NCC Watch

Working to consign the NCC to oblivion

Search string: "mandate review"

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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]

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, 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, April 9, 2009

NCC ombudsman office now open

The NCC ombudsman, a position recommended by the NCC Mandate Review some time ago, is finally operational. From the Citizen:

The National Capital Commission's ombudsman is open for business, ready to take complaints about the federal agency.

Lawyer Laura Bruneau, appointed to the part-time post by the NCC's board, said Wednesday that she will have a two-track approach to complaints. She will intervene and try to resolve a complaint, but if that doesn't work, she will start an investigation and present a formal report.

[...] Ken Rubin, one of the commission's longstanding critics, said he would not likely use the ombudsman's office. He said that if he wanted something changed at the commission, a more effective way is to go to the chairman, the minister responsible, a parliamentary committee or the press to raise the issue.

He said an ombudsman should be able to probe the organization on his or her own, without any specific complaints.

The ombudsman also has a website.

Citizen: New NCC ombudsman set to solve problems [9 April 2009]
Release: NCC's First Ombudsman Now Open for Business

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Openness and Transparency roundup

Well, the NCC announced their latest openness initiative, and, what do you know, just like that, they are opening board meetings to the public. For old times' sake, let's go back a few months to a Citizen article on Marcel Beaudry's response to the NCC Mandate Review's report on the NCC:

Beaudry said at least one of the recommendations has already been well discussed by the NCC's board. The report asks the NCC to open its meetings to the public, a move already considered twice in the past 14 years, Beaudry said. He added that Treasury Board guidelines recommend Crown corporation meetings be held in private.

Chairman Beaudry, so characteristically stonewalling to the bitter end. In this context, the NCC's Damascene conversion to open meetings cannot be underestimated. (And check out this classic from the Citizen, the board's ideas on privacy from 1998.) On the other hand, considering the NCC's low standing with the press and the Mandate Review panel recommendations for openness, open meetings had become the very least the NCC could get away with to ensure its own survival. And no doubt current interim CEO Micheline Dubé, who by all accounts just can't wait to be open and accessible, would like to avoid being raked over the coals like her predecessor, as in this fav from March 2006:

Everything you need to know about the National Capital Commission is summed up by the way a five-year initiative to dispel the idea that the NCC is secretive and unaccountable was revealed. It was obtained through access to information. Rather than produce a five-year plan to appear open and transparent, why not just be open and transparent?

The NCC, a creaky, out-of-touch bureaucracy, hunkers down behind the walls of the Chambers Building, fearing controversy and debate. On his castle throne, the woefully inaccessible Marcel Beaudry ponders the end of his 14-year reign. His tired, confused term concludes in September.

So, open meetings it is. And the first, mostly open meeting is scheduled for November 7. Also on the Openness and Transparency agenda, the NCC will establish "public standing committees" of as yet vague standing, get an external ombudsman, and introduce an annual open house. There's also a survey on the always amusing NCC website, but only until October 12.

NCC: NCC Announces New Initiatives to Enhance Openness and Transparency [12 Sep 2007]
CBC: NCC unveils reforms for greater openness [12 Sep 2007]
Radio-Canada: Opération transparence [12 Sep 2007]
City Journal: NCC to open board meetings [12 Sep 2007]
NCC: Share Your Ideas! (until October 12)
Citizen: The public makes more noise than they should [24 Aug 1998]

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]

Thursday, March 29, 2007

NCC claims opening meetings costs too much

Briefing papers prepared by NCC staff, obtained by access to information researcher Ken Rubin, claim that opening NCC board meetings to the public will cost $23,000 per meeting and still leave the public bitter and frustrated (no doubt -- ed.). From the Citizen:

In an interview Thursday, NCC spokeswoman Lucie Caron said that translation and meeting room costs would also be included in the estimate provided. Ms. Caron said the estimate was a ballpark figure and she didn't have a detailed breakdown of the different costs.

The commission also argues in the internal report on the issue that the public might be frustrated by the large number of confidential items at board meetings. The commission says that in the previous year, only about three of the 20 items before the board of directors would have been aired in public.

The commission argues that Treasury Board submissions, contracts, third-party information, cabinet confidences, security and compensation matters, as well as performance evaluations, are all confidential matters that would be held in camera, regardless.

[...] The federal government held a review of the NCC last year, led by professor Gilles Paquet, who concluded there is "a culture of secrecy" at the commission and it needs "a cultural revolution."

The panel, which reported on time and under budget, found that there have been "a series of flawed initiatives and public relations problems," and that it is increasingly viewed with suspicion because of recent sales of land for development to balance the books.

The panel concluded that two ways to improve the public's regard for the commission are to give it more money so it can pay the bills without selling land, and to improve corporate sensitivity and communications by having advisory committees held in public with full public input. The four meetings of the NCC's board each year should be held in public, with members of the public able to observe, but not comment on the proceedings, the panel said.

The minister responsible for the NCC, Transport Minister and Pontiac MP Lawrence Cannon, called the panel report "a refreshing direction" and "a good initiative," noting that lack of transparency at the NCC had been "an irritant for many years." A first response of the government came last week in the federal budget when the NCC got an additional $30 million over two years. Ms. Caron said Thursday that the NCC is awaiting the government's directions in response to the mandate review.

"We're open to having open meetings," said Ms. Caron.

Former mayor Jim Watson also points out that the NAC opened its meetings and somehow, they coped:

MPP Jim Watson, who urged the NCC to open its meetings and is one of the former NAC board members who pushed for the NAC's openness policy, said the NAC experience showed that predicted "chaos and anarchy" never happened.

[...] Mr. Watson said the NCC's current annual meeting held in public is little more than a "dog and pony show," and "a chance for the NCC to boast and brag." He said the NCC has thrown out many arguments over the years to keep the board doors closed. But he argues the commission is really something close to a municipal government, with planning issues that are best dealt with in public. "They're looking for any feeble excuse not to shine the light on their activities," he said. But he said the commission will find out that, if it does open meetings, "the sky doesn't fall down."

Citizen: Open NCC meetings to be costly, agency says [29 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'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]

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Meaningless language that protects the status quo

Citizen editorial board member Kate Heartfield takes a look at the mandate review panel report and finds it wanting:

The report gives the NCC much advice in the form of glossy phrases that don't mean anything.

The NCC is "the main instrument of the federal government charged with the coordination of all activities pertaining to the ongoing planning, stewardship, and celebration of the capital of Canada."

Further, the NCC must "pay particular attention to the local partners, who must be mobilized to produce a true 'national capital experience.' " (The unnecessary and bewildering quotation marks are in the report.)

If my editor called me into his office to talk to me about sharpening my focus, then told me I must plan, steward and celebrate the editorial pages and mobilize sources to produce a true newspaper experience, I wouldn't know where to begin. The panel is asking the NCC to do everything and nothing, which is how the NCC got in the position of needing a review in the first place.

The panel all but ignored its first and most important task. It didn't ask the question: Does the capital region need the NCC?

[...] Then it bewailed the poor public image of the NCC, noting the calls for the organization's reform or elimination. It called that an "unfortunate situation" and blamed the image problem on misunderstanding. Sure, it's unfortunate if you're a supporter of the NCC. If you're a disinterested observer -- as a review panel should be -- it's not unfortunate that many people dislike the NCC. It's merely a fact.

[...] Apparently, there are "opportunities and potential that it can leverage in pursuing the important national undertaking," the "progress and development of Canada's capital."

So it would be useful to know what progress will mean to the revamped NCC. Will it look anything like the City of Ottawa's definition of progress? Will it be limited to useful interprovincial projects, such as a new bridge over the Ottawa River? Or will it be similar to the beautification plans of the old NCC? Are there statues involved? Ceremonial boulevards? Is my neighbourhood likely to be razed? Who knows?

[...] Still, let's be optimistic for a moment. It's a new year, and a good time for optimism. It would be wonderful to end up with an open, accountable NCC that did not do anything any other agency could do. It would be wonderful to end up with an NCC that could make the municipal, provincial and federal governments co-operate effectively on projects.

That isn't what the review panel has given us. It's given us an Ottawa special: meaningless language that protects the status quo.

Citizen: Your NCC: leveraging potential [2 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]

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Mandate Review submits report

As expected, the Mandate Review's report recommends giving the NCC more money ($25 million per year) and more power to do what it wants, in exchange for opening some board meetings and other minor tinkering, all passed off as "a major transformation." The Citizen sums up:

The review of the NCC's mission, run by a three-person panel led by Gilles Paquet, said the commission should be strengthened, rather than scrapped, which was one of the suggestions that had been floated by Pontiac MP Lawrence Cannon.

Mr. Paquet said the panel's look at the NCC found the Crown corporation is important to the region to fulfil its role as a capital and a functioning urban area. But he said the increasing criticism faced by the commission -- dismissed by outgoing NCC chairman Marcel Beaudry at a public hearing in Ottawa this fall -- has foundation.

"The NCC has, at times, seemingly lost its way," said Mr. Paquet. He said the commission has developed a "culture of secrecy" in recent years that has fed public mistrust.

The panel found that since the 1990s, there have been a series of "flawed initiatives and public relations problems," often involving plans to sell land or take down buildings, such as those on Metcalfe Street. The commission courted conflict with "cavalier relationship management," and was indifferent to Ottawa history and the attachment of residents to greenspace.

And yet, Mr. Paquet said the commission -- which runs Winterlude and Canada Day festivities, plans federal government projects and land use, and maintains the capital's most scenic public spaces -- would be sorely missed if it were not there. He likened the NCC to the human digestive system: little understood, but essential to a good life.

[...]The panel wants the federal government to instruct the commission not to sell land to generate operating funds. To make up the difference, the government would increase its taxpayer-funded contribution by about $25 million each year. The NCC has an annual budget of about $131 million.

The report is available from the Mandate Review website.

Meanwhile, Chairman Beaudry was trying to put the best spin possible on the review, claiming that the mandate review panel report's call to revamp the NCC is "not an indictment" of the NCC, but "an acknowledgment of the [the NCC's] exceptional work," not realizing, perhaps, that by making the claim he was pretty much proving the point. Ever clueless, he then took the opportunity to take a shot at the whole tiresome business of opening NCC board meetings:

Beaudry said at least one of the recommendations has already been well discussed by the NCC's board. The report asks the NCC to open its meetings to the public, a move already considered twice in the past 14 years, Beaudry said. He added that Treasury Board guidelines recommend Crown corporation meetings be held in private.

Hear that? The NCC board considered opening its meetings twice - twice! - in the past 14 years, and found it to be impractical. Enough already!

CBC: Capital commission should quit selling public lands [21 Dec 2006]
CBC: Call for NCC revamp not an 'indictment': chair [22 Dec 2006]
Citizen: Bolster NCC, don't scrap it [22 Dec 2006]
Citizen: Some juicy bits; some no-brainers [22 Dec 2006]
Radio-Canada: On recommande une transformation majeure [21 Dec 2006]
New Edinburgh Community Alliance: NCC Mandate Review Committee Report [6 Feb 2007]
Citizen: The public makes more noise than they should [24 Aug 1998]

Friday, December 15, 2006

NCC needs cultural revolution

Over at The Citizen, city editorial page editor Ken Gray notes some of the differences between dealing with the NCC as opposed to the city:

During the last 10 years at the Citizen, I've written 141 stories and columns that have mentioned the National Capital Commission. It took me months of trying to get my first phone interview with NCC Chairman Marcel Beaudry.

"Mr. Beaudry," I said, "you're a very hard man to reach."

"Well, maybe this is the beginning of a new relationship," the elusive chairman said.

I never heard from him again.

Conversely, former mayor Bob Chiarelli was mentioned 533 times in my stories but he was almost always available for interviews. You could call him, walk with him to meetings, ambush him on the way back from the washroom, he'd call you down to the mayor's boardroom, and sometimes knock on your office door.

Former regional government chief administrative officer Merv Beckstead was so accessible he would apologize if he took too long to answer your phone call. I was just happy to get a call at all.

People such as Mr. Chiarelli and Mr. Beckstead realized that nature and newspapers abhor a vacuum, so if they didn't get their side of the story out, someone else would fill that space. And it might be something they wouldn't like to see in print.

This is by way of saying that the NCC is not only out of touch with the community, it doesn't even make the effort to be in touch.

[...] The decline at the NCC has been precipitous. So much so that officials at the Crown corporation don't understand that by placing two prominent NCC employees on the four-member secretariat that advises the review panel, the NCC jeopardizes the integrity of the mandate review and the Crown corporation itself. No self-respecting organization would allow its members to be working on a supposedly independent review of itself. But then, that's the NCC. If that is what we see of this closed organization from the outside, what's going on inside?

Citizen: NCC needs cultural revolution [15 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]

Friday, November 10, 2006

NCC Mandate Review public consultation meeting, take 1

The first NCC Mandate Review public consultation meeting went down in predictable fashion last night, with Chairman Beaudry denying that anything is wrong and demanding more power for the NCC. Area politicians Jim Watson and Paul Dewar took the opportunity to ask for more openness from the NCC. A parade of well meaning groups also offered a variety of ideas for tinkering with the NCC's funding and governance, or presented plans for various projects, believing somehow that if only the NCC could be renewed or subverted to their ends, all would be well. Some former NCC employees were also on hand to offer their support.

NCC Watch's position remains that "NCC renewal" is a contradiction in terms, and any renewed NCC will ultimately be subject to the same issues of empire building and corporate arrogance that currently plague the NCC.

Citizen: Give NCC more power, chairman says [10 Nov 2006]
Citizen: Jim Watson - Let there be light [9 Nov 2006]
Radio Canada: Début des audiences sur son mandat [9 Nov 2006]
NCC Mandate Review: Submissions received [10 Nov 2006]
Citizen: No new power for the NCC [15 Nov 2006]

Friday, November 10, 2006

NCC Mandate Review won't disclose secret meeting transcripts

The Ottawa Sun reports that the NCC Mandate Review panel is refusing to release a list of individuals and organizations it has met with in secret, let alone the transcripts of the meetings. Evidently oblivious of the irony of conducting secret meetings to review an organization criticized for secretiveness, the review panel's executive director claims all is well:

Gilles Dery, the panel's executive director, says it's normal practice to hold secret meetings. Some of the individuals and groups with opinions on the NCC do not want their views known publicly, he says. Dery says a list of everyone who was consulted will be included in the final report, but the contents of the secret meetings will never be released to the public.

This should prompt further calls to review the review panel. Meanwhile, Chairman Beaudry took the opportunity to once again blame the media "for creating the perception of secrecy at the agency," all the while insisting, without a hint of irony, that there's no reason to open up NCC board meetings as federal guidelines do not require it.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Dewar crafting bill to crack open NCC

Ottawa-Centre MP Paul Dewar will introduce a private members' bill in Parliament intended to open the NCC, establish "merit-based" appointments, clearly define the roles of NCC members, and mandate elected representatives on the NCC board. Dewar criticized the NCC Mandate Review as "a regrettable reflection of how the NCC already operates," stating that "It's sadly mirroring the behaviour of the NCC, which is not the whole problem but a good part of the problem." He also describes the NCC's process for developing the LeBreton Flats, which resulted in only one bidder for the project, as a "fiasco."

City Journal: Dewar crafting bill to crack open NCC [1 Nov 2006]

Monday, October 30, 2006

Review the NCC review

An editorial in The Citizen today highlights the latest absurdities of the NCC Mandate Review:

So what has happened since the current review started? Well, two of the major players in the secretariat that helps and advises the three-person panel are major players at the NCC. That's a problem.

Now the way the panel has set up the consultation on the review smacks of the way the NCC holds its meetings.

To speak at these consultations, you had to register by Oct. 15 and provide a written submission last week. As well, the panel will accept submissions but isn't compelled to make them public.

Now not only does the NCC need review, the review of the NCC needs review. How much longer can this mess be allowed to continue?

Citizen: Review the NCC review [30 Oct 2006]

Friday, October 27, 2006

MP launches alternate review

With the NCC mandate review now more or less serving the NCC's own agenda, Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar has decided to organize and host an open forum on the NCC's future Saturday, November 4 from 2-4 pm at the Old Firehall on Sunnyside Avenue. The forum will feature as yet unnamed "progressive thinkers" and "land use experts." In explaining his reasons, he cites the overly restrictive nature of the comment submission process and widespread cynicism in his constituency. "This is the wrong process, run by the wrong people, and it is costing far too much," he said.

Minister Cannon responded by praising Chairman Beaudry, the NCC, and the mandate review panel.

Radio-Canada: Un député conteste le processus de révision [26 Oct 2006]
Paul Dewar Press Release [26 Oct 2006]

Friday, October 13, 2006

Mandate review fatally undermined

In his Citizen column today, Ken Gray points out something pretty obvious, once you're looking for it, about the NCC Mandate Review Panel: two of four members (not including two support workers) of the mandate review secretariat are NCC employees. Listed on the mandate review contacts web page are Laurie Peters, NCC spokesperson, and Francois Lapointe, NCC planning director. Amazingly, Ms. Peters is responsible for telling the panel what areas of NCC operations the public has had concerns about.

From the article:

The secretariat supports the panel's work and gives contract and project management advice on financial matters. Certainly other people could have been found to provide communications or financial advice in political affairs in the national capital of consultation. People like this grow on trees in this community. Why go to the NCC for it?

Mr. Drery [the secretariat executive director] said he knew the optics of having NCC people on the NCC review weren't good, but he felt the short time frame for the panel to report to government meant the Crown corporation's people had to be brought on board.

In reality, the appearances are terrible. Are these two people likely to recommend or support or mention, say, eliminating their jobs? The appointment of half the secretariat from the NCC is the kind of trust and transparency complaint that has dogged the NCC for years.

Many residents of the national capital already distrust the NCC. Why? Well, there was the matter of just missing destroying Ottawa's downtown by bulldozing a ceremonial boulevard through millions of dollars worth of good businesses on Metcalfe Street so the Peace Tower's view would be centred on the street.

Then, of course, there was the botched development of the Daly site, a location of national importance occupied by a condominium. Or placing a series of post-Stalinist apartment buildings on LeBreton Flats. Or just leaving the Flats sit idle for about half a century.

[...] In fact, from a public relations and governance view, the panel has already failed because residents can't trust its findings. As a result, don't be optimistic that a new NCC will come out of the study to be revealed in December.

So, after a promising start, the Mandate Review appears to be just one more botched attempt at reforming the NCC.

Citizen: NCC employees working on review of agency [13 Oct 2006]

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Last chance to register for mandate review consultations

The NCC Mandate Review Panel would like to remind everybody that this is the last week to register for the NCC Mandate Review Panel Public Consultations.

Visit the NCC Mandate Review website for details.

NCC Mandate Review

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]

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

NCC mandate review panel announced

The panel tasked with reviewing the NCC is already off on the wrong foot by declaring that they will not be abolishing the NCC. And things look set to go downhill from there. According to The Citizen, panel Chairman Gilles Paquette "sees the NCC's problem as fundamentally a 'governance' issue that needs an appropriate solution. 'I see it as a design problem. It is like an architect, and the challenge is, can we manage to design the building in such a way that it fits everyone?' he said. 'We are going to work hard at it, and then the challenge will be to put together a design that for that house that will work for everyone.'" You know, sort of like an episode of Debbie Travis' Facelift, but with bureaucrats. Our prediction for the big reveal: lots of neutral colours.

Marcel Beaudry has once again confirmed his willingness to not obstruct or undermine the review, and no doubt looks forward to subverting the review panel to the NCC's ends.

CBC: Professor appointed to NCC review panel [2 Aug 2006]
Radio-Canada: Mandat à revoir [3 Aug 2006]
Citizen: We are not abolishing the NCC [2 Aug 2006]
NCC: NCC responds to announcement of review panel [3 Aug 2006]

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Abolish the NCC? Not likely

Ken Rubin points out in the Citizen today that, despite questioning the NCC's purpose, the Conservative government looks more like it wants to continue, and even expand the NCC:

  • Minister Cannon has stated rather brazenly that he wants to move the Science and Technology Museum to the NCC's Jacques Cartier Park.
  • The government has confirmed that it is splitting the positions of CEO and Chairman, and both the CEO and the chair will have indefinite terms and be appointed by the government.
  • Treasury Board President John Baird said that the NCC should get $6-7 million more annually for financing capital projects instead of selling off its lands. But the fact that the NCC must sell lands to finance its projects is one of the few real, if clumsy, impediments to the NCC doing any old crazy thing it wants.
  • Both ministers have said they want to make the NCC's Ottawa River waterfront plans a priority for the "new" NCC.

As Rubin says, "it sounds like not only is the NCC staying around, but that it is going to continue to have a big-time developer role, however secretly and badly it has performed that role in the past."

Minister Cannon announced a mandate review of the NCC last week.

Citizen: The Tories don't really want a reformed NCC [20 Apr 2006]
Transport Canada Release: Review of NCC Announced [13 Apr 2006]

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Cannon questions role of NCC

In a speech today, minister of transport, infrastructure and communities Lawrence Cannon raised questions on the role of the NCC, including whether it was still pertinent. But questions were all he had, falling short of revealing any concrete plans for reform and insisting that changes would only come about after a "full and frank discussion."

One concrete change that has come about is separating the roles of Chairman and CEO - but only after Chairman Beaudry retires in the fall.

The NCC, meanwhile, was quick to ingratiate themselves with their new overlords in their usual self-serving way. Still, how reassuring to learn that the federal agency is committed to fully cooperating with the federal government.

Citizen: Is the NCC necessary? [14 Apr 2006]
CBC: Feds seek review of NCC [13 Apr 2006]
NCC Release: NCC responds to call for mandate review [13 Apr 2006]