported "as a general principle," the city's planning department says various issues are at stake, and safety, transportation and the NCC's wishes to complete its ceremonial route are most important.

"The Department supports the proposed roadway and the demolitions it entails as it will solve a safety issue that has been identified for decades, will provide mobility choices through its incorporation of dedicated bike lanes and will support the NCC in its goal of completing Confederation Boulevard," staff say in a report going to the Ottawa built heritage advisory committee on Thursday.

"In addition, the proposed interim landscaped area will enhance the pedestrian experience in the area by providing views across the river from a green, park-like setting."

[...]As conditions of approval, staff recommend the buildings be documented before they're torn down, and the leftover vacant space landscaped until the NCC decides what it wants to do with it.

"Such landscaping would serve a number of purposes in the interim: enhancing the pedestrian experience by providing an opportunity to experience the views across the Ottawa River towards the historic Alexandra Bridge and beyond to the Gatineau Hills; animating this portion of the street; and, masking the side and back yards of the adjacent properties on Bolton and Cathcart," the report states.

So, a park on the new, wider, straighter and faster Confederation Boulevard - until the NCC gets around to deciding who gets to put their embassy there - and more work for city archivists. But frankly, we're not sure what this talk of "masking" those unsightly yards is about - why not tear down those adjacent properties for an even bigger green, park-like setting? More buildings to document, more green - what could be better?

Citizen: Sussex Drive homes should be demolished for road project, city staff say [15 September 2012]
YourOttawaRegion: Road widening threatens to demolish heritage homes [20 September 2012]

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Ottawa's one-dimensional waterfront

In the Citizen, Ottawa architecture critic Rhys Phillips takes a look at the NCC's one-dimensional waterfront, as compared to other cities, and pitches a few ideas for how Ottawa could be improved:

Certainly, waterside parks are necessary components of good urban quality of place. But too much green can become just as much a barrier as industry or railway tracks.

Ottawa's so-called "Parkways" along the Ottawa River, a product of the car-focused and deeply flawed Gréber Plan of 1950, are primarily low-speed controlled-access freeways. Similarly, the canal roads, especially Colonel By Drive with only a narrow path between road and water, operate as commuter arterials. On the sunniest of summer days, beyond the beaches, only a minuscule percentage of Ottawans can be found along any of the city's numerous waterways. A decent latte, much less a meal, cannot be had along the over 60 kilometres of trails along the Ottawa or Rideau Rivers; and the canal is little better.

The American Project for Public Spaces, in its guide How to Transform a Waterfront, argues for the "power of 10," that is, there should be at least 10 "destinations" along a successful waterfront. A focus on connected destinations, rather than "open space," they argue, is a requirement for success. "Creating these connections ... entails mixing uses (such as housing, parks, entertainment and retail) and mixing partners (such as public institutions and local business owners)."

[...]Unlike many cities, Ottawa appears frozen in a planning time warp. Internationally, comparable cities such as Helsinki and Copenhagen are embracing their waterways as places for living, learning, working and playing.

[...]A prime candidate would be anchored by the long-in-planning brownfield redevelopment of the city-owned Bayview Yards but extended across NCC lands to the Ottawa River and out the peninsula leading to Bell Island. The Ottawa River Parkway would swing inward to become a more pedestrian friendly boulevard. Mid-rise residential blocks - including condos, rentals, co-ops and social housing - with street based retail, commercial services and cultural facilities would extend daily life to the shoreline although quays, interspersed with softer but quality landscape architecture would remain public spaces.

Descending from homes or professional offices beside the river, residents could join visitors from other parts of the city at outdoor terraces on the public quays for a Bridgehead coffee or a meal at a three-star restaurant featuring local produce from a market square. Perhaps, as at Selkirk Waters in Victoria, people could launch or rent a kayak to paddle Lazy Bay or the nearby Islands.

The cycle shop next door will tune up your bike before a daylong ride or a morning commute across the converted railway trestle bridge, again copying Victoria's Galloping Goose trail bridge. Of course, the Gatineau side of this bridge could also emerge as its own bayside village, thus creating twinned communities linked by the trestle.

In addition, village development of the Hurdman Station lands and the NCC's un-poetically named riverside National Interest Land Mass could include a pedestrian bridge across the Rideau River to city-owned vacant land on the north shore. While this also serves to finally put to rest the lamentable Vanier "Parkway" plan, I would still envisage a village friendly tram - as can be found in downtown Portland, Oregon, or countless European cities - linking Lees Station to Hunt Club. At the northeastern edge of our new village, the existing Hurdman pedestrian trestle bridge connects into the University of Ottawa's south campus.

The NCC recently authorized some food trucks to operate near the canal, and has solid long-term plans to set up some folding chairs at undisclosed locations.

Citizen: Bring life to the water [8 July 2012]

Friday, July 6, 2012

NCC CEO Lemay moves on

NCC CEO Marie Lemay is moving further up the bureaucratic greasy pole in Ottawa. From the Citizen:

Lemay will step down next month as the NCC's chief executive to become Associate Deputy Minister of Infrastructure, one of a spate of senior public service appointments made Friday by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Lemay told NCC employees that she is leaving the commission after 4 1/2 years "with mixed feelings," but she is secure in her own mind that her mission to drag the much maligned agency into a new era of accountability, openness and relevance is done. She told the Citizen that what's considered her defining project - a new plan to succeed Jacques Gréber's 1950 capital blueprint - is in good hands and would be completed as planned.

"The challenge I had when I came in was to champion openness and transparency, and if I look at the organization today and what it was, I am very proud of what we have done. I am leaving an organization that has a total different way of thinking ... a whole cultural shift in how we do business," Lemay said in an interview.

"We've become a much more nimble and flexible organization, we've become open and transparent and the way we do things is part of who we are. I am quite confident that we are not going back, no matter who steps (into) that role."

[...]Lemay championed many things, but said she is proudest of the BIXI bike-sharing program, of buying more land in Gatineau Park to prevent development, and of the ambitious new plan for the capital's next 50 years.

While many praised Lemay's infectious enthusiasm, critics said she lacked the vision to do the big things that really define great capitals. Waterfront development, redevelopment of Sparks Street and animation of Ottawa's shorelines were not far advanced under her leadership. University of Ottawa professor Gilles Paquet, who chaired the review panel that led to her appointment, once said that Lemay's NCC became too "timid" to do much good.

Lemay dismissed that criticism Friday, saying like most people, she wanted things to happen fast. But the reality is that the NCC can't just wave a magic wand and things would happen, she said. It operates in a complex world of different players and conflicting interests.

"There are some things that you'd like to happen faster. There are so many good ideas and projects and you want to see these happen, but you have to be realistic because there are different players," she said.

"You have to learn to be a little patient."

Lemay can be certainly credited for not overstaying her welcome, unlike the late unlamented imperial chairmanship of Marcel Beaudry.

Citizen: Lemay leaving NCC to take senior Public Service appointment [6 July 2012]
Citizen: Ottawa's loss [6 July 2012]

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Paquet takes another swipe at the NCC's timidity

Gilles Paquet, the Ottawa U academic in charge of the NCC mandate review a few years back, continues to criticize the NCC for its "timidity":

Gilles Paquet, an expert in public management and professor at the University of Ottawa's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, said he hopes the public brings transportation up at the NCC's annual public meeting where the organization is welcoming citizens to learn more about its initiatives and directly address its board members with ideas and comments.

"There has been very, very timid action taken by the NCC over the past few years on the key issue of transportation," he said. "They've had a number of interesting improvements in doing business by offering these public consultations, but the substance of what they've achieved is very minimal."

The hundreds of buses that clutter the bridges between Ottawa and Gatineau on a daily basis, Paquet said, are creating chaos on the roads and hindering the growth of the city.

"We still live in the chaos and nothing has been done to coordinate starting work on the both sides of the river," he said. "I would rather hear they're working on a light train that links Ottawa and Gatineau. Then we would have a real transportation hub."

Metro News: NCC's "timid" plans under fire from Ottawa U Prof [17 April 2012]

Monday, March 12, 2012

Time to scrap the NCC

Mark Bourrie at Ottawa Magazine's Politics Chatter blog offers up a cost cutting suggestion for the feds:

I have an idea for Tony Clement and his budget cutters that will not only save federal taxpayers millions of dollars a year but will also recover hundreds of millions more that are locked up in federal real estate holdings. Let's get rid of the NCC.

It's a relic of the 1950s, an unwieldy, undemocratic, unresponsive, and expensive bureaucracy that replicates services and has no obvious public benefit. Lots of other NCC operations should either be handed to the city - with grants, if warranted - or to agencies of the federal and provincial governments.

Why, for instance, are small parks like Confederation Park across from City Hall and Brébeuf Park on the Ottawa River in the west end of Hull run by the NCC? Those parks serve no national purpose. They're city parks. Let the cities pay for them.

[...]Then there's LeBreton Flats.

Great job there, guys.

In the middle of one of the biggest building booms in the city's history, the NCC, sitting on hundreds of acres in the middle of the city, after spending millions on studies, comes up with a vast acreage of ragweed, a solitary tree that a hobo sleeps under, and the most ghastly piece of residential architecture that this city's seen in an awful long time.

[...]Then there's the issue of interprovincial bridges. The NCC tries to control those, too. When the Champlain Bridge was widened a decade ago, residents of the Island Park neighbourhood said it would not solve gridlock. It would simply facilitate urban sprawl on the Quebec side. And they were right. Vast areas of swamps west of Hull and north of Aylmer were quickly built over, and the wider Champlain Bridge is just as locked up at rush hour as it was 10 years ago. Island Park Drive is now a far less pleasant place during peak traffic times.

There was a reason the NCC could turn a deaf ear to the residents of Island park: the NCC is, essentially, an undemocratic organization. No one elects its board members, except for the mayors of Ottawa and Gatineau, who sit as ex-officio members.

No minister takes responsibility for it in Parliament. Strangely, it files its financial reports through the ministry of Foreign Affairs. That's John Baird's ministry.

Sell it. Shut it down.

It's time.

Politics Chatter: Offering up a cost-cutting suggestion for Tony Clement - time to scrap the NCC

Friday, February 3, 2012

NCC plan for capital - the story so far

As the NCC prepares to continue consulting Canadians about its plans, Mohammed Adam talks to various experts about the prospects for actual progress. From the Citizen:

To ensure Canadians have a say in how their capital is shaped, the NCC held public consultations in seven cities across the country - Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, Victoria, Edmonton and Quebec City. Lemay says the "national conversation" produced terrific ideas that would be channelled into the new plan.

[...]The challenge, however, is turning people's ideas into a concrete plan, and she says Ottawa-Gatineau residents will play a key role. They will get a chance to have their say at public meetings scheduled for Feb. 21-22. Further meetings will take place in the fall to discuss a draft plan. A new plan for the capital is expected to be ready board approval in the spring of 2013.

But as the public consultations in the national capital region get ready to begin, urban experts say capital transformation doesn't have to wait 50 years. They say Ottawa's slow progress into a great capital is not for want of new ideas but drive, and there are many things the NCC could do now to transform Ottawa. The NCC, they say, has to move beyond words into action.

[...]"You cannot develop a long-term plan for a city by relying on a bureaucratic organization and process. I just can't imagine that any real direction for the future will come out of this process. I suspect what will come out are generic statements about a capital we are proud of and which we want to inspire Canadians blah, blah, blah," architecture and urban planning critic Rhys Phillips says.

"What will it really say about LeBreton Flats; what will it say about creating urban villages that will be a showcase to the world; how is somebody in Saskatoon going to tell you how to get the bloody trucks out of downtown, or turn the riverfront into a living, breathing area."

Citizen: Building a better capital [3 February 2012]
Citizen: Listen To Stephen Lewis On Planning [7 February 2012]

Friday, January 6, 2012

Highway 5 protest begins

The highway 5 extension has spawned a protest. From the Citizen:

A massive 300-year-old white pine close to Wakefield was the focus of a demonstration Thursday to protest the destruction of trees to make way for the planned Highway 5 extension.

"We're trying to attract attention to the ecological devastation that will happen here in the next two to three weeks," said Jean-Paul Murray, secretary of the Gatineau Park Protection Committee.

"We're standing right where the highway will pass. We want to attract attention to the destruction of these last giants of the forest," he said.

[…]The National Capital Commission has said the work won't have a significant effect on the park since it lies just outside the park boundary. It points to a federal environmental assessment that concluded: "The authorities are of the opinion that the project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects."

Citizen: Highway plan sparks protest [6 January 2012]
OpenFile: "Occupy Gatineau Park" protest begins over Highway 5 extension [5 January 2012]

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

NCC risks irrelevance

Gilles Paquet, the Ottawa U academic in charge of the NCC mandate review a few years back, which led to some minor (albeit welcome) reforms but also gave the NCC more money, is apparently surprised to find the NCC is so useless today. From the Citizen:

He gave the National Capital Commission a new lease on life when many were calling for its head.

But five years after his review panel gave the NCC a strong vote of confidence, University of Ottawa professor Gilles Paquet has soured on the agency, saying it is in danger of becoming irrelevant.

"What we need at the NCC is leadership that is going to take the advantage of all the precedents that exist to be a champion for the federal capital region, rather than the timid operator they are now," said Paquet, senior fellow at the university's Centre on Governance.

"The fact that they are invisible or they indulge in evasive thinking is condemning them to become more and more irrelevant. To my mind this is the kiss of death."

[…]He says it has failed to live up to its "burden of office."

Instead of taking advantage of its strong mandate to be an active federal advocate in the region, he says the NCC has been something of a bystander on the big issues of the future. It has focused more on programming, not capital-building.

While the NCC has been travelling around the country seeking ideas for a new capital plan, Paquet says there are things it could be doing right now that would dramatically transform the capital.

"The city is going to be crippled because of decisions that are not being taken now. They will die of a slow death if they have nothing to show except that they are travelling around the country looking for ideas."

Paquet points to numerous proposals, including rail links to the Ottawa and Gatineau airports and loops around the capital, that have gone nowhere.

Waterfront development has been talked to death, but nothing has happened. He says the fact the nation's capital hasn't been able to create a modern, integrated transportation system is a testament to the NCC's failure.

"Transportation is the key element in this region. If you were able to deal with the transportation issue - not just railroads and bridges, but the river as well - this would be a different place," he said.

"The one magnificent dimension of this city is the river, but we don't know what to do with it. The timidity of the NCC is the reason things are not happening."

One wonders what it was about the NCC's incompetence of the last five years that so distinguished it from the 50 before that.

Citizen: 'Timid' NCC could become irrelevant, scholar warns [3 January 2012]

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Gréber wouldn't OK highway extension

Meanwhile, as work on extending highway 5 along the edge of Gatineau Park continues with the blessing of the NCC, a descendant of Jacques Gréber says Jacques would have been "shocked". Gréber was the French planner who created the plan for Ottawa in the 50s, implemented by the NCC and is still quoted by them when convenient. From the Citizen:

Half a century after Jacques Gréber's death in 1962, a newly found letter from the French architect and planner suggests that Gatineau Park needs stronger protection.

Both the letter and Gréber's descendants also suggest that the man who designed Ottawa and Gatineau wouldn't think highly of the extended Highway 5.

From Paris, Xavier Reynaud says his great-grandfather loved Gatineau Park, and would be shocked to see highway construction cutting through the forest near the park's eastern edge.

Reynaud has a copy of a letter Gréber wrote in 1952, which says Gatineau Park - not central Ottawa - is the heart of his plan for the National Capital. Reynaud called the Citizen this week to discuss it.

Calling the park a "magnificent forest reserve," Gréber's letter adds that its unique status - wilderness just outside a capital city - demands a "permanent program of enlargement and protection."

It says the "natural structure, the infinite variety of its beauty and the possibilities that its attractions present are far greater than the attributes of an ordinary municipal park in the service of the population."

Then the kicker: "In fact, this is really the central nucleus of the overall management plan for the national capital of Canada."

"I recently saw an interview that he gave to the CBC in 1961, in which he was asked what he considered his most important commission," Reynaud said.

"He responded without hesitation that it was the planning of the national capital region of Canada."

It was only recently that Reynaud, who is married to a woman from Toronto and regularly visits Canada, learned of the extension of Highway 5. Crews are currently blasting away steep hills and cutting forests to join Wakefield to Gatineau with four lanes.

"If my great-grandfather were still alive today, he would be simply devastated to learn about Highway 5 and would have expressed his opposition, obviously," Reynaud said.

It doesn't matter that the National Capital Commission has shifted the boundaries to ensure that the road is outside the actual park, he says, since the clear-cutting still affects trees that are part of the park's ecosystem.

[…]Gréber shows his overall vision for the park in his 1952 letter to the Federal District Commission, the forerunner of the National Capital Commission. Reynaud sent a copy to the Citizen.

[…]And his warning extends to land outside park boundaries. He clearly describes the danger of letting major development crowd the edges of the park:

"It would be very sad if one authorized such degradation of the landscape just outside the park limits while the FDC is trying by all means to protect the zone inside these limits."

The current highway extension is just outside the eastern park limits, according to the NCC - but inside them according to its opponents on the Gatineau Park Committee, which doesn't recognize the validity of a boundary change.

Citizen: Gréber wouldn't OK Hwy. 5 extension [3 January 2012]
Citizen: Developing past the park [6 January 2012]


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

More on road building in Gatineau Park

More tales from the road-building capital, as the Citizen reports on the progress on the extension to highway 5 along the border of Gatineau Park. The NCC is singularly unperturbed:

If you haven't driven to Wakefield in a while, you should probably be warned that the view has changed.

Massive highway construction is laying the foundation of a four-lane extension of Highway 5, preparing to carry floods of commuters and tourists who now use the slower, two-lane Highway 105.

More traffic means less wilderness. A long section of forest has already been cut, and future work will soon blast through the forested "mountain" on the town's south outskirts, near the Giant Tiger store.

[...]"They've been working on it all summer, blasting and digging away at the mountainsides," says Jean-Paul Murray of the Gatineau Park Protection Committee.

[...]"That whole ecosystem will be destroyed. The whole mountainside will be bulldozed and blasted. It will be removed."

The National Capital Commission says the work won't have significant impact on the park since it lies just outside the park boundary. It points to a federal environmental assessment that concludes: "the authorities are of the opinion that the project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects."

"The NCC has been promoting Wakefield as this picturesque village in the capital region," says John McDonnell of CPAWS. "The highway will take away from that."

[...]"The undertaking of the limited ancillary work will require some trees to be cut in Gatineau Park," the NCC says in an internal document prepared after the Citizen asked questions about the work last spring. "As outlined in the environmental assessment, each tree to be cut on NCC Gatineau Park lands will be compensated by the planting of 2 new trees on NCC Gatineau Park lands.

"Tree inventories and specific mitigation measures were required as part of the federal Environment Assessment. Tree cutting began in February 2011 and ended on April 1 as per condition in EA."

The key here is that the NCC says the highway lies just outside the park because of a boundary change made in 1997. Opponents claim that change was illegal; they say it required an order-in-council and maintain the clearcut is still parkland. Wrong, says the NCC. The dispute has been going on for years.

Whatever the legalities, the clear-cutting and the cutting through hills are well underway in an area of 88 hectares (about 217 acres).

The road's opponents now hope to prevent a pattern where developers take just one little bit of park (or land on the boundary), then return later for a little more, and a little more, and so on. For instance, there's a plan on paper to expand the four-lane Highway 50 west through the park's south end.

"Unfortunately this highway is going to be built. It's just another illustration of the need for better protection for Gatineau Park. It can't go on; there will nothing left of Gatineau Park if this continues," McDonnell said.

Gatineau Park is not a national park, so national park rules don't apply to it. MPs have tried several times in recent years to introduced a revised act governing the park; most have died when elections were called.

The solution, Murray and CPAWS propose, is to enact legislation parallel to what national parks have. It wouldn't change Gatineau Park's status, but could give it stronger protection, such as a ban on private development and clear boundaries.

Citizen: Four-lane road will change Wakefield 'forever' [26 October 2011]

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

NCC no charity

A timely reminder - the NCC is raising the rates it charges charities for using those commuter parkways it operates:

The NCC has charged charities $700 plus HST for events that require the exclusive use of its roads such as the Queen Elizabeth Driveway, Colonel By Drive and Ottawa River Parkway.

The new rates will start to change January 1, 2012 where charities will be charged $1,000 for using urban parkways and that will increase to $1,400 starting in 2013.

The costs for using parks will also jump as will the price for holding weddings in Gatineau Park and the Rockcliffe Park pavilion.

CBC: NCC to hike fees for local events [12 October 2011]
OpenFile: How often does the NCC close its roads and rent out its parks? [14 October 2011]

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Gatineau Park roadbuilding continues

Meanwhile, in Gatineau Park, the road building continues apace. The Canadian Park and Wilderness Society is drawing attention to the fact that the highway 5 extension is clearing significant amounts of forest on the eastern boundary of the park:

Clearing of forest along the eastern boundary of Gatineau Park, near Wakefield for the Highway 5 extension is set to resume this fall. The National Capital Commission (NCC) backed extension, outlined in a Quebec Ministry of Transport report, began in April this year. This project will see 88 hectares of forest cleared for the latest extension of Highway 5, connecting Farm Point in Chelsea to Highway 366 in La Pêche. Much of this is mature forest of white pine, Eastern hemlock, American beech and sugar maple.

[…]Development along the park boundaries and a major new highway (Boul. des Allumettières) across the park have resulted in a significant loss of wildlife habitat, landscape connectivity, and reduced public accessibility to popular destinations within the park, affecting the ability for visitors to enjoy the park.

"The Highway 5 extension will further isolate Gatineau Park from its greater ecosystem," says McDonnell. "Species in the park will be trapped in an island of extinction if we don't work to establish connections between the park and other natural areas. By enclosing the park with development, we are destroying a sensitive piece of Canadian heritage loved by many for countless reasons."

OttawaStart: Highway extension violates the only legal boundaries of Gatineau Park [14 September 2011]
OpenFile: The struggle over a Gatineau highway expansion [14 September 2011]

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Whither Ottawa

The Citizen's long-suffering Mohammed Adam has penned another of their occasional sprawling 'whither Ottawa' series. This one prompted ostensibly by another of the NCC's 50 year plans. And while everyone is relieved that the NCC has got plans to ensure sufficient parking for the flying cars driven by the hordes of tourists forecasted to visit Ottawa by 2067 (we made that up - ed.), in the here and now, the NCC comes in for a fair amount of criticism from just about everyone. As one might expect. But the NCC takes exception (we've cherry-picked the following, but there's lots more, by all means read the entire series, linked below):

Patrick Kelly, president of the Ottawa Convention Centre, says that Ottawa is probably the least known of the G8 capitals, and in many places around the world, the name draws a yawn. Architect and urban planner Barry Padolsky agrees, saying that if he were to write a book about Ottawa, it would be a lament for missed opportunities on everything from light rail to waterfront development and LeBreton Flats.

A lot has been said about LeBreton, the decades-old mess on King Edward Avenue and Rideau Street, and the off-again, on-again light-rail project. But even something as simple as rebuilding Wellington Street appears to be beyond us. Wellington has the War Memorial, Parliament Hill, the Supreme Court, Bank of Canada and the National Library and Archives. It defines the very essence of our nation, and anywhere else it would be a grand and stately boulevard. In Ottawa, however, Wellington is a drab bus route - and no one seems to care.

For the most part, critics blame the National Capital Commission. Nothing gets built on federal land without the NCC's design approval and critics say if the agency did its job properly, the city would be a much better place.

NCC officials, however, dismiss any suggestion that they've presided over bland planning and design in the capital. They point to the "urban dynamism" the agency has created with many of its revitalization projects from LeBreton Flats to Sparks Street, the ByWard Market and Confederation Boulevard.

"People say that when it comes to planning and design decisions, the NCC is bland, not bold - does not think outside the box. We disagree," says chief planner Pierre Dubé.

He says that when the NCC first proposed Confederation Boulevard, critics slammed it as a "silly idea," but today, standing at the intersection of St. Patrick and Sussex, and looking toward the Astrolabe, the Library of Parliament, the Peacekeeping monument and the Chateau Laurier, "the amazing piece of streetscape and urban design that now graces our capital" is unmistakable.

"We tend to dream big, but we are practical people, aware of the limitations of available resources," says Dubé.

So the NCC stands behind the drab, sterile bus route that is Confederation Boulevard as its most notable success.

Most experts understand that money constrains the Commission, but they also say that there is a fundamental lack of boldness and risk-taking in planning that has fostered bland design.

The LeBreton Flats development was a defining moment for the NCC, a unique opportunity to do something memorable, the critics say. Instead, as former governor general Adrienne Clarkson so forcefully noted, LeBreton became a metaphor for NCC underachievement.

Waterfront development is another issue of contention. The Rideau and Ottawa Rivers and the Rideau Canal, along with the Gatineau River, offer a waterfront that other cities will die for.

But it is all of little consequence to residents because most of it is inaccessible. The NCC has plans galore for every part of the shoreline from Bate to Chaudiere and Victoria islands, with artistic renditions of spectacular waterfront parks, but nothing ever gets done. Experts agree there might not be money to develop say, waterfront villages and parks along the shoreline, but with a little bit ingenuity and imagination, a lot could be done to open up much of it and the Rideau Canal for people to enjoy.

Ah yes, the waterfront - such potential:

[Lemay] says the NCC is as eager as everyone else to develop the Ottawa River shoreline but the principal problem is that the federal government doesn't own it all. The missing link is the Domtar lands on the Gatineau side, which the private owner has refused to sell. If those lands were in government hands, the shoreline could be turned into "an absolute gem" in the heart of the capital.

"Our greatest hope is, and has been for many decades, that the islands around the Chaudière Falls and the Hull shore, would come into public ownership," adds Dubé, the chief planner.

"Then the capital could start to envision the prospects of creating our own unique waterfront destination …"

Shucks, if they just had control of that last little two per cent of the waterfront - out of endless kilometres of waterfront they now control absolutely - why, then, watch out.

The series also features architecture critic Rhys Phillips, who had this to say about the NCC:

Frankly, the NCC is beyond repair. Its celebration component should be moved in Canadian Heritage and the rest replaced with a small office headed by a recognized designer. This new group should then have the say over all new government buildings and work with the city.

We'll give the last word to Kate Heartfield, who expresses skepticism at the very idea that Ottawa needs grand visions to succeed:

The insistence that Ottawa must be a proper, pretty G8 capital might actually be the thing that's holding us back. Imagine what LeBreton Flats might be today, if the National Capital Commission hadn't razed it a half-century ago. It might be a gradually gentrifying old working-class neighbourhood in the lee of Parliament Hill, with restaurants and studios and mechanics and theatres; instead, it's a field with a museum on it. Imagine an Ottawa River that had shops and restaurants along it, not a freeway where commuters whiz by and occasionally admire the scenery. Imagine if the downtown train station still had trains arriving at it.

Every time someone comes up with a vision statement or grand plan, Ottawa gets a little more bland. There are smart, creative people here. Ottawa might evolve in all kinds of unpredictable and exciting directions, if nobody gets in its way.

C'mon Kate - if you don't have a vision for the flying cars, where they gonna park?

Citizen: Building a better Ottawa [13 August 2011]
Citizen: It ain't easy being a developer [14 August 2011]
Citizen: Live Chat: Building a better Ottawa [15 August 2011]
Citizen: Wanted: Private money for public dreams [15 August 2011]
Citizen: In the shadow of the Hill [15 August 2011]
Citizen: Drafting a new blueprint [17 August 2011]
Citizen: Mayor ready to 'dream big' [18 August 2011]
Citizen: The trouble with Ottawa is Ottawans [18 August 2011]
Citizen: The real Ottawa is in the shadows of the monuments [23 August 2011]
Citizen: Great notions [26 August 2011]

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Demsis not certified to maintain Gatineau Park trails

From the trash for trails file, the Gatineau Park Protection Committee notes that Demsis, the contractor responsible for putting trash in fill for park trails last fall, is not certified, as required by the terms of their contract, for the work:

Last fall, it was widely reported in the press that Demsis, the NCC's trail maintenance contractor, had laced Gatineau Park trails with glass shards and household garbage - in violation of every industry standard.

The NCC, for its part, hired a soil engineering company to study the problem, using its report to justify lacing Gatineau Park trails with garbage - arguing against all evidence to the contrary that paving park trails with garbage is within industry standards.

The latest instalment to this sad story: it turns out that Demsis staff aren't "certified in trail development by a recognized institution," as required by their contract - or more precisely, by the request for proposal (RFP) to obtain the contract.

That document stipulates that maintenance staff, or their supervisor, must be certified by a recognized institution "in order to maintain and rehabilitate summer trail surfaces and perform associated duties." Recognized institutions listed in the RFP are: "the National Trail Training Partnership; International Mountain Bicycling Association; Appalachian Mountain Club; Sentiers Quebec; etc."

However, through access to information, the GPPC found out Demsis staff didn't obtain the required certification. Says a January 26th email from the NCC: "Our contractor is still waiting to receive an attestation of some sort to confirm their staff has successfully followed this training program."

GPPC: Demsis not certified to maintain Gatineau Park trails [30 January 2011]

Monday, November 15, 2010

NCC landholdings revealed

The Citizen has obtained detailed information on the NCC's large landholdings in the capital. From the Citizen:

The National Capital Commission made $19 million last year from rents on its massive property portfolio to help defray the cost of operations and keep the agency in the black, documents obtained by the Citizen show.

The NCC owns about 10 per cent of land in the capital region, more than 1,400 properties, and the very idea of a Crown corporation owning such a big slice of the city is not sitting well with critics, many of whom believe that dabbling in real estate undermines the NCC's ability to do its job as capital-builder.

"They should not have a mandate to hold, lease or develop property in order to generate revenue," says Ottawa architecture and urban planning critic Rhys Phillips.

[...]The NCC is the guardian of federal land and buildings, including such landmarks as the prime minister's residence at 24 Sussex Drive and Rideau Hall, the Governor General's home. Beyond that however, it is the single largest property owner in the capital, with holdings ranging from buildings to land, parks, fields and rental homes. All told, it owns about 470 square kilometres of land, including the Greenbelt and Gatineau Park. The land owned by the agency is valued at $277 million, while the value of its buildings and infrastructure sits at $251 million.

[...]Owning so much commercial property has long been controversial. Some argue the only reason the NCC is constantly in need of money is that it spends vast amounts managing its properties. Records show the NCC does, indeed, spend the bulk of its budget on real-estate management. Of last year's $138-million annual budget, $79.8 million, or 73 per cent of the budget, went into "real asset management and stewardship." Only a little more than $4 million went into capital planning, design and land use.

Phillips argues the NCC can only become a real capital building authority if it gets out of the commercial property business and hands landlording over to the federal Public Works Department. It would keep only those properties that have a significant national importance, such as the Greenbelt, Gatineau Park and other valuable greenspace intrinsic to the capital's identity.

A slimmed-down NCC would then be able to focus on the design and beautification of the capital.

"The NCC operates like a real-estate agency, not a capital builder. What drives their development is a real estate interest. Look at the NCC record. The decisions made are not about the quality of the capital. They are about what's commercially viable," says Phillips. "If they own a corner lot in Barrhaven, or a warehouse that they are making 250 grand a year off of, how does that serve the mandate? Unless it (property) is going to become a major gateway to the national capital or it has some other significance, they should get rid of it."

Citizen: NCC took in $19M in rent, listings show [15 November 2010]

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bill C-20 approved at committee

Bill C-20 (formerly known as C-37), a set of tepid reforms to the National Capital Act, is now heading toward second reading. The bill includes some enhanced protection for Gatineau Park, garnering mixed reviews from some park watchers. The Citizen recaps some of the five year (and counting) odyssey of the bill:

Federal legislation that would for the first time legally recognize the boundaries of the Gatineau Park is a step closer to reality, although at least one activist believes the bill does not go far enough to protect the park.

Bill C-20, officially an "act to amend the National Capital Act and other Acts" (or, more colloquially, "An Action Plan for the National Capital Commission") was approved at committee this past week. It's expected to clear the House of Commons before the Christmas break.

Among other things, the bill defines Gatineau Park's boundaries and stipulates that land can be sold - or added to - only by an order of the Governor in Council (which is basically the federal cabinet), instead of by the NCC.

[...]Bill C-20 also calls for the Greenbelt to be protected by legislation. The NCC has up to five years to define what the official boundaries of the Greenbelt are.

The question of protecting Gatineau Park in legislation has had something of a tortured history for several years. In 2005, then-NDP MP Ed Broadbent introduced a private member's bill on the issue. Dewar reintroduced it in 2006.

In 2009,the Conservative government introduced its own bill regarding the NCC and Gatineau Park, but that bill died when Parliament was prorogued at the end of December for two months. Then in April, Ottawa West-Nepean MP John Baird - then the minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and responsible for the NCC - reintroduced the bill yet again.

Meanwhile, the extension of autoroute 5 in and around Gatineau Park remains a threat. From the Citizen:

Running a four-lane highway north from Chelsea to Wakefield will destroy a lot of forest and wildlife in, or just beside, Gatineau Park, says a coalition of environment groups.

Quebec has proposed a 6.5-kilometre extension of the four-lane Highway 5 through an area now served by the two-lane Highway 105.

This comes as Parliament has given second reading to Bill C-20, which would require the National Capital Commission to protect the ecological integrity of Gatineau Park. The park today doesn't have legally protected status and borders, as national parks do.

[...]The proposed highway corridor would be a minimum of 150 metres wide, and would require cutting 88 hectares of forest, with an estimated 8,800 trees, said Huggett. Some of this lies in the park; more lies outside the park's boundary, but still on NCC land.

Citizen: Gatineau Park won't benefit from bill: critic [10 November 2010]
Citizen: Environmentalists oppose Highway 5 extension from Chelsea to Wakefield [10 November 2010]
Citizen: NDP abandons Gatineau Park commitment [4 November 2010]
Citizen: NDP's efforts secured better protection of Gatineau Park [6 November 2010]GPPC: Dewar wrong: bill doesn't protect park boundaries [8 November 2010]

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Trash suitable for trail

The results of the NCC's investigation into trash being used in fill for Gatineau Park trails are in - from the Citizen:

A report prepared for the National Capital Commission says the fill spread on one of the main trails in Gatineau Park contains only traces of glass, wire and chemicals, making it suitable for a trail in a public park -- contrary to claims by Gatineau Park wilderness activists.

The NCC asked for the report from the engineering consultants Trow Associates Inc. after Gatineau Park activist Jean-Paul Murray and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society complained about glass shards several centimetres long and other debris in the fill spread on Trail No. 1.

[...]"The deleterious material consisted of plastic and paper averaging one to two centimetres," the report said. "Also a five-centimetre piece of electrical wire and a piece of glass (one centimetre) were observed in the fill material.

"Overall, the deleterious material was less than one per cent on the trail. Trow concludes that the fill material that was placed along Trail No. 1 is suitable for use on the trail."

The report said there were so many fallen leaves on the trail it was difficult to see any debris. Tests showed five soil samples contained only traces of petroleum hydrocarbons, solvents and polychlorinated biphenyls, making it chemically suitable for a park trail.

[...]Muriel How, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, said she is skeptical about the report.

"The consultants said there were so many leaves on the trail that they couldn't see anything, but that is just rubbish," How said. "You just take a rake along and move the leaves aside.

"When I was on the trail, I found shards of glass, bits of plastic and twist-ties. Is this appropriate in a park? I am not convinced about that."

NCC spokeswoman Lucie Caron said the engineering report shows that the fill is suitable for use on a park path. Caron said the commission expects to reopen the trail within a few days after a final inspection.

So the trash the NCC didn't know was there is in fact a-ok number one quality trail fill. So enjoy the trails folks, and remember - please! - collect your garbage.

UPDATE: Jean Paul Murray (of the GPPC) notes that the person who wrote the specification used by the engineer's report to justify using garbage for park trails says no way is it intended for that use:

On October 25, I spoke to the gentleman who co-wrote the specification Trow Engineering used on page 2 of its soil sampling report to justify spreading junk on a Gatineau Park trail (Standard NQ 2560-600-2002, Quebec Standards Office).

This gentleman was categorical: that standard applies only to roadworks, backfill, airports, parking lots, etc. It is not, he said, designed for use on trail surfaces in a natural park, adding that this was the first time he'd ever heard anyone had used it as such.

He also underlined that the NCC was giving a bad name to recycling, since there is a legitimate use for "deleterious" material - for backfill, under highways, airport tarmacs, parking lots, etc. But not on the surface of natural park trails.

The following three organizations specializing in aggregates and the building of multi-use trails have said the use of garbage for resurfacing park trails is inadmissible: Transport Quebec, Vélo Quebec, and the Quebec Standards Office. That makes it strike three against the NCC.

Citizen: Bits of glass, plastic, 'suitable' for trail [21 October 2010]
Low Down: NCC trail repairs in Gatineau Park take environmentally wrong turn [12 October 2010]
Gatineau Park Protection Committee

Friday, October 15, 2010

The NCC closed circle

From the TriRudy list, a Gatineau Park cross country skier provides us with the benefit of his experience dealing with the NCC:

The only thing the NCC will respond to is embarrassment, something that threatens their existence or protest on a large scale. People seem to think that they are dealing with Sears where the customer has a say.

I keep saying this and the only people who seem to get it are the ones who actually deal with the NCC and see how they operate. You can't negotiate with an entity that has decided already what the course of action is. Oh and they won't tell you. The fight has to be on our terms not theirs because of the NCC's closed loop complaint process.

The NCC closed loop process works as follows; We'll use Gatineau park as an example. You file a complaint at the visitor centre, then you escalate this to the director in charge of that service. Next is the park director then the ombudsman, include the commissioners and the chair of the NCC. Now you are tired of being patted on head so you write to the minister responsible for the NCC. That would be the minister for Heritage Canada. You are then surprised to see that Heritage hands it back to the NCC to deal with. The loop is closed. Yes I know this because I've been there.

Read the entire thing.

TriRudy: XC ski grooming in Gatineau Park [15 October 2010]
TriRudy: X-Country Skiing - Gatineau Park Grooming [13 October 2010]

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Unusual trail 'rehabilitation'

The Gatineau Park Protection Committee reports on some unusual trail rehabilitation in Gatineau Park in a letter to the Low Down:

Contrary to its Master Plan, Conservation Plan, the National Capital Act - and its Environmental Strategy - the National Capital Commission is spreading garbage and contaminated soil in Gatineau Park, along a section of Trail No. 1.

On Aug. 2, the NCC closed a section of the trail between Kingsmere Road and the Gatineau Parkway for a period of six to eight weeks for "rehabilitation" work that includes grading and resurfacing the path with a soil/gravel mixture.

Walking along the trail over the last few weeks, however, I found countless shards of broken glass larded into the recently applied soil mix, as well as plastic, vinyl, ceramic, beer-can tabs, twist ties, electrical wire, broken car tailights, shirt-collar tabs, mirror fragments, pens, clothes pins, shredded grocery bags, etc.

The only possible conclusion is that the soil was taken from an old garbage dump - which begs the question: is it contaminated with toxins, heavy metals, PCBs, etc.?

In its latest corporate plan, the NCC says the highest priority for Gatineau Park is conservation of its natural environment, and CEO Marie Lemay is on record as saying, "We are committed to demonstrating excellence in issues related to the environment and look forward to working with our partners, suppliers and the public to build a greener Capital."

So, when did spreading garbage from a landfill - read contaminated soil - in Gatineau Park become a part of "demonstrating excellence" or applying leading environmental practices, which the NCC committed to doing when it unveiled its Environmental Strategy in 2009?

The NCC claims to have sent inspectors to the site, and that they found no problems.

UPDATE (September 30): According to the Citizen, the NCC will now investigate:

The National Capital Commission has started an investigation into reports of glass shards and other debris being spread along one of the main trails in Gatineau Park.

NCC officials at first denied there was a problem, but photos provided by park activist Jean-Paul Murray showed more glass on the old wagon trail.

Park and Greenbelt director Marie Boulet said the NCC would fix the problem if the "trail mix" being used did not meet NCC standards.

Boulet said the glass splinters she saw were too small to cut someone's foot or puncture a bike tire. The investigation is expected to take two weeks.

[...]NCC spokesman Jean Wolff said Gatineau Park staff surveyed the trail on Sept. 17 and last week and did not find the items Murray said he found.

They found only two beer cans, a granola bar wrapper and a chip bag, Wolff said. He said Demsis, a contractor for the park, was doing the restoration work.

Murray, who lives near Trail No. 1 and is chair of the Gatineau Park Protection Committee, said in the past three weeks he found broken glass, part of a car battery, pieces of plastic, metal wires and household items such as clothespins on the path.

[...]Boulet said the NCC resurfaced the trail yearly to repair damage caused by erosion and wear. Boulet said the fill spread on the trail was supposed to be 60-per-cent gravel and 40-per-cent topsoil.

"Normally we don't have this kind of stuff in the trail mix," Boulet said. "If there are pieces of glass, that could be a safety hazard that is not acceptable.

"We agree that the material is not perfectly clean and will do an investigation that will take about two weeks. I don't think that glass is part of the standard for resurfacing natural parks."

The Low Down: Trash on Gatineau Park trail dumps on NCC greening capital plan [23 September 2010]
Citizen: Gatineau Park trail paved with garbage, advocate claims [25 September 2010]
Citizen: Glass found on Gatineau Park trail: report [30 September 2010]
Gatineau Park Protection Committee

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Climbers reject NCC response

Ottawa area climbers have voted against the NCC response to their climbing management plan, according to Ontario Climbing:

In March 2010, the National Capital Commission (NCC) released a land management plan for Gatineau Park which restricts climbing to the Western CWM west (North wall to Cave wall), Home Cliff west, Twin Ribs and Eastern Block. The NCC moved forward by installing No-Access signs, in late May at the majority of the climbing sites recognized in the previous access agreement. In addition, access to the Shrine parking lot on Chemin de la Montagne was removed.

To address the closures the Ottawa-Gatineau Climbers' Access Coalition (OGCAC) submitted a climbing management plan to the NCC. The scope of the plan was created to meet the ecological concerns raised by the NCC while maintaining access to climbing on the Eardley escarpment. This plan was endorsed by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. Unfortunately, the NCC largely rejected the plan.

On August 17, the OGCAC members gathered to vote on how to move forward. It was decided not to endorse the NCC response and that the OGCAC will maintain its position outlined in the management plan. Sadly, the limited success in securing climbing access in the park puts 60 years of Gatineau climbing at a crossroads.

Documentation related to the climbing dispute, including the NCC response to the climber management plan are available at the climber coalition site.

Ontario Climbing: Climbing Access in Gatineau Park Update [19 August 2010]
Gatineau Park News: Rock Climbing Update [18 August 2010]
Climber's Coalition: Update [29 July 2010]

Friday, April 30, 2010

Government to continue "efforts in modernizing the NCC"

The prorogued Bill C-37, a set of tepid reforms to the National Capital Act, returns as Bill C-20:

Canada's Transport Minister John Baird and the Honourable Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of State (National Capital Commission), today announced that the Government of Canada has reintroduced legislation to amend the National Capital Act (NCA), the enabling statute of the National Capital Commission (NCC).

Transport Canada: Government of Canada continues efforts in modernizing the National Capital Commission [30 Apr 2010]
The Lowdown: Gatineau Park is not a Park [26 May 2010]
Gatineau Park News: Legislative summary of Bill C-20 [7 June 2010]
NCC Watch: Bill C-37

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"Misinformation and regressive management practices"

The Gatineau Park News blog has a transcript of a rock climber info session put on by the Climber's Coalition and presented by Eric Grenier. It lays out pretty clearly why user groups form and the challenges of dealing with the indifferent bureaucracy that is the NCC:

Back in 2005, the NCC attempted to ban climbing on the escarpment altogether. The Coalition was formed at that time.

Yes, step 1 in forming a group is for the NCC to ban an activity. Dog owners and mountain bikers are nodding their heads at this point.

Despite the fact that the NCC claims to be engaged in a process where community involvement is at work and where user input is valued, that hasn't been what we've noticed happen over the last couple of years.

[...] they're proposing to limit climbing access to the Twin Ribs, so Copacabana and Down Under, Eastern Block, and Home Cliff West, which is the Main Corner and the Peggy area. That's all the climbing that they are willing to allow on the Eardley Escarpment. Mostly the reasoning is that these are the areas that are already most affected.

In addition to this, they are also proposing to ban ice climbing, citing as justification some regulations regarding winter use trails being prohibited. Additionally, they've also already started to implement some of these initiatives that they have developed based on the recommendations in the park.

A lot of you are probably aware that the hang-gliding parking area has already been closed. A culvert's been dug, and there is no access to that parking lot anymore. They state that that parking lot was disused.

Obviously anyone who's actually been there knows that that parking lot and overflowing every weekend. They've done this without any consultation to anyone. It was a surprise when this happened. People just showed up and were wondering what was going on.

So that's the situation as it stands today. Essentially, the NCC seems to be just going ahead with whatever they've decided to do based on recommendations of a consultant in a process that hasn't had any meaningful input from the community.

[...]It's clear that the NCC doesn't understand what climbers are looking for in terms of recreational experience. It's clear from information in the report that they don't have any experience managing climbing activities. They don't have any expert knowledge on climbing. Some of the conclusions they've drawn are based on the impacts of climbing that they perceive seem to be related to climbing practices that are decades out of date.

So we have a lot of issues with what we don't know about the NCC's plans and what the NCC doesn't know about climbing.

In addition, there's been a very large disconnect in terms of how they've been interacting with the community. They, like I mentioned, they claim to have a transparent and community involved process and that simply hasn't borne out to be the case.

We're getting dictated to based on misinformation and regressive management practices that really aren't defensible in terms of any modern management that they bring us.

So our position, essentially then, is that the process hasn't happened. The process that needs to happen to develop proper climbing access management in the Gatineau Park simply hasn't happened. Nothing that the NCC has shown us demonstrates that they've been willing to actually engage in a meaningful process with us despite claims to the contrary.

Plus ça change.

Gatineau Park News: Monday's rock climber info session [21 Apr 2010]
Ottawa-Gatineau Climbers' Access Coalition
Climber's Coalition News: Just heard on CBC [23 Apr 2010]
Climber's Coalition News: Update [18 May 2010]
NCC Watch: Dog archive
NCC Watch: Champlain Bridge

Friday, April 9, 2010

Seventy years, thirty days notice

Well that's what happens when your property is expropriated by a faceless bureaucracy. From the Citizen:

For almost 70 years, the family of Alan Hay has owned or rented a cedar-shingled cabin on the edge of Gatineau Park, beautifully preserving its simple, rustic spirit.

Hay, after all, was no ordinary woodsman.

Before he died in 1978, he left his mark all over the humble hideaway, set back from Meech Lake Road near Camp Fortune: hand-made bunkbeds, a slab dining room table with a sliding bench, pine panelling, and a number of exquisite maps and landscape paintings.

And a fascinating legacy. Alan K. Hay was the second chairman of the National Capital Commission, the very guardian of Gatineau Park.

This makes last week's letter to his descendants all the more poignant.

The NCC is giving the family 30 days to vacate, asking that the property be left vacant by April 30, ending four generations of occupation.

"Heartbroken," said Hay's daughter, Marion Rankin, 93, as she sat by the old Beach woodstove on Thursday, a fire chasing the April chill. "I feel like someone has died in the family."

Her father bought the cabin and several adjoining acres in 1941, the family says, and owned it until the NCC expropriated in the early 1960s.

Since then, the family has leased back the cabin, lately signing year-long leases for a fee of about $5,000. It annually pours about $4,000 into upkeep.

Being landlords of a large property empire in the Ottawa region, the NCC's first instinct on discovering radon gas was to demolish the place - they've had problems with radon at other properties in the area. Instead, they generously decided to give the family 30 days to vacate.

UPDATE: The NCC has agreed to compromise and allow the Hays to proceed with a plan to reduce the radon gas. Grandson Alan Rankin obtained the agreement after a meeting with CEO Lemay. "It helped that my grandfather's picture was on the wall."

Citizen: NCC eviction leaves family 'heartbroken' [9 Apr 2010]
Citizen: Family wins reprieve for cabin [27 Apr 2010]

Thursday, March 18, 2010

NCC releases Gatineau Park conservation plan

The NCC has announced another plan, this one for Gatineau Park - the Gatineau Park Ecosystem Conservation Plan. Apparently it will be essential reading up until 2035. As is usual for these plans, some group or other gets it in the neck; this time it's the rock climbers, who will see climbing routes developed over the past 50 years pared back to a handful. Apparently this is to protect and rehabilitate the Eardley Escarpment. From the CBC:

The commission is concerned climbers are trampling endangered plants and disrupting wildlife.

"The rock climbing is now happening all over the ecosystem and we need to address that," said Michel Viens, the NCC's senior manager of natural resources and land management.

Eric Grenier, chair of the Ottawa-Gatineau Climbers' Access Coalition, said the new restrictions are unfair because most climbers are already careful not to disturb the ecosystem.

"You'll be hard pressed to find a group of people who care more about the environment ... than people who spend as much of their free time in it as much as they can," said Grenier, who has been climbing for about six years.

The NCC's own eco-credentials have, of course, been severely eroded by years of road building and trail widening in the Park, as "Ray From Ottawa" explains in the comment thread:

This is the same NCC that allowed a large swath of the south end of the park to be cut down, blazed, bulldozed, dynamited, and paved to allow Blvd. Allumettieres (Highway 148 -- Google it) to pass through. The same NCC that brings in heavy machinery and tonnes of gravel every year to turn narrow walking paths into gravel highways for the fall leafers. The same NCC that cut down and paved even more sections of forest for the convenience of Mackenzie King Estate tea drinkers.

They aren't standing up for nature. They are using nature as an excuse to limit an activity they know little about, don't partake in, they don't like, and they don't make money from.

CBC: Eardley Escarpment climbing routes scaled back [18 Mar 2010]
Citizen: Gatineau Park rock climbing to be curtailed under new plan [18 Mar 2010]
Metro: Plan limits options for rock climbers [18 Mar 2010]
GPPC: Conservation Plan an Empty Shell (pdf) [17 Mar 2010]
GPPC: NCC policies threaten park [12 Mar 2010]
GPPC: GPPC Releases Full Park Conservation Plan [17 Apr 2010]
NCC: A natural space to pass on to future generations [17 Mar 2010]
Ottawa-Gatineau Climbers' Access Coalition

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Gatineau Park Protection Committee website

Harsh critics of the NCC's management of Gatineau Park, the Gatineau Park Protection Committee now has their own website at

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Not a public space

Some scathing remarks from Jean-Paul Murray of the Gatineau Park Protection Committee at Low Down Online on the NCC's inept administration of Gatineau Park and its new-ish CEO Marie Lemay:

Being in essence a gated community run for its landowners, Gatineau Park exists amid utter bureaucratic anarchy thanks to the National Capital Commission (NCC). At once a provincial game sanctuary, a federal park, a municipal fiefdom and a private playground, no one seems to know who really runs it, where its boundaries are, or even who owns lands around lac La Pêche or the Outaouais CÉGEP.

[...]Today, as NCC CEO, Ms. Lemay has made helplessness to protect Gatineau Park the earmark of her administration. She has routinely been caught off guard by development projects in the park; allowed construction of new housing on Carman Rd; retained the services of a law firm having close family ties with Gatineau Park landowners to tell her she lacked authority to impose a development freeze in the park. As well, Ms. Lemay has limited access to information, misled a parliamentary committee, and overseen an administration which participated in an attempt to discredit park activists - while refusing to disclose the nature of an NCC director's conflict of interest in Gatineau Park.

The Low Down: Gatineau Park: Not a Public Space [27 Jan 2010]

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

NCC bill dead, but will probably rise again

The government's NCC touch-up bill C-37 has died with the recent prorogation, but according to Le Droit, it will likely return in some form:

Mort au feuilleton, le projet de loi sur la Commission de la capitale nationale (CCN) devrait renaître de ses cendres avec plusieurs couches de vernis. C'est du moins ce que souhaitent certains députés fédéraux, qui ont passé les dernières semaines de 2009 à éplucher le texte législatif, pour finalement se faire couper l'herbe sous le pied par la prorogation du Parlement.

[...]Pour le député libéral de Hull-Aylmer, Marcel Proulx, il s'agit d'une manoeuvre indécente, qui a pour effet de renvoyer des projets de loi à la case départ. « Les témoignages peuvent toujours être utilisés, parce qu'on a les transcriptions, mais le travail comme tel est à recommencer », dit-il.

Au total, 41 amendements ont été présentés en comité parlementaire, tant par les conservateurs (14) que par les bloquistes (14), les libéraux (8) et les néo-démocrates (5). Les députés d'opposition souhaitent que le nouveau texte législatif en tienne compte. « S'ils redéposent le même projet de loi, c'est de la mauvaise foi », estime M. Proulx.

Le bureau du ministre responsable de la CCN, Lawrence Cannon, a laissé entendre hier que le projet de loi serait rapidement remis sur les rails, après la rentrée parlementaire. « Nous tenterons d'obtenir l'accord de l'opposition pour faire adopter rapidement les projets de loi du gouvernement, y compris le projet de loi de la CCN », a assuré un porte-parole du ministre Cannon, par courriel.

(The article is also available in an English translation at GuideGatineau.)

Le Droit: Le projet de loi sur la CCN est appelé à renaître [6 Jan 2010]
GuideGatineau: Dead on the Order Paper: NCC bill to be reintroduced [6 Jan 2010]
Citizen: Gatineau Park bill dies in prorogation [11 Jan 2010]

Wednesday, December 23, 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]
GuideGatineau: Minister Cannon disappointed with C-37 progress [23 Dec 2009]

Friday, December 4, 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.

OttawaStart: NCC Refuses to Disclose Nature of Board Member's Gatineau Park Conflict [4 Dec 2009]

Friday, December 4, 2009

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?

We would simply note that the NCC never saw a railway right of way it didn't want to convert into a road, or a road proposal, no matter how crazy, it didn't want to build.

Citizen: Use the Rail Bridge for Rail [4 Dec 2009]
Citizen: A fine bridge [1 Dec 2009]

Wednesday, October 28, 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 Watch: NCC Board confirms Gatineau Park boundaries [4 Apr 2008]

Friday, October 9, 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.

Citizen: Baird wants an end to NCC expropriation rights in Gatineau Park [9 Oct 2009]
CBC: NCC should lose power to seize private land [10 Oct 2009]

Sunday, September 20, 2009

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.

Citizen: Users fear recreation plan will block off Gatineau Park [20 Sep 2009]
NCC: Have your say about recreational activities in Gatineau Park [until Oct 5]

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

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 Gatineau Park Recreation Management Plan Workshop [15 Sep 2009]
NCC: Have your say about recreational activities in Gatineau Park [until Oct 5]

Friday, September 4, 2009

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]
NCC Watch: NCC unaware of plans for Gatineau Park [25 Jan 2008]

Saturday, August 15, 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]
Citizen: NCC open to twinning paths [14 Aug 2009]
Citizen: Pushing the limits [15 Aug 2009]

Tuesday, July 21, 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.

CBC: NCC hopes transit can cut traffic in Gatineau Park [21 July 2009]
Citizen: Environmental group calls for limit on cars in Gatineau Park [17 Sep 2009]

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

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.

Citizen: Teens run afoul of NCC officers over campfire and Dr. Pepper [8 July 2009]

Tuesday, June 9, 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):

  • The NCC's board be required to hold at least four meetings in public per year, and may hold parts of a meeting in camera if required;
  • The NCC be required to submit, at least once every ten years, a 50-year master plan for the National Capital Region, for approval by the Governor in Council and tabling in Parliament;
  • The NCC's existing responsibility for the six official residences and for certain elements of transportation planning in the National Capital Region be reflected in the Act;
  • The NCC may designate or remove designations of properties that are part of the National Interest Land Mass only if regulations setting out the criteria and process have been introduced;
  • The NCC must manage its properties in accordance with principles of responsible environmental stewardship;
  • The NCC be required to give due regard to maintaining the ecological integrity of Gatineau Park;
  • The boundaries of Gatineau Park are described in a schedule;
  • The NCC may make regulations prescribing user fees, which under this new legislation, would require Governor in Council approval;
  • New and enhanced regulatory authorities and enforcement provisions to enable the NCC to better protect its properties; and
  • The NCC no longer be required to seek Governor in Council approval through an Order in Council for individual real estate transactions such as acquisitions, disposals and leases.

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]
CBC: Gatineau Park gets more federal protection [10 June 2009]
Metro: Rules don't go far enough for park: NDP [10 June 2009]
Release: Government of Canada presents an action plan for the National Capital Commission [9 June 2009]

Thursday, May 7, 2009

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]
CBC: Gatineau Park could get national protection [9 May 2009]
Citizen: Manitoba senator emerges as saviour of Gatineau Park [18 May 2009]
NCC Watch: Gatineau Park

Tuesday, May 5, 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.

Citizen: Ottawa, Gatineau and NCC seek public input on interprovincial transit links [5 May 2009]
Interprovincial Transit Strategy

Thursday, January 15, 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]
Citizen: Council to vote on bridge plan [14 Jan 2009]
Citizen: Gatineau has its own concerns [14 Jan 2009]
Orleans Star: Council pushes ahead Kettle Island [14 Jan 2009]
Orleans Star: Bridge debate ignites tempers [16 Jan 2009]

Friday, December 5, 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]

Monday, July 28, 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?

McConnell-Laramee freeway

CBC: Gatineau Park would cost 'significantly more' as national park [28 July 2008]

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

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]
Citizen: What do you think the NCC monument should honour? [16 July 2008]
Greater Ottawa: The gateway question [16 July 2008]
Citizen: Something to stir the imagination [18 July 2008]
Citizen: New Ottawa monument should honour city pioneers, readers say [18 July 2008]

Tuesday, May 27, 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]

Thursday, May 22, 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]
NCC: NCC Set to Acquire Land on Carmen Road [23 May 2008]
Citizen: NCC to buy private property in Gatineau Park to prevent development [3 April 2008]

Monday, April 21, 2008

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]
CPAWS-OV: News Centre [21 Apr 2008]
CBC: New law needed to protect Gatineau Park from builders [9 Apr 2008]
CBC: Gatineau Park group calls for development freeze [8 Apr 2008]
Paul Dewar: Community Campaign to Protect Gatineau Park [22 Apr 2008]
Citizen: Cannon backs development freeze in Park [1 Apr 2008]

Friday, April 4, 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

The NCC: still not just pussyfooting around.

NCC: NCC Board of Directors Reconfirms Gatineau Park Boundaries [4 Apr 2008]
Citizen: Gatineau Park plea rattles NCC meeting [5 Apr 2008]
Citizen: Cannon backs development freeze in Park [1 Apr 2008]

Tuesday, February 19, 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.

Ottawa Citizen: Time to put 'Canada' back into capital, new NCC boss says [19 Feb 2008]

Friday, January 25, 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.

Ottawa Citizen: NCC unaware of plans to build development in Gatineau Park [25 Jan 2008]

Friday, January 25, 2008

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]

Monday, January 21, 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]

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Greenbelt reactions

Some reactions to Chairman Mills' greenbelt trial balloon. First, the Citizen expresses some skepticism in an editorial that the NCC could ever pull off developing parts of the greenbelt in a worthwhile manner:

With one of the Greenbelt's two chief purposes in ruins, it's reasonable to discuss whether parts of it can be put to better use, as Mr. Mills (a former publisher of the Citizen) proposes.

Finding urban uses for parts of the Greenbelt must not be done hurriedly or arbitrarily. The jury will be staying out on the NCC's development of LeBreton Flats for a long time, but in principle, it's a bad example to follow: the commission kept the land for 40 years before devising a competition to develop it that was so problematic that, in the end, only one builder bid for the rights to the most sought-after parcel in Ottawa-Gatineau. That's no way to run the NCC lands.

The federal government owns large expanses of the Greenbelt with no special characteristics. Do we build on these or increase urban sprawl? Do we continue to encourage long, polluting drives from the far suburbs?

This will clearly be a difficult decision. The old NCC, with its closed and paternalistic culture, wouldn't have been up to the job. It might not be yet, but perhaps under Mr. Mills, who is opening board meetings and promising a new level of public engagement, the commission can do the job right.

John Baird expresses even graver doubts, while pointing out an obvious problem:

As well, Mr. Baird said thinking about selling or developing parts of it would be problematic because farmers had their land expropriated in the 1950s so the Greenbelt could be created. Turning it over to development would raise ethical and legal questions about who should profit from the land development, he said.

He said any move to development in the Greenbelt will get a hostile reception from voters. "The overwhelming majority of people I represent will have the same concern," said Mr. Baird.

Final word to letter writer Betty Smith:

In the east end, we're all too familiar with the NCC's environmental vision. Practices such as selling off the Woodburn farm and surrounding forest to the highest bidder to make way for parking lots, big-box stores and a gas station shows the NCC's concern for the environment. Instead of seeing the Greenbelt as Ottawa's jewel in the crown, the NCC sees the Greenbelt as its private cash cow.

Citizen: Developing the Greenbelt [6 Nov 2007]
Citizen: Baird has 'grave concerns' about Greenbelt plan [6 Nov 2007]
Citizen: NCC sees Greenbelt as its own cash cow [6 Nov 2007]

Friday, August 24, 2007

Hull's parking lots

The Spacing Wire is running a feature on Hull's parking lots and the destruction of Hull's urban fabric. Historical consultant Michelle Guitard gives them a tour:

We sought out Guitard to find out exactly what used to be where the parking lots are now. As we had suspected, buildings had been there; but it was more lucrative for property owners to tear them down and build parking lots or to lease the land to parking lot entrepreneurs than to maintain the old buildings. Guitard walked us through the streets and pointed to the ghosts of homes, restaurants, cinemas, and hotels.

[...]Which brings us to the obvious reason why Hull has as many parking lots as it does; thousands of people who are not residents of Hull work in the massive brown and grey government buildings, and probably the majority of them bring their cars with them.

Of course, when it comes to urban destruction in the capital region, the NCC has to be involved somehow - and so they were. The lots were a natural consequence of the NCC's expropriation and destruction of large areas of downtown Hull to make way for the massive Place du Portage and Les Terraces de la Chaudiere office complexes - part of the NCC's building dispersal programme. Mission accomplished.

Portage and Laurier

Guitard has contributed to an interesting site on the architecture of old Hull, Remember When?, by Harry Foster, Manager of the Photographic Services section of the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

The Spacing Wire: The 1970 Architectural Concept [24 Aug 2007]
Museum of Civilization: Remember When? The architecture of old Hull
Citizen: Greater Ottawa: The Gatineau parking-lot project continues [24 Aug 2007]
NCC Watch: Blunders - Hull

Friday, May 11, 2007

The NCC's bright, shining moment

Over at the Citizen, city editorial page editor Ken Gray is optimistic about the Mills appointment (link, expires 30 days):

To name one of the chief critics of the Crown agency, through his newspaper days, to run it speaks volumes. His appointment is a stroke of political genius by Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon, no doubt aided by Environment Minister John Baird, the political minister for Ottawa. The best way to defuse your critics is to appoint one to the top job. It is a rare bit of political insight on the Conservative government's horrid local file, but you take your genius where you can get it.

The fly in the ointment is just how much power Mr. Mills will have. For at the new NCC, there will also be a chief executive officer. Will that person be the straw that stirs the drink.

[...]Recently, Mr. Cannon, who is responsible for the NCC, said he is impressed with the open processes at Ottawa City Hall (too bad the city is becoming more secretive). That might be the tip that the mandate review's position on openness would be adopted in future reform. Let's hope so.

This public process would build trust if handled well. No doubt, old-time NCC administrators would strive to keep the process secret, as has been their wont. That's where Mr. Mills would come in with his well-honed journalist's instincts. He should question, as he certainly will, NCC staff attempts to keep information private. Withholding information should be the exception rather than the norm.

Beyond this, Mr. Mills must establish what the role of the NCC is in the capital. Prior to municipal amalgamation on both sides of the provincial border, the NCC needed to be an overseer of the national interest in the face of the conflicting positions from myriad cities.

Now with amalgamation, two formidable municipalities have been created, often with expertise, particularly in planning, that far exceeds that of the NCC. In terms of consultation, implementation and creating area-wide blueprints such as the official plans, the cities have not only grown up, they have left the NCC in their dust. The Crown corporation has become a ponderous, bureaucratic body that dallied for years over impractical schemes for such sites as the city core, the Daly site and LeBreton Flats.

The review panel would like to see a reinvigorated planning and heritage function for the NCC. But the experience of the past decade and more show that the Crown corporation is out of touch with modern planning principles and basic efficiencies.

Rather than being the leader in planning in the community, perhaps the NCC would do well to try to mediate solutions to cross-border transportation problems between governments and become an adjunct to the vastly superior municipal planning process. Perhaps the Crown corporation should approach municipalities with its projects in such a way that they build better cities rather than just being one-off grandiose projects.

Mr. Mills enters the NCC with an enormous task in front of him at a critical time. Never has the Crown corporation's stock been so low. He must build an organization that is open and that residents can trust. As well, the new chairman must revolutionize from within so that it produces projects that result in improved cities. In that way, it can be a force to create a better capital to benefit all Canadians.

The NCC must think local to produce a stronger Ottawa-Gatineau that will be an inspiration to the rest of the country, not only culturally but from an urban-planning perspective.

Mr. Mills's appointment is an enormous opportunity to create an invigorated, useful, trustworthy NCC. It should not be lost.

Citizen: The NCC's bright, shining moment [11 May 2007]

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Russell Mills roundup

Lawrence Cannon made Russell Mills' appointment as chair of the NCC official at a little ceremony today, taking the opportunity to appoint some chap called Jason Sordi to the board at the same time. According to the Transport Canada news release, Sordi is a "senior account manager, commercial financial services, for RBC Financial Group. He has also worked as an event planner, regional project manager and representative for the Canadian Unity Council" - whoever they are.

At the press gathering, Mills declared his commitment to greater transparency at the tired organization. From the CBC:

Mills said he will focus on a recommendation by an external review panel to bring more accountability and openness to the agency that manages federal properties in the Ottawa-Gatineau region, which has often been criticized for its secrecy.

"I believe that transparency is the greatest promoter of accountability in public institutions," Mills said.

He told reporters that he fought for public openness during his own 35 years as a journalist.

"The fact that the government chose someone like me to be the chair is a pretty strong signal that that's what they want, too."

Several more local grandees have also had the opportunity to weigh in on the appointment, with largely positive comments. From the Citizen:

Jim Watson, a former mayor of Ottawa and current Ontario cabinet minister, who has been one of the NCC's toughest critics, said putting Mr. Mills in charge of the board spells the end of the Beaudry-era closed meetings.

"It's a great appointment. His appointment sends a pretty clear signal that the government expects the NCC to be much more open," said Mr. Watson. "Russ is well known for being a great advocate of openness and transparency. I'm very optimistic about the future of the NCC under his guidance.

"It's an appointment that will be well received by us who have been fighting to make sure the NCC is more accountable, more open, and really more a part of the community," said Mr. Watson.

"He's a true community advocate and that's the kind of person that you like to see in an organization like the NCC."

"It's an excellent appointment," said Jacquelin Holzman, a former mayor of Ottawa.

She hopes Mr. Mills will lead a revival of pride in the capital. She said Ottawa should be as revered by Canadians as Washington is by Americans, but that's not the case and it needs to be turned around.

Ms. Holzman said Mr. Mills' experience with a wide number of boards in the corporate and charitable sectors means he understands that the board of directors gives overall direction, rather than micromanaging the organization.

Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar, one of the most knowledgeable critics on the NCC, said the appointment of Mr. Mills is "an interesting choice" for the government, and he views Mr. Mills as "a decent person." He says "any change, to some respect, is welcome."

Randall Denley, meanwhile, notes that the CEO position will likely be far more important than the chair, which is after all a part-time position. From the Citizen:

The former Citizen publisher has always been a champion of openness at the NCC, and so his selection sends a positive message about the direction of the organization. The problem is, the new chairman won't be running the organization day to day, and his role might be more ceremonial than consequential. In every organization, someone has to lead and it's not likely to be a part-time board chairman.

Given his stance in the past, Mills certainly has to open the organization's board meetings, but the NCC's secretiveness is just a small part of its problem. Despite a recent mandate review, it's far from clear what value the NCC really adds. Finding a useful role is the real challenge for the new chairman and the yet-to-be-appointed CEO who will actually run the NCC.

The board meets only four or five times a year, essentially rubber-stamping the work of the bureaucracy. The public ought to expect more, and one value of opening the meetings might be to show us if the board members are making a real contribution or are just in town for the free lunch.

The NCC could gain more ground on openness by releasing every possible document -- not making people chase them under access-to-information rules, then treating the contents of the reports like state secrets.What the NCC really needs is a visionary with a tremendous grasp of urban planning, but there is nothing in Mills' past to indicate he's that sort of person. In choosing Mills, the government has at least recognized that the board chairman needs to know this community, not just be the "person of significant national stature" envisioned by the group that reviewed the NCC mandate.

NCC critics would have been happy if the federal government had shut the organization down, but the truth is, the federal government likes the NCC because it gives it a tool to do as it pleases in Ottawa. For that reason, the NCC is not going away any time soon. At least in Russ Mills, we have an NCC chairman who won't confuse his role with that of a divine right king.

Transport Canada release: Appointments to National Capital Commission [3 May 2007]
Citizen: Former Citizen publisher to be new NCC chairman (expires 30 days) [3 May 2007]
Citizen: Door opens at the NCC (expires 30 days) [3 May 2007]
Citizen: Positive move at the NCC (expires 30 days) [3 May 2007]
CBC: Greater transparency a priority for new NCC chair [3 May 2007]
Radio-Canada: La nomination de Russell Mills confirmée [3 May 2007]

Friday, April 6, 2007

NCC refuses to repair historic chapel

The historic Capucin Chapel on Meech Lake in Gatineau Park, built in 1956 by an order of Capucin monks, is in need of repair. But despite owning the building, the NCC insists that the tenants must repair the building. From the Citizen:

The monks sold the chapel to the National Capital Commission for $50,000 during the 1970s and are now only tenants.

The deal leaves the building in a kind of limbo. NCC spokeswoman Lucie Caron said any repairs are the responsibility of the tenants. Brother Armand Soubliere, 74, a Capucin monk who worked 28 years as a missionary in Chad before returning to Ottawa, said the cloistered order doesn't own the chapel and shouldn't have to pay for the repairs.

Brother Armand said the monks may make an appeal to Meech Lake residents for help if the NCC doesn't repair the chapel.

"A farmer gave us the land and the first chapel there was built in about 1910," Brother Armand said. "There used to be at least 30 or 40 seminarians who went there during the summer.

"The only thing that belongs to us there now is the wooden statue of St. Anthony. I don't know how much it would cost to repair the outside beams that support the roof. Dominique Larocque has asked the NCC on our behalf to repair the building before it falls down."

Brother Armand says the brothers spend at least $300 a year to paint and replace rotten wood. He said while they haven't asked the NCC for anything, it would be good if the commission did the repairs.

Citizen: The fight to save Meech Lake's hidden chapel in the woods [6 Apr 2007]

Thursday, March 29, 2007

NCC needs another $2.5 million, or the park gets it

Meanwhile, the NCC has come out in favour of a bill before the Senate that would define Gatineau Park's boundaries. They also want another $2.5 million. From the Citizen:

The independent senator [Mira Spivak] wants Parliament to have control over the park's boundaries to protect it for future generations. Records show that between 1960 and 1997, the park lost 48 properties, covering 610 hectares, through sale or transfer. The park covers about 36,000 hectares.

The NCC owns or controls 98 per cent of the park, while 855 hectares, or two per cent, is privately owned.

Mrs. Spivak's private member's bill would give the NCC the right of first refusal when private land in the park is for sale.

[NCC COO] Ms. Dubé told the Senate committee the commission's policy is to offer fair market value for private land, but the commission can expropriate property if there is a risk that it could be subdivided for development.

Ms. Dubé said the NCC knows about people on ATVs damaging the western part of the park and has asked neighbouring property owners to report any violations.

"We need more conservation officers to ensure that people respect the park regulations," Ms. Dubé said. "More money would allow us be more vigilant and have more conservation officers.

"We would be able to better mark the park boundaries. We hope to be able to have signage around the entire perimeter by the end of the summer so people know when they are entering the park."

The NCC plans to nail more signs to trees by this summer to mark the park boundaries.

Ms. Dubé said the NCC should have clearly communicated the 1997 boundaries to the public to avoid the misconception that it was selling off land in the park to pay its bills. She said the commission has disposed of some of its properties to buy other land or finance capital projects, but it has increased the overall size of Gatineau Park by 700 hectares since the 1990s.

Citizen: NCC wants more money to protect its space [29 Mar 2007]

Friday, March 17, 2007

New board members redux

Over at the Citizen, Ken Gray provides a bit of background on the new appointments:

Over at the National Capital Commission, it's business as usual.

The board of the Crown corporation recently got four new members.

The four, announced by the office of Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon, have interesting pedigrees.

As always, there are out-of-towners and patronage appointments.

Daniel J. MacLeod is a New Glasgow, N.S., town councillor and has an interesting connection to Ottawa. He will be able to visit his daughter more often here because she is Lisa MacLeod, the Progressive Conservative MPP for Nepean-Carleton. His term is for three years.

Joining Mr. MacLeod is Eric D. MacKenzie, who was a Tory MLA in New Brunswick. Mr. MacKenzie was also a teacher in New Brunswick for 36 years. He also has a three-year term.

Political patronage at the NCC is nothing new -- the Liberals did it, now the Tories are doing it.

But what is disconcerting is that, in light of a review panel ordered by the Tories into reforming the archaic institution, the same old stuff is unfolding at the Crown corporation.

Mr. MacKenzie and Mr. MacLeod are no doubt nice, well-meaning people, but what do people from the Maritimes know about Ottawa-area issues? How many people in New Glasgow and Fredericton even know what the NCC is?

Will these two men know anything about the history behind the Federal Court decision on the Champlain Bridge? Will they understand how many times the heritage Britannia area (the most convenient, low-cost spot for an interprovincial bridge) has been wrongly threatened by a span across the Ottawa River? Have they any idea how important it is to get dangerous heavy trucks out of downtown? Board members chosen from outside the region simply don't understand the big issues, let alone the nuances, of the national capital.

We hold out more hope for Robert Tennant, an Ottawa resident who is a registered professional planner and a member of the Canadian Institute of Planners. This is the kind of person who theoretically should bring some knowledge of how modern cities should be developed. His term is three years.The final appointment was Helene Grand-Maitre of Gatineau who is the vice-provost of l'Universite du Quebec en Outaouais. Her term is for four years.

Cannon spokeswoman Natalie Sarafin said his office is studying the review panel's recommendations and any changes that would be needed to the NCC Act to facilitate those changes. The office will make an announcement when a decision is made, Ms. Sarafin said.

Translation: Given some of the appointments plus Ms. Sarafin's statement, it sounds very much like changing the NCC is not high on Mr. Cannon's agenda.

Citizen: May ponders battle with Baird [17 Mar 2007]

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

NCC interest group meeting

While nothing's been heard from the government since the NCC Mandate Review Panel submitted its report last year, the NCC is suddenly interested in "Openness and communication with the public; Increased representation of Canada and Canadians in the Capital; and Use of new technologies to better communicate the Capital to Canadians." These topics will apparently be the focus of their occasional meeting with interest groups, this year to be held Wednesday, May 2, 2007, 6 pm at the Best Western Cartier Hotel, 131 Laurier Street in Gatineau. To be able to present your suggestions, you have to register and submit a written brief no later than Friday, March 23, 2007.

NCC: Meeting with Interest Groups and the Public - 2007 Edition

Friday, January 12, 2007

NCC must pay tenant evicted from radioactive home

The Quebec rental board has ordered the National Capital Commission to pay $11,257 to a former Gatineau Park tenant who refused to pay rent on a five-bedroom house when he discovered it was contaminated with radon gas and uranium. From the Citizen:

Tests on the house determined the well water used for drinking was contaminated with uranium and E. coli bacteria and the air inside the house contained between 3.5 and five times the Canadian guideline and between seven and 10 times the U.S. guideline for radon gas, a leading cause of lung cancer.

Mr. Conacher's well water was interrupted several times, pipes leaked and the drinking water sometimes smelled of heating oil from an underground tank. The house was contaminated with mould, and the septic tank overflowed into the backyard.

Mr. Conacher asked the Régie du Logement to order the NCC to refund $58,560 in rent from June 2001 and pay $8,800 for his inconvenience. The NCC had declared the house uninhabitable and told Mr. Conacher it would be demolished because it would cost $30,000 to seal the floors and basement walls and install ventilation equipment to rid the house of radon gas.

He abandoned the house and moved out to live with friends between Dec. 1, 2005, and Sept. 30, 2006.

The Régie du logement decided the house should be demolished instead of repaired, but ordered the NCC to pay Mr. Conacher $6,348 to cover three months of rent and moving expenses and $4,909 in additional compensation.

"The NCC told me in May 2005 that if I didn't like the house, I should move out," Mr. Conacher said. "I told them I had a right to live in a house that was in habitable condition and they should clean it up.

"They said they would demolish the building and kick me out at the end of my lease in May 2006. I stopped paying rent and abandoned the house, but they went after me for $14,000 of unpaid rent."

Mr. Conacher said his former house has been demolished, but up to 10 NCC rental homes near Kingsmere and Meech lakes will have to be repaired or removed because of radon gas and uranium contamination. Hugh Batchelor, another Kingsmere Lake resident, said he stopped paying rent to the NCC in July 2006 because of radon gas and mould problems in his basement and received an eviction notice before Christmas. He lives in Perth now and spends little time in the house.

NCC spokesman Mario Tremblay said about seven of the commission's 28 rental houses in Gatineau Park exceed Canadian standards for radon gas of 800 becquerels per cubic metre of air. He said one house will be demolished because it is in poor condition and the NCC will work with the other tenants to limit their exposure to radon.

"The NCC has always been a responsible owner with respect of radon and uranium in this area," Mr. Tremblay said. "It is part of the NCC's continuous plan to communicate with the tenants whose properties are affected by radon and uranium."

In fact, the NCC was informed about the problems of uranium and radon gas in late 2003 by an environmental consultant they hired to do testing, but did not inform their tenants about the problems until April 2005. The NCC is one of the largest landlords in the Ottawa region, and rents are rents, even for a house you're going to demolish.

Citizen: NCC told to compensate displaced tenant [12 Jan 2007]
CBC: NCC must pay tenant evicted from radioactive home [12 Jan 2007]

Friday, January 12, 2007

NCC's boorish behaviour

Citizen City editorial page editor Ken Gray continues his (somewhat optimistic) look at the NCC Mandate Review recommendations:

All this talk of bad behaviour brings to mind the National Capital Commission, the custodian of federal activities and lands in the capital. It has been boorish in the past, alienating the citizens of Ottawa and Gatineau in the process. For example, with its misguided plan to add a third lane to Champlain Bridge, it plugged a residential area of Ottawa with traffic - in the process destroying one of the NCC's own scenic driveways along Island Park Drive.

Community groups across the north end of Ottawa fought this bad planning, taking the NCC to Federal Court and bankrupting themselves in the process. As a result, the NCC caused many across the city to consider the Crown corporation boorish.

[...]After a while, the citizens, critics and politicians ganged up on the NCC and forced the federal government to create the NCC Mandate Review to investigate reforming the Crown corporation. Last week this column looked at the panel's misguided recommendations to give this dysfunctional operation more power. Given its chequered past, it would be foolhardy to allow the NCC a stronger mandate. Instead, when the people of this community feel they can trust the NCC, perhaps then it will be time to bolster its mandate. In the meantime, it is best to leave such fields as transportation and planning (as suggested by the panel to be moved to the NCC) to the cities, where there is accountability and skill in such matters.

[...]It is through transparency and recognition of local needs that the NCC will regain its long-lost trust and stature. It doesn't need more power. The NCC must warm to the community and, in turn, the community will return that goodwill. But it will take time to repair the damage done over the past decade or more.

[...]It is with transparency and local participation that the NCC will flourish. The review panel report, though flawed, is at least a start to the end of the boorishness of the NCC

Citizen: Toward an Open and Caring NCC [12 Jan 2007]

Friday, January 5, 2007

The good, the bad, and the NCC

Citizen City editorial page editor Ken Gray notes a few minor problems with the mandate review panel report recommendations:

Giving more power to an organization that has botched its planning role so badly is like expecting your teenager, who just totalled the family Toyota, to drive better by giving the youngster a Porsche.

For example, the NCC would have a "new focus" on heritage, according to the report. Odd that recommendation, given that the NCC and its forerunners put the word flats in LeBreton Flats when it demolished that neighbourhood and left it empty for half a century. And then there were its plans to move or dismantle buildings of historical significance on Sparks Street.

The panel, chaired by Gilles Paquet, would see a NCC that would put "new focus on the core of the capital," a core it almost destroyed with its plans to remove a large number of vibrant businesses and institutions for an ill-considered plan to widen Metcalfe Street.

As well, the report recommends "a renewed emphasis on the planning function." Over the past few decades, the NCC has not planned well. Now, if the panel has its way, we would see more of this.

In a move that could result in inefficient area job and economic growth, the report suggests giving the NCC the power to co-ordinate the 75/25-per-cent split in the allocation of federal government development between Ottawa and Gatineau. Imagine waiting at LeBreton Flats-development speed for approval of a new home, for say, the RCMP. And furthermore, why should federal investment be confined to a cross-border quota? Perhaps it would be better for the feds to simply build where it makes the best economic and planning sense.

And this proposed mandate is far beyond the capability of the NCC when you look back at its slow planning and approval processes. The NCC could paralyse federal government growth in the area.

The panel perpetuates the myth that the rest of the country cares about the activities of the NCC. "Both the national and local communities have to be kept informed of how the national capital coordinating agency is carrying out its tasks," the report says. "The capital city has to speak to the country," the report says in another nose-stretcher. In fact, the rest of the country doesn't spend much time thinking about the capital, and few Canadians outside the Ottawa area have even heard of the NCC.

Realistically, the Crown corporation is another form of area government and thus needs to address regional issues effectively. If it does that, the NCC, in conjunction with the only Canadians preoccupied with health of the capital -- the residents of the region itself -- will help build a city that will attract Canadian visitors.

The panel suggests the NCC play a bigger role in regional transportation, but the Crown corporation has consistently failed in that function. The third lane built on the NCC's Champlain Bridge pours traffic into residential areas; the NCC has so far failed to develop a plan for interprovincial bridges; and the NCC was so slow off the mark that the City of Ottawa had to purchase the Prince of Wales railroad bridge across the Ottawa River to preserve it for transit.

Citizen: The good, the bad, and the NCC [5 Jan 2007]

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Give them three years

Citizen columnist Randall Denley thinks the NCC should be given at most three years to prove its worth in the wake of the mandate review:

The federal agency has a potentially useful role as the point of connection between Ottawa, Gatineau and the federal government, but it needs to come down from the mountain top where it has resided for more than a decade. If the NCC wants to actively engage in the process of city building, it's welcome, but the NCC's history is one of planning to do, not doing.

How many years has the NCC been talking about improving access to the Ottawa River, for example? The reformed NCC should be given three years, at most, to prove its worth.

Citizen: 2007 is a crucial year for the 'city that can't' [31 Dec 2006]

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Missing: real accountability

Citizen letter writer Katie Paris sums up what's missing from the Mandate Review recommendations:

Something is missing in the report on reforming the National Capital Commission: real accountability. The NCC is guilty not of small miscues but of blunders: Letting LeBreton Flats sit undeveloped for 40 years is an unpunished failure, and so is choosing a development with as little spark and innovation as what is now being built.

The NCC needs to be held accountable when it makes lousy decisions, and electoral accountability is the only mechanism where leaders will lose their jobs if they ignore the public good. Citizens of Ottawa and Gatineau should be able to vote for the CEO and chair of the NCC.

Unless there is direct accountability to voters, the NCC will continue to act in an arrogant and unresponsive manner. The proposed public meetings and ombudsman are progress, but they will do little to change the fundamental incentives faced by those who run the NCC.

Citizen: Elect NCC head [28 Dec 2006]

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

NCC to have "new, stronger mandate"

Little over a week before the expected report from the NCC Mandate Review, and Treasury Board pres John Baird is already crowing about a "new, stronger mandate" for the clapped out organization:

"Lawrence Cannon has been working on this hard, and we've got a phenomenal opportunity to protect the Greenbelt, increase accountability and transparency, and a new, stronger mandate for the NCC," Mr. Baird said in an interview.

"It has the potential to be a big win for environmentalists, for people who want more accountability and for people who want vision. It can be a real accomplishment of this minority Parliament. It is exciting."

Ah yes, the Vision thing - not all that long ago, the NCC's vision included the Metcalfe Grand Boulevard and the Canada and the World Pavilion.

Nevertheless, "most observers believe the NCC's mandate will be expanded to include, at least, transportation planning and a new funding model will be put in place to prevent it from being forced to sell land to fund and sustain its activities." Transportation planning - much like that freeway they're building through Gatineau Park? Another "big win" for the environmentalists. Oh yeah, and the new NCC will be "more open."

It's a curious end to a process that started a few short months ago with Lawrence Cannon wondering if the NCC was even necessary. Since then, the NCC performed a reverse takeover of the review to the point where NCC flak Laurie Peters now runs interference for the panel and the NCC gets everything it ever asked for, all in exchange for maybe opening up a few board meetings. Looks like a "big win" alright - for the NCC.

Citizen: More open NCC to have stronger mandate: Baird [13 Dec 2006]

Thursday, November 16, 2006

NCC panel rejects secrecy beefs

The Ottawa Sun follows up on the secret meetings conducted by the NCC Mandate Review:

A panel studying the future of the National Capital Commission continues to refuse to reveal the participants and content of secret meetings it held over two months to discuss the federal agency that has long been derided for its lack of transparency.

The panel is unmoved by the heavy criticism it has received from local politicians and the public for its decision to keep the meetings under wraps.

Bloc Quebecois Gatineau MP Richard Nadeau said the secret meetings have thrown the legitimacy of the panel's public meetings into doubt.

"Are they putting more importance on their secret meetings than the public meetings?" asked Nadeau, who made a presentation to the panel last night during a public hearing in Gatineau. "When you hide things, it smells bad."

The panel's secrecy is being defended by the minister who created it.

"These people have to deliberate and they conduct consultations at the same time," Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon said Friday while responding to a question from Nadeau during Question Period. "In order to prepare the work and the recommendations, they need to work together."

The panel says it will release a list of people and organizations that had private meetings with the panel once the report is released. The transcripts won't be released.

Sun: NCC rejects secrecy beefs [16 Nov 2006]

Thursday, November 9, 2006

NCC Board Annual Public Meeting

Time once again for the "Annual Public Meeting of the National Capital Commission's Board of Directors." Every year at this time, Chairman Beaudry gives his stock speech about how great things are going at the NCC, the members of the NCC board decorate the podium like so many potted plants, and the public gets to criticize the NCC in a Q&A session afterwards. If this sounds like your thing, join the fun, such as it is, Tuesday, November 21, 2006 at 7 pm, at the Holiday Inn Plaza La Chaudière, Salle des Nations, 2 Montcalm Street, Gatineau. The meeting will also be broadcast live, starting at 7 pm on Rogers Television (cable 22 in English and cable 23 in French) and on Canal Vox Outaouais (cable 22).

NCC: 2006 Annual General Meeting

Monday, October 16, 2006

Claim Gatineau Park can't be national park untrue

The Citizen reports that, despite claims to the contrary, Quebec is not blocking making Gatineau Park a national park. The federal government and the NCC previously claimed a national park was not possible as Quebec had refused to transfer its property to the federal government. However, according to Jean-Paul Murray, Senate speechwriter and Gatineau Park activist, this is something of a canard as the province transferred control of lake bottoms and management of Gatineau Park lands it owns to the federal government, specifically for park purposes, and nothing else is required. The Quebec government transferred control of 17 per cent of the park to the federal government in a 1973 Order-in-Council. Senator Mira Spivak has tabled a private member's bill that would prevent the uncontrolled sale of parts of Gatineau Park by giving Parliament control over changes to the park's boundaries.

Citizen: Claim Gatineau Park can't be national park untrue [16 Oct 2006]

Monday, September 18, 2006

Public consultation period underway for NCC review

Having dismissed the only rational course of action for dealing with the NCC problem, the recently appointed three-member NCC Mandate Review Panel is opening the floor to the public to solicit, oh, whatever other ideas they can come up with. Public meetings will be held November 8, 2006 at the University of Quebec in Gatineau and November 9, 2006 at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. "Interested individuals and groups" who want some time should register by October 16 and send a written brief of their presentation to the panel no later than October 27. Not quite so interested people have until November 15, 2006 to submit written comments.

The NCC Mandate Review now has its very own website as well.

NCC Mandate Review: Release [18 Sep 2006]

Friday, August 11, 2006

Don't expect any big changes at NCC

Citizen columnist Kelly Egan takes a look at the NCC Mandate Review, and has understandably low expectations:

In April, Lawrence Cannon, the federal minister responsible, announced a review of the NCC's mandate. Here was point one, verbatim:

"Is the National Capital Commission still important? Is it even necessary?"

By early August, a miraculous conversion occurred. When Mr. Cannon announced the makeup of the review panel, abolition was off the table. A new first point appeared, verbatim:

"Assess the various functions of the NCC."

The second task focused on "governance structures" and the third on funding and "cost-effectiveness."

Wow. Score one for the commish.

[...]The review panel chairman, University of Ottawa's Gilles Paquet, has already expressed the view that the NCC isn't funded properly. So in four months, the entire framing of the question has changed, from "do you need to exist?" to "how can we get you more money?"

Hardly a bold prediction but, at the end of the day, the NCC will survive, albeit with doo-dads attached.

[...]If we could sell 10 per cent of the greenspace, or 2,000 hectares, and use those funds to build a new science museum or a subway, or bring to life the Ottawa River islands, or rescue the Sparks Street Mall, would you make the deal?

This is the kind of big proposal, I think, that is worth thinking about in terms of building a great capital.

Instead, we have a farm being restored in Gatineau and talk of an equestrian park. We have the NCC fussing over pine cone pickers along the Rideau Canal, or fending off dog owners, or negotiating leases for hospital land.

How does it get so regularly side-tracked from its core function?

The NCC, if anything, suffers from a lack of grandeur in its vision, not an overabundance, as some would have you believe.

It has many pretty plans locked in brochures and, forever and a day, nothing seems to happen on the ground. Its biggest problem is not open-versus-closed board meetings, it's inertia.

Citizen: Don't expect any big changes at NCC [11 Aug 2006]

Thursday, June 22, 2006

NCC not accountable for taxpayer money

Columnist E. Kaye Fulton writes in her Osprey Media Group column:

If Ottawa is really serious about making itself accountable, perhaps it could turn a new leaf in its own front yard and confront the appalling gall of the National Capital Commission.

[...] Although most Canadians know little and care less about the NCC, they might if they pondered its multi-million-dollar budget or the reasons why the Crown corporation drives many people who live within its jurisdiction to distraction.

More to the point, they might wonder why MPs languishing in the House of Commons to pass the Federal Accountability Act before summer recess aren't in revolt over scant mention of the NCC in the bill's 200 pages and 44 amendments.

[...]According to the Ottawa Citizen, the NCC sold or transferred 48 private properties, 1,507 acres in all, in Gatineau Park between 1960 and 1997. Of that total, NCC declared 16 properties, or 296 acres, as surplus but won't reveal where they are or what it intends to do with them because, it argues, future negotiating positions would be jeopardized.

Particularly troublesome is that the NCC's refusal came in response to the newspaper's request through Access to Information, a promised area of reform that, like the NCC, is also excluded from the omnibus accountability legislation.

Last March, the Citizen caught the NCC at the peak of absurdity. The paper petitioned and won access to a private NCC document outlining a five-year plan to dispel the public perception that it is secretive and unaccountable.

[...] So why should you care?

For one thing, Treasury Board President John Baird, an Ottawa MP, has mused that NCC funding - which in 2002-2003 amounted to $125 million in parliamentary appropriations - should be increased by as much as $7 million a year to finance capital projects.

That's your money they're throwing around, in private.

Sault Star: NCC not accountable for taxpayer money [22 Jun 2006]

Saturday, May 6, 2006

On the Waterfront, Again

Gatineau is teaming up with the NCC to drop a cool $32 million on the Gatineau waterfront. The NCC spent the 60's building "scenic" drives, and they haven't tired of the concept, as the new project will include terraced views, lookouts and so forth. Coincidentally, last month, local federal ministers Cannon and Baird both expressed interest in waterfront development. At the news conference, Chairman Beaudry magnanimously announced that people living along Jacques Cartier Street will be allowed to stay: "It's not a question of saying 'we've got this great view, we're going to be tearing everything down and we're going to be putting castles out there.' These people have been living there. That's the history of the place." Minister Cannon was also present at the announcement.

Citizen: NCC, Gatineau to spend $32M on waterfront park [6 May 2006]
CBC: NCC, Gatineau spend $32M to beautify waterfront [8 May 2006]

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

'An incompetent babysitter'

Minister Cannon's questioning whether the NCC is really necessary has generated a small flurry of news items, most expressing only grudging support for the NCC's continued existence.

But only Randall Denley gets it right:

When Tory cabinet minister Lawrence Cannon asked if the National Capital Commission was still necessary, he raised the right question. Too bad no one is jumping up with the correct answer.

Despite years of complaining about the NCC, our timid politicians are afraid to see it go away because that would mean they'd have to undertake the responsibilities of a real city without a federal big brother to help them. How scary.

None of the three main candidates for mayor wants the NCC abolished and city councillors who have reacted to Cannon's review of the NCC's future have focused primarily on the threat of downloading cost to the city. This is a narrow view, to put it kindly.

[...]The NCC is incompetent, unnecessary and harmful to the maturation of Ottawa.

[...]The NCC is simply unnecessary. Buildings such as Rideau Hall and 24 Sussex Drive can be maintained just as badly by Public Works. The same for interprovincial bridges. The Gatineau Park can be run by Parks Canada, even though some believe there is an important distinction between a federally owned park and a national park. Surely there is no legitimate national interest in a federally owned Greenbelt.

There are real gains to be made by blowing up the NCC. Nearly 20 per cent of its $124-million budget is spent on administration. Another 18 per cent is spent on festivals and promoting the capital. Why is it the job of a federal agency to organize a winter festival in Ottawa? If people here want a winter festival, surely we can undertake it. The same for tourism promotion.

[...]It's high time we grew and looked after all the city's parks, planning, tourism promotion and festivals. It's what real cities do. One can't help but notice that every other city in Canada seems to be able to function without a federal babysitter. Politicians who don't get that aren't really worthy of leading the kind of city Ottawa can become.


Citizen: An incompetent babysitter [18 Apr 2006]
Citizen: We barely need the NCC [18 Apr 2006]
Citizen: It would be a 'disaster' [18 Apr 2006]
Citizen: Fix, don't ditch, the NCC, mayor hopefuls agree [17 Apr 2006]

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

NCC house from hell

From the Citizen, another NCC Horror Story:

When Duff Conacher moved into a rented five-bedroom bungalow on Kingsmere Lake in Gatineau Park in June 2000, he thought he had found an idyllic place to live a few minutes from downtown Ottawa.

Now, the co-ordinator of Democracy Watch, a government accountability lobby group, thinks the place he rents from the National Capital Commission for $1,500 a month is the house from hell.

Tests have determined the well water used for drinking is contaminated with uranium and E.coli bacteria and the air inside the house contains 3.5 to five times the Canadian guideline and seven to 10 times the U.S. guideline for radon gas, a leading cause of lung cancer.

His well water supply has been interrupted several times, pipes leaked and the drinking water sometimes smelled of heating oil from an underground tank. The house is contaminated with mould, and the septic tank overflowed into the backyard. Three other tenants who helped cover the rent moved out months ago.

The Regie de logement, Quebec's landlord and tenant tribunal, is this month to hear Mr. Conacher's demand that the NCC refund $58,560 in rent and pay $8,800 for his inconvenience. Mr. Conacher said the NCC has declared the house uninhabitable and wants to demolish it because it would cost $30,000 to seal the floors and basement walls and install ventilation equipment to rid the house of radon gas.

He refused a $5,000 settlement offer from the NCC because he would have to give up any future legal claim, should he become ill.

NCC spokeswoman Eva Schacherl could not comment on Mr. Conacher's case, but said the policy is to demolish houses the NCC owns within Gatineau Park that need extensive repairs and return the land to greenspace. She said the NCC has not declared the house to be uninhabitable, but has told the tenants it must be demolished.

Yep, the house is to be demolished at the end of the lease, but it's not uninhabitable. The NCC - not your ordinary slumlord.

Citizen: How pollutants turned a man's idyllic Chelsea home into the house from hell [1 Feb 2006]

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Senator to table new Gatineau Park bill

Hard on the heels of a bill proposed by Ed Broadbent last fall to protect Gatineau Park, Senator Mira Spivak intends to table a similar bill this year. The bill would "prevent the uncontrolled sale of parts of Gatineau Park by giving Parliament control over changes to the park's boundaries."

According to a Citizen article today (behind the subscriber wall):

Commission records show that between 1960 and 1997, the NCC sold or transferred 48 private properties -- for a total of 1,507 acres -- from the park.

Those transactions include: 13 properties, or 430 acres, that have been sold, 13 properties comprising 345 acres transferred to the Quebec Ministry of Transport, six properties, or 436 acres, that have been offered to Chelsea.

There are also 16 properties, or 296 acres, that have been declared surplus, but the NCC won't say where they are or what it plans to do with them, because such information "relates to future transactions," and releasing the information would harm the commission's negotiating position.

The NCC refused an access to information request about the 296 "surplus" acres, stating that the matter "relates to future transactions and would be detrimental to the NCC's future negotiation position."

Saturday, December 3, 2005

Dogs mean people, and people mean safer parks

Alex Munter revisits the NCC's dog rules in light of the need for greater security on pathways:

Five years ago, the commission introduced rules that prohibit unleashed dogs on almost all of its 170 kilometres of recreational pathways. Dogs can't go in the water, or even within three metres of the water. Certain activities -- like inline skating while with a dog -- are not permitted at all. As of this past Thursday, dogs -- even leashed -- were banned from almost all of Gatineau Park and the Greenbelt until spring.

With the exception of five designated areas, including Conroy and Bruce pits, NCC rules stipulate that dogs must be leashed at all times. These rules are much tighter than those applied in City of Ottawa parks. Municipal regulations tend to be more welcoming to dog owners, while still carving out plenty of dog-free areas.

As a result, says University of Ottawa law professor Nicole LaViolette, many dog owners are avoiding NCC lands.

"It's made those areas more isolated than they were before. There used to be a community of people who'd go regularly, who knew each other. The NCC never gave any thought to the fact that the high number of dog walkers made those areas safer."

[...]It is understandable that the NCC has little desire to reopen the dog wars. But it could easily strike a fair balance without imposing all manner of bureaucratic regulations on dog owners. Hundreds of volunteers patrolling the paths are great, but thousands more dog walkers also listening and watching could be even better.

Given heightened concern about community safety, it's time for the NCC to take a second look to see if its approach is actually working.

Citizen: Dogs mean people, and people mean safer parks [3 Dec 2005]

Monday, November 21, 2005

A Bridge Too Far

A Citizen editorial today comes out strongly against the NCC's persistent vision for a west end bridge across the Ottawa River:

Decades ago is where the NCC's urban-planning mindset is at. Build more roads, build more bridges. If the NCC were on top of its urban-planning game, it would be tub-thumping for commuter rail across the already-built (since 1880) Prince of Wales Bridge which logically joins with Ottawa's train line at Bayview to Gatineau. More people, less cost, and a little imagination at the NCC.

The NCC recently completed a three year study plan and presented it to Ottawa's transportation committee. The study failed to rule out a bridge at Deschenes rapids, which would more or less destroy the Britannia neighbourhood.

Citizen: A Bridge Too Far [21 Nov 2005]

Friday, November 4, 2005

Ed Broadbent to introduce NCC reform bill

Ottawa Centre MP Ed Broadbent has put together a private member's bill to establish legal boundaries for Gatineau Park and reform the NCC in the process, as he outlines in a piece in the Citizen:

Whether or not one agrees with the management style of the National Capital Commission, a test for assessing the performance of a government agency, as I've argued in this paper in the past, is how well it demonstrates accountability, transparency and independence in decision-making. The present structure and composition of the NCC makes passing this test virtually impossible. I therefore, have included proposals for reforming the NCC in this private member's bill that focuses primarily on Gatineau Park.

So the aim of this legislation is not only to provide the park with protected boundaries, but also to establish a more transparent and accountable board structure.

My ethics reforms include a proposal to change the way appointments are made to thousands of federal agencies, boards and commissions, including the NCC. The proposed reforms for the NCC are:

1. Reduce the commission to seven members in total with four, a majority, being residents of the National Capital Region.

2. Separate the role of chairperson from that of chief executive officer to strengthen the accountability of management.

3. Replace the current process whereby the minister or prime minister simply selects whomever she or he chooses with a process that requires all names of prospective appointees be submitted for consideration, in advance, to an all-party committee of the House of Commons. Demonstrated individual merit, not political party affiliation, should be the criterion for acceptability.

4. And finally, amend the government guidelines on closed meetings and enact regulations, requiring the NCC to meet in public, except in the limited number of matters requiring an in camera session, such as personnel and contract issues.

Citizen: Protecting a wilderness gem [4 Nov 2005]
Ed Broadbent Media release

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Broadbent drafting bill to protect Gatineau Park

Elsewhere in the news, Ottawa Centre MP Ed Broadbent is working on a private member's bill to legalize the boundaries of Gatineau Park, perhaps with the idea of turning it into a national park:

"Mr. Broadbent is looking at giving Gatineau Park some statutory protection," said Catherine McKenney, adding that making it a national park is among several recommendations proposed. "It's the only major federal park that does lack any statutory protection. The park's boundaries were never defined when the park was first created and changes up until this point have always been made behind closed doors. We're trying to change that."

Gatineau Park is managed by the National Capital Commission, which opposes transforming it into a national park. However, Environment Minister Stephane Dion said in February he'd consider requests to make Gatineau Park a national park or give it legal protection.

Stephen Hazell, conservation director of the Sierra Club of Canada, said giving Gatineau Park special legal status is a long- standing issue for park activists who want to see the park well protected from further development.

The NCC continues to oppose any meddling in the management of its park, while Environment Minister Stephane Dion has said he would consider changing the park's status.

Citizen: MP seeks to protect Gatineau Park [26 Oct 2005]

Monday, October 17, 2005

Construction to begin on final segment of McConnell-Laramee

Construction begins this week on the final segment of the McConnell-Laramee freeway, the bit that cuts through that "integral and defining element of Canada's Capital Region (ref)," Gatineau Park.

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

Gatineau Park properties on the block

The Citizen reports that housing developers are eager to buy a vacant 17-hectare farm in Gatineau Park near Pink Lake, to the tune of $1.5 million. Apparently the NCC had been negotiating with the owner for $500,000, but is unwilling to pay more than what it regards as fair market prices. The property, surrounded as it is by the existing park, meets one of the NCC's highest criteria for acquiring land. (The park's official plan says acquisition of private property in the park is a long-term goal to ensure the park's sustainability.)

At the same time, the NCC is looking for buyers for part of a 39-hectare farm that borders the park near Chemin de la Montagne and Alexandre-Tache Boulevard. The property was given to the NCC in 1973 on the condition it be made available to the Canadian public as an "amenity enhancing the character and quality of the national capital region." From the Citizen:

Commission spokeswoman Chantal Comeau said the sale of the property near Alexandre-Tache Boulevard would not violate the Gatineau Park plan or the agreement to preserve the farm for largely recreation purposes.

"When the land was given to the NCC, Mrs. Moore's wishes were put into writing," Ms. Comeau said. "Although we don't have any legal obligation to follow those wishes, we are considering them while looking at future uses for the Moore farm."

Ms. Comeau said five developers offered to buy the Moore farm, but the commission rejected their offers because they were too low.

Citizen: Developers eye Gatineau Park property [9 Aug 2005]

Saturday, July 9, 2005

NCC recognizes park visionary

Some closure on on the matter of Percy Sparks' forgotten role in the founding of Gatineau Park. From the Citizen:

In the 1950s, Roderick Percy Sparks used to gather his grandchildren at "Big Pine," an old-growth white pine tree in Gatineau Park, and have them join hands around the tree's massive trunk. Yesterday, Jean-Paul Murray stood against the same majestic old tree and closed his eyes in triumph.

Mr. Murray has fought for years to have the former Ottawa businessman's role in the founding of the 36,000-hectare Gatineau Park recognized. He spent years sifting through archives, and then argued in a 2003 Citizen guest column that the National Capital Commission had mistakenly ignored Mr. Sparks in its literature.

That historical oversight was corrected yesterday when NCC chairman Marcel Beaudry named the exhibit hall at the Gatineau Park visitor centre in Chelsea after Mr. Sparks, a well-known member of Ottawa's business community from the 1930s to the late 1950s.

The NCC had commissioned a study into the history of the park that concluded Mr. Sparks played a major role in its creation, though singling out one person as park founder was not possible.

Citizen: Gatineau Park visionary gets his due [9 Jul 2005]

Saturday, May 7, 2005

NCC approves its own Gatineau Park Master Plan

The NCC has approved its own Gatineau Park Master Plan. Chairman Beaudry claimed increased emphasis on conservation, but no mention was made of increased user fees or limits on cars in the park, both mooted previously. And yes, the McConnell-Laramee freeway will still be built.

Citizen: NCC shifts focus of Gatineau Park to conservation [7 May 2005]

Monday, May 2, 2005

NCC to sell Gatineau Park property in Wakefield

The NCC is selling 55 acres of Gatineau Park near Wakefield. The sale comes as a surprise to many, as the NCC acquired the land in a swap with the Municipality of La Peche for an adjoining piece of land that is being used as a sewage lagoon, and given that the Gatineau Park Master Plan identified several nearby routes as "ecological corridors" for wildlife access to the Gatineau River. A local developer expects the site will hold up to 100 single-family homes.

Citizen: Residents fear losing Wakefield to development [2 May 2005]
NCC: Gatineau Park Master Plan Review
Wakefield Ensemble: Wakefield community association

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Why Gatineau Park Should be Nationalized

Under the NCC's management, Gatineau Park has been subject to road-building schemes and the sell off of various properties. What most people don't realize is that the Park is not formally protected - it's just another property owned by the NCC, to dispose of as they see fit. And the NCC has a history of declaring properties "surplus" to its requirements and selling them, generally to the surprise of nearby residents. Which is why the New Woodlands Preservation League, among others, advocates formal legal protection for the park - with or without the NCC.


Friday, March 18, 2005

NCC releases long term plans for the core

The NCC's assiduous planners (with the help of consultants costing $140 000) have written a new plan. The Core Area Sector Plan "imagines the Core Area of the Capital in the year 2025. It envisions the Core Area as a place to live, work and come together, where Canada is celebrated, as a place to communicate Canada and offer to Canadians places to gather and celebrate their attachment to their country." And so forth. All this imagining seems to boil down to more monuments and "national cultural institutions," with some footpaths, benches, and washrooms thrown in. But don't dismiss the washrooms - they can cost upwards of $250 000. Not that the NCC is paying attention. "We really haven't looked at the costing of the proposals," said Francois Lapointe, director of planning for the federal body, to the Ottawa Sun. "I don't think it's a good use of our time."

But wait, that's not all. Also released was "Reflecting a nation - A Public Programming* and Activities Vision for the Core Area of Canada's Capital," outlining a five-decade "vision" that somehow coincides with the Capital Core Area Sector Plan. Yes, you read that aright: five decades. While there's no mention of flying cars, the vision does suggest widening the canal to accommodate floating barges with cafes and bistros. Tip: there's lotsa dry land and empty space either side of the canal for cafes and bistros, guys. And then there are the usual banal suggestions - more pathways, a new NCC visitor centre, etc.

Public consultations of some sort are to be held March 29 at 5:30 p.m. at the government Conference Centre, 2 Rideau St., and March 30 at 5:30 p.m. at the Four Points Sheraton, 35 Laurier St. in Gatineau.

* The NCC came up with "Public Programming" back in the 80's when it looked like their expropriation days were over and word was getting 'round that maybe their job was done. No fools when it comes to self preservation, public programming now accounts for $20 million of the NCC's budget.

CBC: NCC unveils long-term plan [18 Mar 2005]
Citizen: NCC offers vision for a capital [19 Mar 2005]
NCC: Core Area Sector Plan [18 Mar 2005]

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Dion considers taking Gatineau Park away from NCC

Federal Environment Minister Stephane Dion said he would look at giving Gatineau Park some sort of special protection - either as a national park or giving it legal protection. Dion was speaking before a Senate energy and environment committee. The National Capital Commission remains resolutely opposed to any change in the park's status as its own fiefdom. While Dion gave no guarantees, park watchers responded positively to his statement.

The NCC has long since lost credibility on its ability to protect the park, in no small part due to the various road building projects they've sponsored over the years, including the McConnell-Laramee freeway and the Mackenzie King Estate access road built in 2003.

Citizen: Minister considers taking Gatineau Park away from NCC [15 Feb 2005]
Radio-Canada: Le Parc de la Gatineau pourrait devenir parc national [15 Feb 2005]
Radio-Canada: Des écologistes veulent que le parc de la Gatineau soit mieux protégé[21 Feb 2005]
Citizen: Protecting Gatineau Park [4 Sep 2004]

Friday, February 7, 2005

Protesters planning to block NCC road

The Citizen reports today that Aylmer ecologist Ian Huggett is recruiting "tree-sitters" and other protesters to stop the construction of the McConnell-Laramee freeway through Gatineau Park. The Quebec government is spending $12 million this year to build the road between Lac-des-Fees and St-Laurent, with the Federal government sharing the tab. No schedule has been set for the section through the park itself.

The NCC has long supported the road, Chairman Beaudry himself stating that he wants this road to be part of his legacy. With typical government efficiency, the corridor for the road through Wrightville was expropriated, the houses demolished and the land left vacant in 1973.

Radio-Canada: Le financement est assuré [18 May 2005]

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

NCC has no intention of cleaning up toxic soil

The Citizen reports that the NCC admits the Scott Paper land is contaminated, but they were just going to use it for a waterfront park anyways:

The National Capital Commission says it has no intention of cleaning up the Scott Paper site in Gatineau, 85 per cent of which an environmental study found to be contaminated.

Instead, the federal agency says it plans to spend $3.8 million to contain the contamination at the eight-hectare site on the Ottawa River, and use it for a waterfront park when the land becomes available in 25 years.

In a letter in today's Citizen, NCC chairman Marcel Beaudry acknowledges that the site is contaminated.

But Mr. Beaudry says the soils are not considered hazardous enough to merit a full cleanup, which an environmental study says would cost about $34 million.

"It is not the intention of the NCC to spend $34 million to clean up the Scott Paper lands. ... The sampled soils contained contamination but were not found to be hazardous waste for the purposes of cleanup," Mr. Beaudry wrote.

Asked if the letter meant the NCC would not clean up the site at all, spokeswoman Eva Schacherl faxed this response: "The NCC does not plan to use the site for excavation and construction development. The estimated cost of environmental risk management for the purposes of using the site as parkland, which is the NCC's intention, including risk assessment, soil capping, installation of soil and groundwater barrier, and groundwater treatment, is $3,864,000."

However, according to documents obtained by the Citizen, the containment costs could be as high as $23.6 million. A document prepared by NCC Environmental Services dated May 26, 2003, says "depending on results and identified land use," the risk assessment, which includes capping and barriers, would cost between "$3,864,000 and $23,568,000."

Some environmentalists, however, say the numbers game should not obscure the fact that it is wrong, even irresponsible, for the NCC to buy contaminated land that could pollute the Ottawa River and surrounding buildings and not clean it up completely.

Citizen: NCC has no intention of cleaning up toxic soil on Scott Paper lands [26 Jan 2005]

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Give credit to Gatineau park's founder

Gatineau Park historian Jean-Paul Murray writes in the Citizen that the NCC is still misrepresenting the history of the park:

And the just-released study into the park's origins conducted for the National Capital Commission by two Quebec university professors perpetuates the misrepresentation of that story.

[...]The NCC has misrepresented the park's story for 45 years. The professors wrap the issue in the thickest fog of sophistry and ignore the facts they present by concluding that "circumstances" and a "series of actions by various individuals" created the park, for which they say they can't "provide the date of founding and the name of the founder." If Sparks did more than anyone else to create the park, as they demonstrate, then why can't he be considered the founder? If money for purchasing the first parkland was voted in the Commons on June 29, 1938, then why can't this be considered the founding date?

The claim that everyone and no one was responsible for creating the park is a cop-out and betrays the professors' collectivist bias. They reveal that bias when they downplay the impact individuals can have on society, saying that "regardless of their influence, [individuals] generally hold a power which they wield collectively." The spirit of this statement warps the study by forcing the spurious conclusion that many individuals share equal responsibility for creating the park.

[...]Credit for the idea of Gatineau Park belongs to Frederick Todd, who proposed it in his 1903 plan for the national capital. The idea was advocated as well by the plans that followed it: the Holt Report in 1915 and the Cauchon Report in 1922. Although these documents recommended creating a park in the Gatineau Hills, they spoke of it only in the briefest and most general of terms. None of them provided blueprints for the park or action plans for setting it up.

[...]When the story of Gatineau Park's creation is stripped of its various myths, the only two men left standing are Mackenzie King, who had to have his arm twisted, and Percy Sparks, who did the twisting. According to the Ottawa Journal of April 12, 1949, King essentially "set the seal of approval on plans [...] submitted to him by far-sighted and public-spirited men of the Woodlands Preservation League." And, as I've demonstrated elsewhere, the leading force behind the league, and Gatineau Park, was Percy Sparks, who did most of the researching, organizing, lobbying and designing that led to its creation and initial development. Why was Percy Sparks was omitted from all previous histories of Gatineau Park?

Citizen: Give credit to Gatineau park's founder [22 Dec 2004]

Friday, November 26, 2004

Gatineau Park written comments due November 30

Last chance to comment on the NCC's latest Master Plan for Gatineau Park. For more information, see the CPAWS Gatineau Park page.

Friday, November 19, 2004

NCC ignores its park policy

Andrew McDermott of the New Woodlands Preservation League writes in the Citizen:

The Gatineau Park Master Plan review process is an exercise in smoke and mirrors designed to cloud the real issue, which is the National Capital Commission's failure to administer its own land- management policy for the park.

While the NCC raises the ire of local citizens by talking about restricting access to Gatineau Park and charging user fees, it sells off chunks of the park and abets the proliferation of new residences within it.

The NCC's 1990 Gatineau Park Master Plan claimed that private properties and residences are inconsistent with the park's zoning and mandate, and that a long-term program for purchasing them should be set up. However, between 1992 and 2002, the agency sold 372.37 acres of land in the park and allowed the construction of 65 new residences within its boundaries -- in the municipality of Chelsea alone.

Since the NCC has flouted its own 1990 policy, how can we trust it to honour its 2004 Gatineau Park Master Plan, which advocates the gradual purchase of private properties?

Citizen: NCC ignores its park policy [19 Nov 2004]

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Gatineau Park users take aim at NCC

The NCC heard from the public at its presentation of its latest Gatineau Park master plan. The plan calls for more user fees, less car traffic and more conservation areas to help preserve the park's ecosystems. In the process they will be banning or curtailing, somewhat arbitrarily, climbers and snowmobilers. This continues a trend of scapegoating park users, including mountain bikers, to distract from the NCC's own failures in managing the park. The NCC is, after all, planning to build a freeway through it, and recently finished building the Mackenzie King Estate access road in what was, for the NCC, record time.

Citizen: Gatineau Park users take aim at NCC [28 Oct 2004]

Friday, October 15, 2004

NCC to restrict use of Gatineau Park

Is that before or after they build the freeway through it?

The NCC will hold two meetings about its latest master plan: Wednesday 27 Oct at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, and Thursday 28 Oct at the Canadian Museum of Nature. Written comments will be accepted up to Nov 30.

CBC: NCC to restrict use of Gatineau Park [15 Oct 2004]
NCC Gatineau Master Plan page
CPAWS: Gatineau Park page
CPAWS: McConnell-Laramee freeway [2 Jun 2003]
Citizen: Protecting Gatineau Park [4 Sep 2004]
CBC: NCC gets earful on Gatineau Park plan [29 Oct 2004]

Saturday, September 18, 2004

The NCC swims against the tide

The Citizen tackles the NCC's ban on swimming in Gatineau Park:

The National Capital Commission never seems to miss an opportunity to raise the ire of the people it is supposed to be serving. This time, it's the NCC's continuing attempt to turn our region into a model capital, with visitors to Gatineau Park being told they can't swim in the park because there are no lifeguards on duty.

Model, in this case, doesn't mean an example for other cities to follow, but a carefully constructed replica of a real city intended for display, not for real people to actually occupy and use. The commission is in love with parks in the abstract, which explains why, if any particular Canadian is keen to have fun in any particular NCC park, the conservation officers come out.

The NCC's difficulty with seeing Ottawa and Gatineau as functioning cities and Canadians as real people takes many forms. There are its Canada Day concerts, designed around the government's idea of a good time. But the problem is most visible in the commission's fetish for pristine parkland.

The land it controls by local waterways are virtually free of the taint of commerce, so you can scarcely buy a bite to eat or a drink by the Rideau Canal or along the Ottawa River. Dogs aren't allowed anywhere near the water, either. The commission closes its "recreational" pathways at will and often without warning, operating under the fiction that nobody ever uses them to get to a destination.

The message is clear at the Gatineau Park beaches. The NCC stopped posting lifeguards on Labour Day, and never mind the nice weather, the water is now officially off-limits. You're not even allowed to swim at your own risk, according to the signs.

The NCC cites an unclear Quebec provincial rule as justification, but it's more likely that the commission just can't abide the thought of unsupervised, unregulated fun. If only it could relax and let its hair down once in a while, or at least abide such behaviour in others, the NCC would go a long way toward solving its public- image problem.

Citizen: The NCC swims against the tide [18 Oct 2004]

Tuesday, September 7, 2004

CPAWS renews campaign to protect Gatineau Park

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society is renewing its campaign to get Gatineau Park legal protection similar to that of national and provincial parks. Currently, there is no law preventing the National Capital Commission (NCC) from logging or inappropriately developing the park or selling off park property. "One of the greatest threats to the park is the ongoing destruction and fragmentation of habitat by roads, such as the access road constructed last year through the Mackenzie King Estate, the recently approved McConnell-Laramee boulevard, and the proposed Deschenes highway which would cut through the park near Pink Lake."

CPAWS: Group calls on new Heritage Minister to protect Gatineau Park [7 Sep 2004]
CPAWS: Letter to Heritage Minister Liza Frulla [7 Sep 2004]
CPAWS: Gatineau Park backgrounder

Friday, August 13, 2004

Pot plants in Gatineau Park

The NCC says it has not been able to find the plants; the man who reported the plants says the NCC hasn't contacted him for help with that.

CBC: Pot-growing operation in Gatineau Park [13 Aug 2004]

Friday, May 7, 2004

Entrance fees for Gatineau Park

An NCC report is recommending an entrance fee for Gatineau Park - $4 per person up to a maximum of $8 per vehicle. Marcel Beaudry was careful to point out that this will help reduce the number of cars coming to the park and, as a result, pollution. All well and good. But, as usual, the NCC is saying one thing, and doing another. You see, the NCC, dismayed that the park is currently "reached with difficulty through a maze of regional roads," has plans to "encourage visitors to travel DIRECTLY into the Park via a broad, landscaped boulevard that goes straight from Confederation Boulevard in downtown Hull to the Gatineau Parkway" (quoted from the NCC website).

The landscaped boulevard is, of course, the McConnell-Laramee freeway, which the NCC has been planning for decades. Together with the recently constructed Mackenzie King Estate access road, the NCC's road-building schemes tend to suggest that the NCC's goals are in no way related to discouraging automobile use. The fee proposal is simply a cash grab from an overlarge bureaucracy working at cross-purposes with itself.

A curious side effect of Park fees will please environmentalists: apparently the NCC cannot legally charge fees unless the Park is given protected status, something environmentalists have been lobbying for for years.

CBC: Entrance fees floated for Gatineau Park [7 May 2004]
Radio-Canada: Deux députés s'opposent au droits d'entrée [7 May 2004]
Ottawa Citizen Sound Off: Let drivers pay a park fee [10 May 2004]

Tuesday, April 21, 2004

Quebec ready to spend on McConnell-Laramee

Big plans to spend on roads this summer from the Quebec Government, including 9 million to finish McConnell-Laramee from Saint-Laurent to Saint-Joseph. The next stage will extend to Lac de Fees, and eventually on through Gatineau Park, with the NCC's full encouragement.

CBC: $1B in summer roadwork for Quebec [21 Apr 2004]
Radio-Canada: Petits prolongements de la 50 et de Laramee [20 Apr 2004]

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Flush with government cash

Sun columnist Greg Weston has more on the NCC's purchase of the Scott Paper plant in Gatineau:

...the NCC purchased the eight-hectare site of the Scott Paper plant last October from the grocery and industrial conglomerate, Weston Inc.

But having paid Weston $36 million for the property, the NCC then leased it back to the company for 25 years for a total amount over that time which, the commission claims, has "a net present value" of $17 million.

For the lucky folks at Weston Inc., the deal effectively provided $36 million cash to invest at returns easily more than double what it is costing in lease payments.

The NCC claims the deal was essential to grab the property now before someone else got it (notwithstanding almost certain expropriation for anyone stupid enough to try to buy the site).

Sources familiar with the transaction, however, say no matter how much the NCC wanted the property, the truth is no one in the Liberal government was about to kick 500 Quebec workers out of their jobs.But there's more.

In one very important clause in the deal, the NCC agreed to take over the property completely on an "as-is basis at its own risks and peril."

Translation: Canadian taxpayers 25 years from now will be on the hook for any and all environmental cleanup from 100 years of chemical and industrial uses.

And finally, there is the small matter of the monument.One of the 17 pages in the agreement is devoted entirely to the terms and conditions of the Weston family building a monument to themselves.This unspecified "suitable commemoration" will be erected in the future park whenever the site stops being used to make toilet paper.

The NCC, on behalf of future generations of angry taxpayers, has agreed to provide "an appropriate and conspicuous location for it (the monument) ... where it can be readily visited or observed by visitors to the property."

Sun: Flush with government cash [11 April 2004]

Friday, April 9, 2004

PM wants open NCC meetings

The Citizen reports that, according to Liberal candidate for Ottawa Centre Richard Mahoney, Paul Martin would like a more open NCC:

Prime Minister Paul Martin wants the National Capital Commission to open its board meetings to the public, according to a friend and confidant.

"Absolutely, (Mr. Martin) is in favour of an open NCC," said Richard Mahoney, the Liberal candidate for the federal riding of Ottawa Centre. Mr. Martin made his view clear during a conversation in December, said Mr. Mahoney.

"Basically, he believes in open government. He believes the NCC has to function more like a level of government. It must be responsible to the people of Gatineau and Ottawa."

Mr. Martin's reported opinion runs counter to that of NCC chairman Marcel Beaudry, who has kept the Crown corporation's doors closed for almost all board meetings. Mr. Beaudry's position is a prime ministerial appointment.

[...]Mr. Mahoney and Defence Minister David Pratt, MP for Nepean- Carleton, have called for Mr. Beaudry's resignation. However, Mr. Mahoney said an open NCC is the critical change.

"If you open up the process, you will get better decisions. You might not agree with those decisions in every case ... (but they) will be more in the interests of the residents of the national capital region and it's the right thing to do."

He doubted that Mr. Beaudry would open NCC meetings, "because he has told me himself that he opposed that idea."

The NCC is like another city council, Mr. Mahoney said. "There is no reason why it shouldn't be any more open than Ottawa City Council." Like council, he said, it should be free to go in camera for issues like personnel and land deals.

Citizen: PM wants open NCC meetings, Mahoney says [9 April 2004]

Wednesday, April 7, 2004

Mackenzie King Access Road wood left to rot

Last fall, the NCC opened the Mackenzie King access road in Gatineau Park (constructed in unusual - for the NCC - haste after being announced in the fall of 2002). As for the 900 trees that were cut to build the road, they have been left to rot at Meech lake. That's approximately 250-300 cords of wood. Meanwhile, the NCC continues to buy firewood from suppliers for cross-country skiers to burn in the cabins in Gatineau Park.

Wood rotting by Meech Lake

Monday, January 5, 2004

NCC orders hockey nets off pond

Pond hockey - iconic enough to be celebrated on the five dollar bill, but as some folks in Kanata have discovered, just don't try it on National Capital Commission land. The NCC has ordered a group of parents to remove some informal infrastructure - nets, lights and the like - from a pond they've been clearing for their kids for the past few years. The NCC trotted out those old bureaucratic standbys, liability and environmental impact, as the reason. The NCC's concern for the environment is, of course, laudable, but we suspect pond hockey to be a tad less deleterious than, say, that freeway they are pushing through Gatineau Park.

CBC: NCC orders hockey nets off pond [5 Jan 2004]
Toronto Star: Chalk up another net loss for town that fun forgot [6 Jan 2004]
NCC Pond Hockey FAQ


Monday, December 8, 2003

Gatineau Park's forgotten founder

Vice president of the New Woodlands Preservation League Jean-Paul Murray writes in the Citizen that the National Capital Commission has misrepresented the story of Gatineau Park, and failed in its mandate to "communicate the capital to Canadians":

Though the NCC attempts to portray Mackenzie King and Jacques Greber as the park's founders, the facts tell us that title rightly belongs to Roderick Percy Sparks.

For instance, the Ottawa Journal of March 30, 1959 credits Sparks with being the "father of the Gatineau Park," adding that as chairman of the Federal Woodlands Preservation League, he "brought about the first purchase by the Dominion government of what is now [...] the Gatineau Park."

[...]Yet in the reams of documents the NCC has produced on this subject, not one mention is made of Sparks or the process that led to the park's creation. Supporting the claim that Sparks led the charge on this issue, however, are seven key documents, most of which he wrote or co-wrote.

[...]As the NCC proceeds with drafting a new master plan for the park, it should consider the facts presented in this article. Although I've brought this matter to its attention several times over the last two years, it has yet to acknowledge Sparks's contribution.

Perhaps the best method to recognize Sparks and complete his work would be to make Gatineau Park into the truly national and public park he envisioned.

Citizen: Gatineau Park's forgotten founder [8 Dec 2003]

Friday, November 14, 2003

NCC must commit to protect Gatineau Park

Aylmer writer Ian Huggett argues in the Citizen that the money the NCC is throwing away on monoliths on Island Park Drive would be better spent acquiring new land for Gatineau Park:

Projects that are high-profile and conspicuous, yet superfluous, are gobbling limited funds at the cost of purchasing woodlands west of Gatineau Park. Recent expenditures on capital projects such as the million-dollar replacement of the facade at the Daly site on Sussex Drive or the $250,000 monoliths marking the entrance to Island Park Drive could be better spent purchasing woodlands to complete the park's western boundary.

Twenty to 30 square kilometres of forest could be acquired, extending the park to Wolf Lake Road between the hamlets of Ruthledge to the north and North Onslow to the south. Woodlots in the Pontiac run between $280 an acre and $500. The million-dollar price tag of the recently completed Mackenzie King Estate access road could have purchased an additional 5,000 acres to help absorb the exponential increase in park visitors. Every year 500 new homes are built abutting the park in the Gateway sector, in the southerly confines of the park in Hull.

Ottawa and Gatineau residents drive to the park in increasing numbers merely to get outdoors, as their green spaces such as Moffatt Farm in Ottawa and Fraser's Field in Aylmer are sacrificed to development.

The NCC is managing our assets by a law of diminishing returns. Chairman Marcel Beaudry is wrong in asserting that the NCC owns land in the capital on behalf of all Canadians. The commission merely acts as a steward -- and our steward is acting like a peacock. The majority of Canadians have voiced their opposition on the hungry consumption of every last piece of open space.

[...]It's a matter of values and priorities. To curry favor with a cynical public, resources are injected into frivolous visible icons such as the pretentious cairns along Island Park Drive, where several thousand commuters a day can goggle at their architectural incongruity while lining up to cross Champlain Bridge. Conversely, spectators are sparse in the remote sectors of Gatineau Park, where 30 square kilometres of forest could easily be added to the park.

[...]Gatineau Park continues to be eroded by new roads that dissect sections of the park. Dismembered sections fall into hands of the private sector, such as the Vorlage ski hill in Wakefield, land behind Wakefield School, the field beneath Champlain Lookout, and property south of the McConnell-Laramee highway. Despite a hypothetical priority list of properties that the commission targets for acquisition, there are no funds allocated to purchase private land in or around the park when it is placed on the open market. A private log cottage on Lac Lapeche, inside the park's high-conservation zone, was sold a few years ago to a private buyer after the park was given first dibs to buy. A hobby farm including 50 acres bordering the park at Lac Philippe is on the open market, with no attempt by the NCC to purchase the $160,000 property.

Citizen: NCC must commit to protect Gatineau Park [14 Nov 2003]
Citizen: Let's enhance this NCC gem [17 Nov 2003]

Saturday, October 25, 2003

NCC Annual General Meeting

The NCC's Third annual orgy of self-promotion is set for November 5, at the Palais des congrés, Gatineau room, third floor, at 18:30. As usual, it will consist of an hour-long presentation by the NCC on what they feel good about, followed by a question and answer session. The NCC's 2002-2003 Annual Report is also now available. Safely content-free, printed copies are usually available at the meeting should you want to line your birdcage with a nice semi-gloss.

Wednesday, October 8, 2003

Arrogant NCC now targets key islands

Researcher Ken Rubin critiques the NCC's development projects in the Citizen:

As the luxury condo slab on the Daly Building site rises and the start of the LeBreton Freeway sends cars speeding on their way, we are being saddled with expensive developments that are neither balanced nor attractive.

They benefit a few, ignore the environment and cater to the well off.

Even the crazy car drive down Island Park Drive isn't good enough for the NCC, so it's putting roadway markers and a new traffic divider along the way to remind taxpayers that it can do as it pleases. Their power is evident too in their cutting several new roads in or through the Gatineau Park that will further carve up the capital's only wilderness park.

The recent NCC announcement that it is spending millions of dollars to acquire the Scott Paper land on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River (with the actual transfer date being 25 years from now), may, on the surface, seem out of character. But don't expect that riverside land to be developed as one big green space beyond 2028, or to be without significant development projects. They could include more of the same type of tacky sightseeing pavilions as the Canada and the World one spoiling the Ontario side of the river next to Rideau Falls.

Let's also not forget that it was the NCC that adamantly resolved to sell off a large chunk of riverside green space, the Moffatt Farm, along the Rideau River, so that now, despite opposition, a mundane housing development is proceeding.

Indeed, it's the NCC's penchant to plan intensive development for the capital's three tiny islands in the Ottawa River that symbolizes just how out of control the NCC now is. Declassified NCC documents that I've obtained under the Access to Information Act show how the natural environmental settings of these islands takes second place to seeing how many structures with commercial payoffs can be stuffed in.

Take the four-hectare Bates Island, located off the Champlain Bridge. The NCC is not content to enhance the island's focus point for strolling, kayaking and fishing. Instead, it has pre- development infrastructure plans that call for spending millions of dollars for building, with a private developer, a hotel of up to 60 rooms that will occupy both sides of the bridge roadway.

Filling in the island space would also cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring in cable and natural-gas lines. In addition, there would be increased traffic and up to 53 new parking spaces.

Similarly, Victoria and Chaudiere Islands, off the Chaudiere Bridge near Parliament Hill, would be overdeveloped.

The recent NCC studies there envisage not just a long-promised aboriginal centre, but possibly a hotel, government office space, recreation complex, and even a junior college. Again, there would be increased traffic flows and costly infrastructure installed, such as new water mains and sewage pipes. Even the proposed aboriginal centre would be a large structure and is slated to be more of an institutional social-service building than a meeting place.

Citizen: Arrogant NCC now targets key islands [8 Oct 2003]

Thursday, October 2, 2003

NCC pays $36 million for Scott Paper land

The NCC has followed through on its plan to buy the Scott Paper land in Gatineau. Chairman Beaudry somewhat arrogantly observed that "a lot of highrise condos could have been built on it, which would not, in our view, have served the purposes of what we want to do with that part of the capital of Canada." People living in the heart of the capital - can't have that. Not when they have "events and activities of national significance" planned.

The land will be leased back to Scott Paper for the next 25 years -- to quote the Ottawa Business Journal, "don't expect to go walking the dog yet." Who are they kidding?

CBC: NCC pays $36 million for Scott Paper land [2 Oct 2003]
OBJ: NCC buys Scott Paper [2 Oct 2003]
Radio-Canada: La CCN achete les terrains de Papiers Scott [2 Oct 2003]
NCC Press Release [2 Oct 2003]
Sun: Flush with government cash [11 Apr 2004]

Monday, September 22, 2003

McConnell-Laramee construction starts this week

Work on the section linking St Laurent to St Joseph starts this week. The total cost of the "Gateway through Gatineau Park" will be 70 million (up from 55 million). The Quebec government now plans to finish the project in 2005.

Radio-Canada: Le boulevard Laramée coûtera 70 millions de dollars [22 Sep 2003]
Transport Canada: Press Release [22 Sep 2003]

Friday, August 29, 2003

Feds approve McConnell-Laramee

The federal government has approved the final environmental assessment for McConnell-Laramee freeway, allowing the final section of the four-lane road between Aylmer and downtown Hull through Gatineau Park to proceed.

Radio-Canada: Accord pour le parachèvement de l'autoroute McConnell-Laramée [29 Aug 2003]

Friday, June 20, 2003

400 metres of McConnell-Laramee approved

The Quebec Ministry of Transport has authorized the first 400 metres of the McConnell-Laramee extension, linking St Laurent with St Joseph. Total cost 17 million, to be shared by the federal and provincial governments. No word on the other three kilometres through Gatineau Park. However, the NCC remains keen to add "driving through at high speed" to the list of Gatineau Park's "high-quality experiences" offered to the public, and as soon as possible.

Radio-Canada: Les premiers 400 mètres de l'autoroute Laramée [20 Jun 2003]

Thursday, June 5, 2003

Transport releases Laramee environmental assessment

Prepared jointly with the National Capital Commission. And what does the NCC think of the highway? "For its part, the NCC also takes the view that the boulevard is not likely to have a significant negative environmental impact. As manager of federal lands not subject to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the NCC may therefore proceed to issue permits and approvals." Oh, well, that's alright then.

The public has until June 19 to comment on the report.

For information and easy ways to comment, visit the CPAWS news page.

Or send a fax to the Minister of Transportation online.

Transport Canada: Government of Canada ReleasesEnvironmental Assessment Report on McConnell-Laramee [5 Jun 2003]
Transport Canada: Laramee Environmental Assessment Report [5 Jun 2003]
CBC: Gatineau's east-west highway approved [9 Jun 2003]

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Laramee halted

The Quebec government has put the McConnell-Laramee freeway on hold, along with all other projects at the Ministry of Transport while they reevaluate their spending.

Radio-Canada: Autoroute Laramée reportée [5 Jun 2003]
CBC: Gatineau-Montreal highway link at risk [5 Jun 2003]
Environmental Assessment Report on McConnell-LarameeBlvd. released [5 Jun 2003]

Saturday, May 10, 2003

Group to present case to give Gatineau national park status

The recently formed Coalition for the Survival of Gatineau Park will present Parks Canada with a formal written proposal next week to give national park status to Gatineau Park:

The Coalition [...] says that under the current management by the National Capital Commission, a federal agency, the mandate to protect the park is unclear. National park status would lay out in detail how the park can be protected, the group says.

The coalition is concerned about projects such as the new access road for the Mackenzie King Estate, the McConnell-Laramee Highway linking Aylmer and Hull, and increased human traffic into the park which the coalition believes will degrade the environment in and around the park, said Nicole Desroches of the Council on the Environment and Sustainable Development of the Outaouais.

'If you make it easier for cars, therefore you will have more cars and then you are going to need another parking lot," said Ms. Desroches.

Citizen: Group to present case to give Gatineau national park status [10 May 2003]

Thursday, May 1, 2003

Group wants Gatineau Park protected

With the impending construction of the McConnell-Laramee freeway and the Mackenzie King Estate access road, a new coalition of environmental groups is calling on the federal government to protect the park with new legislation:

Jean Langlois calls the NCC's management and development of Gatineau Park short-sighted and "death by a thousand cuts."

"Under the current direction we're going, 100 years from now we're not going to have a natural park left," says Langlois, director of the Ottawa Valley chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

[...]Langlois says there are three options: national park status; new legislation limiting the NCC's hold on the park; an act of parliament to create a whole new classification for Gatineau Park.

[...]Instead of pushing for national status, the NCC is urging the coalition to take part in its consultations. The master plan for Gatineau Park is being revised, and the NCC says it's willing to listen.

The group is calling itself The Coalition for the Survival of Gatineau Park, and has already received vocal support from Jack Layton and the NDP.

CBC: Protect Gatineau Park for good, coalition urges [1 May 2003]
CPAWS: Make your voice heard [1 May 2003]
Radio-Canada: Meilleure protection pour le parc de la Gatineau [1 May 2003]
Environmental News Network: Gatineau park: is this the beginning of the end? [1 May 2003]

Monday, April 14, 2003

Speak out against new road in Gatineau Park

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society has created an information page on the proposed Mackenzie King Estate access road, along with a sample letter to send to the National Capital Commission. Action Chelsea is also hosting the page.

CPAWS: Speak out [14 Apr 2003]
Action Chelsea: Gatineau Park access road info page [30 Jan 2003]

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Gatineau 'Park'? Not really!

An upcoming CPAWS Wilderness Wednesday is featuring an update on the latest developments in Gatineau Park entitled "Gatineau 'Park'? Not really!" They'll be describing new road development such as McConnell-Laramee and the Mackenzie King Estate access road, along with new housing development inside the park. April 2, 2003, 7:15 p.m., Mountain Equipment Co-op, 366 Richmond Road, Ottawa. The talk is free; space is limited, register in advance by calling (Ottawa) 729-2700 or email

Friday, January 31, 2003

NCC approves Gatineau Park road

An NCC Management Committee has approved the million dollar access road to the Mackenzie King Estate in Gatineau Park. This despite Chairman Beaudry stating at the NCC's most recent General Meeting that further studies on the road would be done before approval and widespread criticism that the preliminary environmental screening is inadequate. They aren't wasting any time on this one: the road route was staked late last fall.

Meanwhile, residents of Hull are battling plans by the Quebec Government to allow heavy trucks on that other road through Gatineau Park, the McConnell-Laramee freeway.

CPAWS: Gatineau Park access road info page [30 Jan 2003]
Action Chelsea: Gatineau Park access road info page [30 Jan 2003]
CPAWS: Speak out against new road in Gatineau Park [April 2003]
Radio Canada: Les opposants aux camions lourd sur l'axe McConnell-Laramee [12 Feb 2003]
Minister's response to McConnell-Laramee petition [14 June 2001]

Thursday, January 16, 2003

Domtar flattens NCC plan for 'marvellous' plant

From the Citizen:

Just a month after NCC chairman Marcel Beaudry revealed the agency's interest in purchasing and renovating a vacant paper mill on Chaudiere Island for a new Parks Canada headquarters, Domtar has announced it plans to demolish the historic building as part of a $7- million modernization of its Ottawa-Gatineau facilities.

Domtar's announcement yesterday clearly took the NCC by surprise. Spokeswoman Laurie Peters said the Crown corporation -- which is responsible for planning waterfront development in a way befitting a national capital -- will have to learn more about the demolition proposal before reacting.

[...]Martin Lorrion, general manager of Domtar's operations in Ottawa, said the NCC is free to dream about the future of the capital and the eventual acquisition of industrial sites for its beautification and nation-building agenda. But he said Domtar's Chaudiere Island complex "is a profitable mill and we want to be there long-term."

The company said its Ottawa-Gatineau operation provides 450 jobs and pumps $40 million a year into the region's economy. Domtar has already invested $50 million in the paper-making plant since acquiring it in 1998, Mr. Lorrion said, and the latest plans also involve upgrading a number of industrial buildings in ways that would preserve their historical value.

"This project will enable us to significantly improve all facilities and optimize the use of available space," he added. "This means that the buildings housing operations will be better suited to our industrial requirements as well as permit us to remove infrastructures that present, over the long term, safety risks to the operations of the site."

A second significant impact on the city's skyline would be Domtar's planned demolition of an unused, 80-metre-high smokestack on the west side of the island.

"It's an eyesore, and same with the board mill," said Mr. Lorrion. He said the mill building poses "a safety risk" because of a "collapsing" roof. Domtar doesn't believe it is suitable for refurbishment as an office building or any other use.

"This building is not safe and sound," he insisted, adding that it is situated at the river's edge and that crumbling walls could create an environmental problem.

Asked if the company is simply exploiting the NCC's interest in the site to drive up the price in a potential sale, Mr. Lorrion denied that was a motive. But he added that any piece of real estate can be bought for the right amount.

"That's how the world turns."

Citizen: Domtar flattens NCC plan for 'marvellous' plant [16 Jan 2003]


Saturday, December 14, 2002

NCC floats Chaudiere Island plans again

Every few years, the NCC mentions how much they'd like to do something with Chaudiere Island. Thus:

Mr. Beaudry noted during a speech in September that the NCC has been in discussions for two years with paper manufacturer Domtar Inc. about acquiring property on the eastern end of Chaudiere Island and converting the former Booth Board Mill into a federal government building.

Built in 1912 but unused since 1980, the former cardboard factory has been described by one heritage architect as a stunning candidate for "adaptive re-use" as an office building.

During an interview with the Citizen, Mr. Beaudry revealed that the NCC and Public Works are, in fact, interested in creating an office building at the site to serve as a new home for Parks Canada, which currently shares space with its parent department, Canadian Heritage, and several other federal agencies at Les Terrasses de la Chaudiere complex in Gatineau.

And, as usual, Domtar notes its disinterest in the whole business:

[...]Domtar spokesman Patrice Bourgoin said the company hadn't heard of the Parks Canada idea but is familiar with the NCC's determination to purchase all or part of Chaudiere Island and other industrial lands along the waterfront.

He said that although discussions occur from time to time with the federal government about Domtar's properties, the company's active paper-making operation on Chaudiere Island is "very profitable." And while Domtar has no immediate plans for the abandoned cardboard mill, he said, the company is inclined to maintain ownership in the event of a possible business expansion.

Mr. Beaudry said there's no urgency about deciding what should become of either Victoria or Chaudiere, but added it makes sense to consider extending services to the islands now as part of the LeBreton Flats redevelopment rather than doing it as a separate project in the future.

Mr. Bourgoin added that selling the eastern part of the island for an office building would probably lead to conflicts between the paper plant and its new neighbour. He said Domtar would prefer to retain the entire island to help maintain a "buffer" between industrial operations and other public or commercial activities.

So, as usual, nothing is happening.

Citizen: NCC eager to move into old mill [14 Dec 2002]

Thursday, November 28, 2002

NCC facelift for Hull roads

The NCC is throwing in $7 million towards making St. Laurent and Maisonneuve boulevards less ugly. That means granite curbs, ornamental light standards, landscaped median strips, and poster collars. The article is a bit misleading however, when it says "from Parliament to Gatineau." That should read from Parliament through Gatineau, as St Laurent is simply one end of the McConnell-Laramee freeway.

CBC: Boulevards for the hills: from Parliament to Gatineau [28 Nov 2002]
Radio-Canada: La CCN veut améliorer l'esthétisme des boulevards de Hull [28 Nov 2002]

Friday, November 22, 2002

Gatineau Park Master Plan Review meeting

Apparently, the NCC is reviewing its Gatineau Park Master Plan. The "public consultation" will take place from 5 pm to 9 pm on two nights: mostly in English, on Tuesday November 26, 2002 at the National Gallery of Canada; and mostly in French, on Wednesday November 27, 2002 at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. There will be a Q and A session, so be sure to get up there and ask 'em about all the new roads they're planning, like the McConnell-Laramee freeway and Mackenzie King Estate access road.

Citizen: Traffic jam in the park [16 Oct 2002]

Saturday, November 2, 2002

NCC to build yet another road in Gatineau Park

The NCC intends to "improve access to the MacKenzie King Estate", which means building a 900 metre road from the Champlain Parkway to the Estate parking lot. The Environmental Assessment is available at the NCC website.

LowdownOnline: Trees will die, but better than a kid [24 Oct 2002]

Monday, September 16, 2002

Champlain Bridge: Same as it ever was

Seems the Champlain Bridge is still jammed during peak hours. Inevitably, Gatineau city councillor Lawrence Cannon has asked the National Capital Commission to do something to reduce the congestion. The NCC seems to think it's just a matter of tweaking the intersection on the Quebec side. Unfortunately, Mr. Cannon fails to mention how many of the people stopping him in the street to complain are commuting in high occupancy vehicles.

CBC: Commuters steamed over jammed bridge [16 Sep 2002]
Radio Canada: Le pont Champlain est encore plus congestionné [17 Sep 2002]
Le Droit: Confusion sur le pont Champlain [17 Sep 2002]
Radio Canada: Ouverture officielle d'un pont congestionné [24 Sep 2002]

Friday, September 13, 2002

NCC decides to allow canoes in Leamy Lake

The Citizen reports that the NCC has decided to allow canoes in the Leamy Lake Navigation Channel, coincidentally after a canoeist contacted Le Droit after being ticketed for the crime of paddling in the channel:

Etienne Gilbert went out for a paddle one day last June and found himself up the creek.

By the time he hit shore, the National Capital Commission had chased him down in a motorboat, dressed him down for his offences, and slapped him with $235 in possible fines.

Mr. Gilbert, 28, an avid paddler who lives on shores of the Gatineau River, took his 18-footer out on June 11. Eager to try out his new racing canoe, he wanted to explore nearby Leamy Lake, which is connected to the river by a short, narrow canal.

As he approached the canal, an NCC agent in a booth told him to stop: no canoes or kayaks allowed; motorboats only.

As a lifelong paddler, he thought this was absurd, so just kept on going, exploring the lake, then spilling out a second exit toward the Ottawa River.

For the next few minutes, he journeyed along the Quebec side, then crossed the Ottawa to Ontario waters.

A man in a motorboat who had been following him for an estimated 15 minutes approached him and told him to come to shore.

[...]When he arrived back on the shore of the Gatineau, Mr. Gilbert was met by a pair of NCC officers and told he was being prosecuted for violating two NCC regulations: using the canal and disobeying a warning from an NCC agent.

[...]"I couldn't understand why the NCC, which promotes walking, bicycling, canoeing, would make regulations that promote motorboats and prohibits small boats like canoes."

It seems that the more trivial (or incomprehensible) the offense, the more zealous the enforcement by the NCC's rent-a-cops. The NCC now intends to use a string of buoys to create a "canoe lane" in the channel.

Citizen: Canoeist lands in hot water with NCC [13 Sep 2002]

Friday, August 9, 2002

NCC roundly criticized over Gatineau Park

An editorial in the Citizen by Stephen Hazell, Executive Director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, outlines some of the NCC's failures:

New roads such as the Laramee-McConnell connection and Mackenzie King Estate access road, along with new housing development inside the park and on its periphery, continue to fragment wildlife habitat. Exploding levels of trail use by bicyclists, skiers, all-terrain vehicle riders, snowmobilers, rock climbers and hikers also increase the stress on ecosystems. If Gatineau Park was a national park, it would be on the critically endangered list.

National parks are protected by law, but not Gatineau Park. Incredibly, Parliament has enacted no law governing how land in the park is to be used. The NCC owns most of the land in the park and thus has some control over development. But decisions to build new roads or expand skiing facilities are made at the discretion of the NCC and in secret. And without a governing statute, the NCC lacks the tools to properly manage the park, even if it wanted to.

Hazell notes that Public consultations are under way for a new Gatineau Park Master Plan. CPAWS would like to see legislation that would make the park more like a real national park (as opposed to an NCC fiefdom). The NCC is currently backing a plan to build the McConnell-Laramee freeway through the park.

CPAWS: Let's Protect Our National Treasure [6 Aug 2002]
CPAWS April 2002 submission to the NCC's Board of Directors
CPAWS Update on the McConnell-Laramee Road Through Gatineau Park

Thursday, August 1, 2002

NCC trail repairs aren't working

Citizen letter writer Ian Stewart notes the NCC's poor management of trails in Gatineau Park:

The National Capital Commission is renovating Trail 3 in Gatineau Park at a great cost that could have been avoided.

I have seen fist-sized rock being trucked in and spread around with a mini-bulldozer. All that is missing is the asphalt. This "renovation" follows repairs to the same trail that were needed after a backhoe installing culverts destroyed several kilometres of trail.

I have travelled to numerous trail systems in Colorado and British Columbia over the years, and volunteers with hand tools built every one. The trails in those places last longer, are more enjoyable and don't cost the taxpayer a cent.

The problem here is that the NCC ignores the major problem of streams running onto its trails, causing erosion. Every manual or guide devoted to trail-building will tell you that uncontrolled water is a trail's worst enemy. Yet for 15 years I've seen no attempt to divert the water. Yes, the NCC has been informed -- it has even been shown photographs -- but it has consistently ignored these problems.

I fear the NCC has a secret agenda to ignore all but a few trails, effectively making the smaller or tertiary ones nothing but a memory. The old Camp Fortune trail network has certainly been reduced.

There are simple ways of fixing the problem, but first the paternalistic NCC must stop being unco-operative. I encountered this attitude recently when I was refused the e-mail address for Gatineau Park's director.

Citizen: NCC trail repairs aren't working [1 Aug 2002]

Thursday, June 20, 2002

Loto-Quebec abandons Leamy Lake golf course

Poll resultsLoto-Quebec has kept their word and cancelled the golf course they were planning for Leamy Lake Park (owned by the NCC) when polling revealed a majority of people in Gatineau were against the idea.

Of course, the NCC, who can never admit they are wrong and are ever eager to hand amunition to their detractors, won't let go of the idea of developing the land and continue to defend the dead project. From the Citizen:

The National Capital Commission, however, owns most of the affected land and said future development of the area was possible, despite the public sentiment.

Laurie Peters, a spokeswoman for the NCC, said NCC guidelines for that land allow more intense development.

"We aren't going to go out and look at other projects, but we wouldn't close the door on future proposals as long as they respected, and were appropriate according to the land use guidelines," Ms. Peters said.

She also said she believed the public and the media had overreacted to the golf course proposal, noting that it would have consumed only 75 of the park's 274 hectares and preserved the most popular public areas, including beaches, paths and picnic areas. [very generous -- ed.]

"The golf course was not taking over the entire park, far from it," Ms. Peters said.

The 50-year lease of land for the golf course would have netted the commission about $2.65 million, Ms. Peters said.

The Leamy Lake golf course stands as yet another illustration of the NCC's knack in backing schemes certain to foster public opposition and expose them to derision. An enthusiastic backer of the plan since day one, the NCC went as far as to present the plans for the course at its first public annual meeting last fall in a misguided attempt at reassuring the public. Standing to make a tidy sum from the deal, the NCC stood on its own stage and tried to sell a golf course for gamblers on what is, at least in the public's (albeit mistaken) opinion, public land. But by shilling for the Hull Casino, they succeeded only in further undermining their own self-proclaimed role as protector of lands of "national significance" in the Capital. So, from our point of view, this has not been a useless exercise.

Our only question now is, will they fix the park sign?

Leamy Lake Park sign

The last word belongs to SOS Leamy: Victoire.

Citizen: NCC refuses to rule out Leamy Lake development [21 Jun 2002]
CBC: Leamy Lake golf course gets deep-sixed [20 Jun 2002]
Radio-Canada: Le casino abandonne son projet de golf [20 Jun 2002]

Friday, June 14, 2002

Loto Quebec polling residents

Loto Quebec has started polling Gatineau residents about the Lac Leamy golf course. Curiously, when polled, respondents are told it is a survey about the quality of life in Gatineau. There's a connection?

Radio-Canada: Sondage critiqué sur le golf du casino [14 Jun 2002]

Thursday, May 23, 2002

Senators question NCC's land dealings

Some Senators are pushing to amend the federal legislation governing the NCC to stop the agency from selling lands to private developers. The NCC claims that if they can't sell land, they'll need a hefty boost to their appropriation to make up for it. Quote of the day: "To reconstruct a heritage bridge or to maintain a beautiful Gatineau park, it all takes funds." Last time we checked, the Quebec Government was going to pay to put that freeway through the park, so what's the problem? Chairman Beaudry gets to make his case early next month, when he appears before the Senate's Standing Committee on National Finance.

NCCWatch Opinion: Be careful what you ask for. An NCC that isn't forced to sell land to pay for its projects is more unaccountable than one that doesn't. At least now they have to face an outraged public and city zoning bylaws. Giving the NCC a blank cheque will not solve the fundamental problems of the NCC: arrogance and unaccountability. We maintain that the NCC should be abolished, full stop.

CBC: Senators question NCC's land dealings [23 May 2002]

Thursday, December 13, 2001

NCC demolishes more history in Gatineau Park

Writing in the Citizen, Cantley writer Bob Phillips describes the loss of historic buildings in Gatineau Park, and lays the blame at the feet of the NCC:

The 1895 Sparks house was wooden-frame, built of plank-on-plank construction, at 420 Meech Lake Rd. at the foot of Skyline Hill, in the woods, not obvious from the road.

More than 105 years later, Mr. Murray, unaware of the building, was drawn to it by the persistence of Scout who had lived there until the most recent tenants had been evicted five months previously. In the subsequent months, Mr. Murray entered the building many times, often with his friend, Andrew McDermott of Ottawa. They found it suffering from shocking neglect.

They gradually learned more about the building and its longtime owner, and after diligent documentary research on Mr. Sparks, Mr. Murray took great pains to try to save the building as a window on the past, notably on Mr. Sparks and his vision.

He found no interest, but from a National Capital Commission official, Giselle Kelley, he learned that the NCC intended to demolish the structures on the site "in the coming months" -- without any public consultation.

Mr. Sparks still seemed an embarrassment to the NCC, as the most articulate spokesman for a thoroughly public park after the NCC's expropriation, beginning in the 1950s, of the proliferating private residences in it -- including, with his approval, Mr. Sparks's own house.

Mr. Sparks accused the government of shooting itself in the foot by spending millions for new roads, notably the southerly section of the Gatineau Parkway leading to Tache Boulevard, that escalated property values before it had negotiated to buy out the owners.

Just 20 years after Mr. Sparks's death in 1959, the NCC had stopped even the purchase of private property on the market, let alone expropriation.

At 10:52 p.m. on July 15, 2001, the Sparks house was enveloped in flames and lost forever. After that, NCC heavy equipment moved in to landscape the site.

This erased outbuildings and all other memories of Mr. Sparks -- except for a fireplace, cold and black.

[...]Old-timers have been talking about an incident more than three decades ago. Skiers came upon park officials demolishing, without public consultation, part of Mr. King's bequest to the nation, small homes and outbuildings on the Kingsmere site, because they had been allowed to become a nuisance to maintain. The public outcry led the outraged skiers to found the Historical Society of the Gatineau.

Unfortunately, this sort of neglect is absolutely typical of the NCC, not only in Gatineau Park but throughout the Greenbelt.

Citizen: Park building was symbol of history [13 Dec 2001]

Friday, November 23, 2001

Quebec government approves highway through Gatineau Park

The Quebec government has approved the construction of the McConnell-Laramee autoroute through Gatineau Park. The project still requires federal approval, and a federal Environmental Assessment screening report is expected to be released within a few weeks. The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society opposes the road, noting in particular the lack of a cumulative impact assessment to determine the impact the cumulative fragmentation of Gatineau Park caused by existing, new, and future roads, noting that "this would be the 4th road transecting the park in its southernmost 3 kilometres, adding up to devastating fragmentation."

CPAWS: Quebec government approves highway extension through Gatineau Park [23 Nov 2001]
CBC: New crosstown road for new Gatineau [23 Nov 2001]

Friday, November 9, 2001

Quebec Government taken to court over McConnell-Laramee highway

Meanwhile, the Committee for the Environmental Assessment of the McConnell-Laramee Highway is taking the Quebec Government to court to force a proper environmental assessment of the NCC's favorite road building scheme, the McConnell-Laramee highway. At stake is the health of Gatineau Park, which the highway will bisect, and downtown Hull, already the victim of huge expropriations in the 1970's.

Info-Laramee (in French) - includes a history of this misguided project
NCC Watch: McConnell-Laramee news items
BAPE: 1989 CritiqueOn The Proposed McConnell-Laramee Extension [Acrobat format]
BAPE: 2001 Report on the project [Acrobat format]
Canadian Heritage: Minister's Response to petition regarding Leamy Lake golf course [30 Oct 2001]

Monday, November 5, 2001

Critique On The Proposed McConnell-Laramee Extension

As the National Capital Commission continues with its plans to plow the McConnell-Laramee expressway through Gatineau Park, a damning critique presented at hearings held by the Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement on the proposed highway in April 2001 raises a few good questions. The NCC, strongly in favor of building the expressway, coyly refers to it as a gateway to Gatineau Park, even as the finished road will neatly bisect the park. The NCC's current position is in direct conflict with the recommendations in a study it commissioned in 1994, and its continuing mania to build this highway is just one more reason to abolish the NCC.

BAPE: 1989 Critique On The Proposed McConnell-Laramee Extension [Acrobat format]

Tuesday, June 12, 2001

The NCC wants your spare change

Not satisfied with their $80 million budget and substantial landholdings, the NCC is looking at ways of boosting its revenue. They got staff to submit any idea, no matter how preposterous, in brainstorming sessions for pumping up revenues. The NCC is apparently only serious about a few of the ideas, including entrance fees for selected Winterlude events, fall colour viewing in Gatineau Park, and even year-found fees on the Gatineau parkways. How about a bake sale guys?

Citizen: NCC rejects `zany' beaver safari idea [12 Jun 2001]

Wednesday, April 25, 2001

NCC is failing Gatineau Park

Area conservationist Ian Huggett writes about the NCC's road building schemes in the Citizen:

Park planners predicted in 1992 that pressures from urban encroachment along the park's southern boundaries would make its continued protection problematic. The Gateway sector has evolved into a management liability. Planners reasoned that if external pressures exceed the ability of park administrators to protect natural resources, it would be better to relinquish this sector by developing it intensively.

An NCC plan was devised in 1992 to develop the park's Gateway sector south of Gamelin Boulevard, using a so-called "tamed nature" concept. Parking lots, hardened walkways and an amphitheatre were planned. Public opposition at the time was fierce.

The NCC shelved the project, waiting for an appropriate opportunity to revitalize the plan. The planned extension of the McConnell-Laramee highway through the park provided its long awaited Messiah.

Sacrificing the Gateway sector, however, is an abdication of responsibility, an admission of the NCC's inability to manage the park's natural heritage in the face of mounting urban encroachment. Unfortunately, Gatineau Park is a federal park only by name -- it remains without legislated protection. Park staff admit that no comprehensive life science inventories exist for the disputed area. They insist that even if "species at risk" are eventually discovered, they can be dug up and planted outside the highway corridor, reducing the park to an arboretum.

Why blame the NCC, assuming that the highway's initiative originated with the Quebec Transport Ministry? Original studies examining alternative routes had strongly favoured using Gamelin Boulevard to traverse the park. It was determined to be more direct and considerably cheaper.

But the NCC, apparently adamant to realize its "tamed nature" project, devised superfluous, nonsensical reasons why the Gamelin option was unsuitable, such as that it didn't optimally serve the two residential sectors of des Trembles and du Plateau bordering the park's western flank. What better mechanism than a four-lane highway to serve as a new formal entrance to channel tourists into the park?

The National Capital Commission is squandering any public confidence it has gained over the past decade with improved transparency and public participation. Public apathy is partly to blame. We, who allow these atrocities to unfold unchallenged, perpetuate the government's self-aggrandizing destruction of our natural heritage.

Citizen: NCC is failing Gatineau Park [25 April 2001]

Wednesday, April 18, 2001

Unique area threatened by NCC road

The NCC's planned extension of the McConnell-Laramee Highway through Gatineau Park in Hull will destroy some of the largest white pine trees in Eastern Canada. Despite their noble aspirations to "safeguard the Capital's national treasures, the numerous sites of great prestige and public interest that are held in trust for future generations of Canadians," the NCC has always put roads and golf courses before conservation. Despite the NCC's waffling that the "plans for the highway in Gatineau Park are not final," Marcel Beaudry has stated in the past that he wants this road to be part of his legacy.

Citizen: NCC road will kill 'whole ecosystem' [18 April 2001]
Citizen letter: Gatineau Park can't survive repeated road incursions [1 May 2001]
Citizen letter: Gatineau Park road is a highway to natural disaster [2 May 2001]

Friday, December 22, 2000

NCC hands heritage sites over to Hull

The Citizen reports on a deal between the NCC and Hull:

The National Capital Commission yesterday handed over several buildings, including historic Scott House, to Hull under a deal in which the city will maintain several NCC parks for 20 years. The cost to the city will be $3.4 million.

Under the agreement, Hull will acquire Scott House, built in 1863 by Richard William Scott, who served as mayor of Ottawa. With the heritage house comes the Gamelin Experimental Farm, on which the house and several buildings sit. The city also gets the Connor Building, a former metallurgical plant.

In return, Hull will maintain several NCC properties including the Gatineau Parkway, Char de combats Park, Portageurs Park and Lac de Fees Park. Hull will pay maintenance costs of about $170,000 a year.

Citizen: NCC hands heritage sites over to Hull [22 Dec 2000]

Wednesday, December 13, 2000

Local Liberal MPs content with NCC

No surprise here, the Citizen asked Ottawa area MPs what they thought of the recently released report on the NCC and found overwhelming apathy:

A major report from the National Capital Commission on how to improve its relations with local governments and citizens has been available for almost a week now, yet most Ottawa-area members of Parliament have been slow to find out what's in it. The few who have read the report seem strangely content with the idea of the NCC safeguarding its habit of secrecy.

Ottawa Centre MP Mac Harb, whose constituency includes Sparks Street and LeBreton Flats, insists that opening NCC meetings to the public would politicize its work and make it impossible to carry out the NCC's mandate on behalf of all Canadians. If some of its decisions anger his constituents, well, Mr. Harb considers that a small price to pay for all the NCC's good work in the region.

Eugene Bellemare (Ottawa-Orleans) agrees. He says the report means there will be more openness at the NCC than before, although people with "extreme views" will complain.We disagree with these MPs' analysis. But at least they were willing to share their views when we asked.

The Ottawa-area's 10 Liberal MPs (Scott Reid, Lanark-Carleton's Canadian Alliance rookie, gets left out here) will gather today for their weekly regional caucus meeting. We hope that they have all, at last, found time to review the $250,000 NCC report so they can discuss it with intelligence and even suggest improvements.

Take Ottawa West-Nepean's Marlene Catterall, who told the Citizen during the recent election campaign that "no one has worked harder" than she to pry open the secrecy surrounding the NCC. Fine, then what does she think about the recommendation that the NCC establish a Planning Advisory Committee with the mayor of the new City of Ottawa and the chairman of the Outaouais Urban Community? Do the suggestions that the NCC hold an annual general meeting open to the public, as well as semi-annual public consultations with local interest groups, satisfy her?

Quite frankly, we don't know; Ms. Catterall never bothered to get back to us. Nor did Marcel Proulx (Hull-Aylmer) or Robert Bertrand (Pontiac-Gatineau-Labelle). Gatineau MP Mark Assad did return our call -- to advise us that he wanted to consult with his Liberal colleagues today before giving his opinion. (Whatever happened to independent thinking?)

Ottawa-Vanier's Mauril Belanger also called back, to tell us he was still in the process of reading the 86-page report and probably wouldn't be ready to comment until the end of the week.

That's better than Government House Leader Don Boudria, the long- time MP for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, whose office informed us that the minister would not comment because the NCC comes within the mandate of his cabinet colleague, Canadian Heritage Minister Sheila Copps. But fellow cabinet minister John Manley (Ottawa South) doesn't share Mr. Boudria's qualms about jurisdiction. The foreign minister's office told us he was encouraged the NCC board had accepted all 11 recommendations, which suggested the NCC was "moving towards enhancing openness and the consultative process."

That view was shared by Nepean-Carleton's David Pratt, who wants to give the NCC a couple of years to see whether the recommended changes work in practice.

The NCC's impact on the Ottawa area is too important for so many local MPs to be so passive about a major report on its future. If the local Liberal caucus doesn't care about pressing NCC accountability to the public, neither will the agency itself.

The regional Liberal caucus has a history of parroting the NCC line instead of representing their constituents' concerns.

Citizen: Ottawa's passive majority [13 Dec 2000]

Tuesday, November 7, 2000

NCC fiddles while Gatineau Park burns?

Who fights fires in Gatineau Park? Residents called four levels of government and still couldn't get any answers, while it took 24 hours for the necessary equipment to arrive. The NCC is said to be reviewing how the fire was handled.

Citizen: Residents demand review of how fire was handled [7 Nov 2000]

Thursday, July 26, 2000

NCC causes more problems on trails than bikers

Mountain bikers are tired of being scapegoated by the NCC for trail problems caused by the NCC themselves, as this letter in the Citizen suggests:

Once again Gatineau Park director Jean-Rene Goyon and the closed circle of park administrators, have singled out mountain bikes as causing the deterioration of the trails in the park ("Protecting Ottawa's back yard." July 20).

The National Capital Commission has consistently tried to perpetuate the myth that mountain biking is causing all of the erosion while it has not publicly acknowledged the impact from any other user group.

The real reason for most trail problems is the inadequate or inappropriate maintenance of summer trails. The Citizen article fails to mention the NCC's use of tracked machinery to dig ditches along the Fortune Lane trail or the continual use of four-wheeled all-terrain vehicles to drag old telephone poles through the bush near Pine Road.

The heavy-handed approach to trail maintenance causes more problems than any pedestrian or bicycle traffic. The NCC spends a considerable amount of effort to meticulously maintain the trails for cross-county skiing, but it seemingly makes very little effort on maintenance for summer use. Virtually all the problems can be avoided with some basic trail-building techniques.

[...]Programs, such as co-operative trail maintenance with mountain bike groups, trail rotations, appropriate routing and trail maintenance have not been employed by Gatineau Park officials.

Citizen: Stop portraying mountain bikers as enemies of the wilderness [26 Jul 2000]

Wednesday, May 3, 2000

Open the doors at the NCC

The Citizen has some suggestions for the NCC in an editorial today:

The NCC has accomplished many things with our money, from the creation of Gatineau Park to improving the appearance of downtown Ottawa. But its relations with some citizens have soured. Land expropriations for big NCC projects such as the Greenbelt were a sore point with many local farmers, especially when some of that property was later considered "surplus" by the commission and put up for sale. Many of the commission's redevelopment projects, such as tearing down LeBreton Flats and the old Daly department store, fuelled skepticism about the commission's ability to finish a job. For many years, the NCC didn't even abide by development processes set out by local governments. Legally, it didn't have to.

Through it all, the secret deliberations of the commission generated intense suspicion, reinforced recently when the commission quietly confirmed that it had been given $40 million in federal cash to buy buildings along Sparks Street. (This fits into the prime minister's hope for a better view of Parliament Hill from downtown.) Many now ask what the commission is: a planner or a developer.

The only way to answer and build local trust is with openness. Meetings held in public will reassure citizens that the commission's work is legitimate. They will also allow city councillors to thoroughly air development issues with NCC planners. We might even start talking about a single development plan for the capital region, covering both sides of the Ottawa River, rather than separate plans and backroom chats. Public meetings will put questions of conflict of interest and proper processes into the open.

Chairman Beaudry and his enablers on the NCC board have been consistently hostile to the idea of open meetings.

Citizen: Open the doors at the NCC [3 May 2000]
Citizen: The public makes more noise than they should [24 Aug 1998]

Thursday, March 2, 2000

NCC confirms Metcalfe Lite project

The NCC released its grand plan for the capital yesterday:

The National Capital Commission yesterday confirmed what has long been suspected: It is considering moving heritage buildings to create more open space near the Parliament Buildings.

It's the plan known as Metcalfe Lite, creation of a two-block- long square beside Metcalfe Street, immediately south of Parliament Hill.

It would mean dismantling two heritage buildings standing on the west side of Metcalfe between Wellington and Sparks streets.

The buildings, which now contain Four Corners gift shop and the NCC's information centre, would be re-erected on the western edge of the new square, next to another heritage building, which until recently was the U.S. embassy on Wellington Street.

[...]The block to the south of Sparks Street would be a new development, with a 150-unit luxury apartment building at the corner of Metcalfe and Queen streets.

Marcel Beaudry, chairman of the NCC, estimated it would cost less than $1 million to move the two heritage buildings. He said they would replace buildings of little heritage value, including the former Birks jewelry story, on Sparks Street.

The NCC has already decided to create a square on Metcalfe between Sparks and Queen, and has embarked on a $40 million buying spree to purchase all properties on that block, all the way over to O'Connor Street. It hopes the private sector will pay to develop the block, which would include a large office tower at the corner of Queen and O'Connor streets.

[...]Plans for an urban square on Metcalfe Street are among seven major developments on or close to Parliament Hill that the NCC is planning.

The others are:

  • Development of an entire city block on the south side of Sparks Street.
  • Development of LeBreton Flats, just west of Parliament Hill, to include parkland, public buildings and attractions, businesses and houses.
  • Development of Victoria and Chaudiere islands in the Ottawa River, near Parliament Hill, to include an aboriginal centre on Victoria Island.
  • Creation of a park on what is now an industrial site on the Hull waterfront, directly opposite the Parliament Buildings.
  • Construction of a lookout on Parliament Hill over the Ottawa River, and putting in steps or a cable car to provide river access.
  • Construction of a new road linking Ottawa with Gatineau Park, via the Alexandra Bridge.

Together, these projects are expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, shared by government and the private sector.

Citizen: The NCC's 'significant world capital' [2 Mar 2000]

Wednesday, March 1, 2000

Freeway through Gatineau Park delayed

The McConnell-Laramee highway extension has been delayed:

A planned new "urban boulevard" from Ottawa to Gatineau Park is delayed indefinitely by environmental concerns and feuding among communities in or near its path.

The federal and Quebec governments have agreed to evenly split the $32-million cost of the boulevard. It would run from the Alexandra Bridge through commercial and residential sections of Hull to a point near the park's southern boundary.

Quebec Transport Minister Guy Chevrette had hoped work on the boulevard would begin last year and be completed by late 2001. But the start is delayed at least until this fall to permit further study of its environmental impact, according to federal officials.

Pierre Dube, chief urban planner for the National Capital Commission, which strongly favours construction of the boulevard, does not expect the road to be completed until 2004. And he bases that estimate on the hope environmental approval will come in time for work to begin this fall.

"First we have to deal with the environmental issues, he says. "Then we have to carry out major engineering projects, including a viaduct over marshland in Gatineau Park." The viaduct will cost $12 million, or more than one-third the total cost of the new road.

[...]Plans for the new boulevard have existed for almost 30 years. In the early 1970s, dozens of modest houses in central Hull were expropriated and demolished to clear a path for the road.

The demolitions created a wasteland the width of a city block, stretching eight blocks from St. Joseph Boulevard in the heart of downtown Hull to Promenade du Lac des Fees on the edge of Gatineau Park.

Proponents of the planned boulevard say anyone who bought property in the area in the last 25 years knew a busy road would eventually be built through their neighbourhood.

The planned boulevard is a key element in the National Capital Commission's proposals for creating a more beautiful and inviting capital region. NCC chairman Marcel Beaudry says he wants it to be part of his legacy.

Some critics of the plan have suggested a connection between construction of the boulevard and the NCC's decision last year to turn over part of Leamy Lake Park in Hull for a commercial golf course.

The Quebec government will create the golf course next to the Hull Casino to encourage tourists to combine a golfing vacation with gambling in the casino, also owned by the province.

Mr. Beaudry says there is no connection between the NCC's decision to hand over land for the golf course and Quebec's agreement to go ahead with the new boulevard.

A stretch of the planned urban boulevard already exists. It is St. Laurent Boulevard, running from the Alexandra Bridge west to Highway 50 in central Hull.

Mr. Dube said plans call for a new three-kilometre stretch to be built, extending the boulevard west through Hull and across the southern part of Gatineau Park to Mountain Road.

The new road would link up with the highway that runs from Aylmer to Mountain Road. The new boulevard would connect the highway from Aylmer with Highway 50, leading to Montreal, and provide a shortcut through Hull.

The NCC says the planned road is an urban boulevard, not a parkway. As such, it says it has no objection to trucks using the boulevard.

Citizen: Boulevard plan divides Quebec neighbours [1 Mar 2000]