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Past News: 2003

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Time for NCC's Beaudry to resign

According to Citizen columnist Randall Denley, Liberal candidate Richard Mahoney was called in for a lecture from Chairman Beaudry after suggesting that perhaps the tired organization is due for reform. Mahoney's response was unusually straightforward:

The chairman offered a 45-minute monologue on the accomplishments of the NCC, Mahoney says, and argued that no change was necessary. Mahoney pointed out that new Prime Minister Paul Martin has promised increased openness in government, and the NCC's closed meetings are out of sync with that approach.

"There's a freight train of reform coming with the PM," Mahoney says. He also notes that people he talks to in Ottawa consistently raise the need for change at the NCC.

Mahoney told Beaudry that there is a tradition of NCC chairmen offering their resignations to incoming prime ministers. That was the case when Bud Drury was chairman of the NCC in the 1980s.

To Mahoney's surprise, Beaudry told him that if the Martin government wanted him to resign "he didn't have any intention of standing in the way of that."

Unsurprisingly, Denley rather likes the suggestion:

Beaudry has run the NCC since 1992. It has been an era of many plans, but few accomplishments. Beaudry can point to the fact that the empty lot on the site of the Daly Building has finally being filled, but the project is rather unexciting. After years of expense and struggle, all it will be is a condo building with some unspecified ground-floor uses. He expended a lot of time and money planning a magnificent ceremonial boulevard on Metcalfe Street. It was roundly opposed by Ottawans because of the unfortunate side effect of tearing down numerous heritage buildings. Beaudry finally withdrew the plan after paying consultants to tell him that people here didn't like it, an opinion he was frequently offered for free. Work has finally begun on LeBreton Flats, but it is too early to judge its success.

Like most of his predecessors, Beaudry has been criticized for the secretive way the commission proceeds. Beyond confidential matters to do with land deals, personnel or legal matters, there is no need for it. The National Arts Centre board has already shown that a federal organization can be open to the local public. To his credit, Beaudry made some effort to involve the public by holding an annual meeting where they could ask questions. It is still a poor substitute for really involving people in decisions as they unfold.

The NCC has a self-important mission of building the capital as a symbol of national unity. It's mostly guff, but Beaudry has consistently used it as a reason to ignore the public in Ottawa. The nation is his audience, he has told us, and we are lucky to have the NCC showering federal gifts on us.

[...]Times have changed, and the NCC must change too. If Marcel Beaudry doesn't understand that, the prime minister should replace him with someone who does. It's time for a new era at the NCC.

Citizen: Time for NCC's Beaudry to resign [27 Dec 2003]

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]

Tuesday, December 2, 2003

New Liberal candidate wants NCC review

Recently nominated Liberal candidate for Ottawa Centre Richard Mahoney has taken an unusual stance for a Liberal vis a vis the National Capital Commission, calling for the NCC to be reviewed and noting it "suffers from a culture of secrecy." This stands in unusual contrast to the slavish praise lavished on the NCC by the current Ottawa Liberal caucus. Don't break out the champagne yet, though - his website petition calls for the NCC to be Reviewed, Renewed and Revitalized -- and when he starts talking about the NCC's "glory years," well, we wonder if he knows what he's talking about.

UPDATE: January 22, 2004
Mr. Mahoney has started to openly call for change at the top of the NCC, in the rather sound belief that only then might change be possible. Tellingly, Mr Mahoney arrived at this conclusion after meeting with Chairman Beaudry. In response, Eugene Bellemare declared that the local Liberal caucus has unanimously agreed to support Beaudry finishing the remainder of his term.

CBC: New Liberal candidate wants NCC review [2 Dec 2003]
Richard Mahoney's NCC Petition
Richard Mahoney's Open Letter [20 Jan 2004]
Citizen: MPs should speak up for more open NCC [20 Jan 2004]

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]

Thursday, November 6, 2003

NCC demolishes Metcalfe plans

The National Capital Commission has up and abandoned its plans to demolish large tracts of Sparks Street for an underground parking garage. The surprise announcement was made at the NCC's public annual general meeting last night. They attribute the decision to cancel the very expensive parking lot to various studies, public consultations, meetings with stakeholders, etc., but, cynics that we are, we suspect that the feds simply failed to pony up the necessary dough.

CBC: NCC demolishes Metcalfe plans [6 Nov 2003]
Centretown News: Sparks stores applaud scrapping of plaza [6 Nov 2003]
Chairman Beaudry's speech

Saturday, October 25, 2003

More cock-ups at the Daly site

Randall Denley reports today in the Citizen on the NCC's continuing gaffes on the Daly site condo project. Apparently the NCC doesn't like the manmade stone the developer was planning to use, and will pick up the tab to use real stone by reducing the rent for the 66-year site lease by 20 per cent.

In the end, the new jewel of downtown will be another condo building with retail on the ground floor. The public will be able to admire the stone it has invested in, and think about all the rent the project is generating for taxpayers. At the discounted value, that amounts to a stunning $73,000 a year. Units in the building sell for $400,000 and up. It must be fun doing business with government.

The NCC will now receive $4.8 million, which amounts to $73,000 a year in rent.

Citizen: Daly site saga drones on and on [25 Oct 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.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Visual continuity on Island Park Drive

Kelly Egan reports on the National Capital Commission's amusing attempts to create "visual continuity" on Island Park Drive:

The first pair, at the gateway to the Parkway, are massive. Made of stacked limestone, they are four metres tall and distinctive for a single carved leaf. It is an elm, apparently, and, to all but boneheaded writers, deeply meaningful.

Between the river and Carling, there are 10 smaller cairns, a metre tall, and all bearing the lone elm leaf, which forms part of a new style of street sign as well. Are you getting this yet?

"Everyone who comes to visit says, 'What are those cement things?'" said Mrs. Cross, who lives on Island Park near the corner of Sunnymede Avenue. "I say people are buried under them."

Part of a $255,000 dressing up of the street, many residents aren't quite in reverential awe of Stonehenge-sur-la-riviere.

"I thought, 'What an atrocious waste of money,'" said Sharon Hickey-Sano, getting ready for a walk with her 10-month-old daughter, Mia. "Why don't they spend the money on more bike paths or something like that?"

Simply put, a pile of rocks is what the residents of Island Park Drive are getting in exchange for turning the once-scenic drive into a freeway. The history of the street, really, is the story of the advancing menace of the automobile. (If you really want to terrify people here, say the words "four-lane.")

[...]In the aftermath of the expansion [of Champlain Bridge], which cost $30 million and took five tortured years to complete, the NCC was looking for ways to calm traffic as it charged off the bridge.

The Crown corporation does not like "aggressive measures" like speed bumps, so it opted for a more passive plan: cairns, 30 new white elms and new street signs, all in an effort to create mellow motoring.

NCC spokesman John Kane says the idea is to "create some visual continuity to give people the idea that they're entering a zone which is part of our parkway system, but, at the same time, has a residential character."

[...]Why not carve a set of dual exhaust pipes on the cairns? They're thriving on Island Park these days.

Expand the bridge, hopelessly clog the street with traffic today, calm traffic tomorrow. This is the story of a man setting his own house on fire, then asking for a medal when he helps put it out.

Occasional readers of NCC Watch will recognize this as vintage NCC, the most famous example being the LeBreton Flats; 40 years after they flattened it, they genuinely expect to be congratulated on their plans for rebuilding it. Considering the general bewilderment and/or disgust on the part of residents interviewed, we suspect the NCC's exercise in visual continuity is also another triumph of their now legendary public consultation process. Did they ask anybody about this plan?

Citizen: 'What are those cement things?' [20 Oct 2003]

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]

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Sparks St. development details revealed

The Citizen reports on the NCC's plans for developing 131 Sparks Street:

The project includes about 300,000 square feet of office space in 13 storeys at Queen and O'Connor streets. On the Sparks street side, street- level retail shops will be topped by 35 apartments filling three storeys. The project also includes parking for 200 vehicles and some street-level retail on Queen and O'Connor streets.

Mr. Snyder wouldn't disclose the cost.

The L-shaped site has been vacant since Citizen moved to the west end in 1973, and its former building was demolished the next year to make way for a federal building that has been stalled for three decades.

"I think what we've planned is an interesting project for obviously a key site in the downtown core," Mr. Snyder said. "We're happy to have satisfied the needs of the various different constituencies that existed with respect to the site."

That means, among other things, preserving the Hardy Arcade, a historic north-south passage that links Sparks Street to Queen in mid-block. The project also will restore or replicate historic facades along Sparks to blend with other shops on the street, and follows City of Ottawa plans to bring more residential spaces downtown, Mr. Snyder said.

[...NCC spokeswoman Laurie] Peters said the deal was negotiated because the two private- sector partners held an option to develop the site that had been awarded years earlier to Canada Trust's real estate arm as part of its purchase of the another Sparks Street property, the Bank of Hong Kong building.

Mr. Snyder and his partners purchased that development option when Canada Trust's new owner, TD Bank, sold off its real estate holdings.

The NCC, which owns the property, has agreed to lease the 300,000 square feet of office area for 20 years, for use by federal government workers, at $23 a square foot -- about $7 million a year.

That's well over typical lease rates for new office buildings in the core, but Ms. Peters said the NCC considered it "a competitive rate" because of the property's unique location and special requirements to preserve heritage components of complex.

Mr. Snyder's company and Morguard also have a 66-year lease with the NCC for the commercial and residential parts of the project for which they'll pay the NCC $3.7 million (not including adjustments for inflation) over the life of the lease, she said.

Citizen: 131 Queen will include shops, homes on Sparks Street [30 Sep 2003]

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]

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

NCC's Sparks Street development costs

The Ottawa Business Journal has an interesting article on some of the back room dealing behind the NCC's development plans for Sparks Street. The upshot is the NCC chose not to put the multi-million dollar development up for tender and has guaranteed to lease the development from the developer at higher than market rates for 20 years. Public Works will lease the space back from the NCC. Amazing what you can accomplish when you have the right rolodex.

OBJ: Third office tower to go up in core [10 Sep 2003]
NCC: 131 Queen Press Release
OBJ: NCC pays above market costs [22 Sep 2003]
Centretown News: Building will mix shops, homes and offices [24 Oct 2003]

Friday, September 5, 2003

Moffatt farm study gives go ahead

A study (ordered by the OMB in its decision awhile back) recommends protecting half of Ottawa's Moffatt Farm from development, including the part bordering the river. The remainder will likely be developed for 200 single-family homes.

The NCC has become a commercial private developer. I have been struck by the banality and mediocrity of the proposal for developing that land. - Senator Anne Cools, Ottawa Citizen

One thing about the Moffatt Farm controversy, it has raised questions about the NCC's role as land speculator in the region. Regardless of the merits of any particular development proposal, what public purpose was served by having a federal agency acquire the land in the first place? And what public purpose does that agency serve today?

Banal and mediocre development is the NCC's signature - just take a stroll around Confederation Heights or Tunney's Pasture (in winter for best effect). And they're still at it - in January 2002 they proposed building a business park on Greenbelt land between Uplands Drive and the Airport Parkway. Well any developer with a sackful of cash and a city councillor in his back pocket can build one of those, why does Ottawa need a federal agency?

CBC: Moffatt farm study gives go ahead [5 Sep 2003]
Citizen: 'No NCC greenspace is safe,' councillor warns [5 Sep 2003]
NCC Watch: Uplands development
NCC: Uplands development information page

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]

Wednesday, July 29, 2003

NCC plans for Ottawa River islands

More plans were extracted from the NCC via an access to information request (reported in The Citizen today), this time involving Bates, Chaudiere and Victoria islands. Apparently they are considering such things as an aboriginal centre, tourist-oriented inn, condos, restaurants, housing, offices and parks:

The plans for Chaudiere and Victoria islands, the jewels in the NCC's grand vision for waterfront improvement, are more elaborate. One of the NCC documents, a traffic impact study, shows a 137,000- square-foot aboriginal centre anchoring the east side of Victoria Island, east of Portage Bridge.

The centre would include office space, child care centre, an education centre including a small museum and a recreation centre. On the west side, between Portage and Chaudiere Bridge, a number of proposals, including one for 50 condo apartments, restaurant, about 49,000 square feet of office space and convenience market, are under consideration.

A second option for the west side of Victoria Island would include about 260,000 square feet of offices, a pub, two restaurants and retail space.

The NCC document lists two development scenarios for the seven- hectare Chaudiere Island, the first of which includes 75 homes, a convenience market and more than 50,000 square feet of office space. The second scenario has no homes on the island, but 140,000 square feet of office space, stores and restaurant.

In response to the revelation of their plans, the NCC was careful to insist that there are no immediate plans for development. No change there then -- much like the LeBreton Flats, the NCC has been sitting on these properties for decades, seemingly with no other goal than to keep them as empty and banal as possible. (See NCC Wastelands for a look at the property rotting in the care of the NCC on Bates Island.)

Citizen: Hotel highlights NCC plans for islands [29 Jul 2003]
Radio-Canada: La CCN veut développer les îles de la rivière des Outaouais [29 Jul 2003]
Radio-Canada: Le restaurant pourrait revivre a l'ile Bates [4 Aug 2003]

Monday, July 27, 2003

NCC considers allowing canoes into Leamy Lake

Backing off from their draconian regulations after some bad press last year, the NCC is considering changing the rules. NCC employees will be interviewing visitors at Leamy Lake beach, at the Centre de plein air du Lac-Leamy (100 Lac-Leamy Road) and at the control booth at the entrance to the navigation channel on certain weekdays between July 28 and August 29, 2003, and holding an open house at the Centre de plein air du Lac-Leamy, on Saturday, August 16 and Saturday, August 23, 2003, between 10 am and 3 pm.

Monday, July 14, 2003

Quebec wants to cooperate with the NCC

The new Quebec government wants to cooperate with the NCC. This appears to amount to finishing a highway project conceived 30 years ago (McConnell-Laramee) -- that's original thinking for you. So get out those ribbon cutters, boys, we're going to build some serious infrastructure!

CBC: Quebec Liberals seek NCC co-operation [14 Jul 2003]
Radio-Canada: Rencontre au sommet entre Beaudry et Pelletier [14 Jul 2003]

Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Chiarelli: abolish the NCC

The Citizen today reports that Bob Chiarelli would like to see the mess of federal departments responsible for various bits and pieces of Ottawa organized into a single uber-department. As an example of the sort of bureaucracy the city has to deal with, getting the proposed pedestrian bridge over the Rideau Canal near the University of Ottawa approved required discussions with Parks Canada, which helps operate the canal, Public Works, the NCC and the Department of National Defence, which is located nearby. The new department would have the side effect of eliminating the NCC, though one can't help thinking the feds would just hand the entire mess to the NCC instead.

Abolish the NCC: mayors past and present

The Citizen also featured a short history of Ottawa mayors calling for the abolition of the NCC. Some choice quotes:

Charlotte Whitton, October 1963: The NCC has outlived its usefulness, the time has come to scrap that organization entirely.

Jim Watson: In this day and age, when we welcome and celebrate a visit by (South African president) Nelson Mandela and the struggle he went through, we still have an organization that insists on being so secretive. You have to question what it is they are talking about behind closed doors that the public that pays its bills can't have access to.

Andrew Haydon, December 1991: They're overloaded with bureaucrats. You know, they got rid of all the doers, the engineers and those things, and filled them up with planners and PR people. How much PR do you need?

Mary Pitt, March 2000: Why does this capital have to have the NCC? Give the money to the municipalities. They know how to run a park. I bet they do a hell of a job.

Merle Nicholds, March 2000: We talk about the bureaucratic approach ... but the NCC takes the cake. We need a complete rethink of the role of the NCC.

Citizen: Give us our own federal department, mayor says [8 Jul 2003]
Citizen: Long list of mayors sought changes to NCC [8 Jul 2003]

Friday, June 27, 2003

NCC settles Gateway lawsuit

From the Citizen:

The National Capital Commission has settled a lawsuit brought against it by Canadian Gateway Development Corp. over the development of the former Daly site.

A three-paragraph statement issued yesterday by the NCC and Canadian Gateway said the settlement was reached by mutual agreement. No details were released and NCC spokeswoman Laurie Peters said the terms will not be made public.

"Both parties have agreed to keep the terms confidential."

Canadian Gateway sued the NCC two years ago for breach of contract, defamation, aggravated damages and copyright infringement, after the federal agency killed Gateway's development plans.

Citizen: NCC settles lawsuit over Daly site [27 Jun 2003]

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

NCC gets permission to do something, possibly

We're not sure where the actual news item here is. Apparently, the federal government has given itself permission, via the NCC, to develop land it doesn't own, but not in the "foreseeable future." But hey! The NCC's created a web page to get us all jazzed, so a few bureaucrats were kept busy for a few hours this week. And although nothing's happening, you can be damn sure they are consulting the public about it. The preferred option is, wait for it, a "park." Maybe a "museum." Whatever it becomes, it will "provide a dramatic stage for events and activities of national significance," bien sur. It's all part of a much larger plan, however, so we can all sit back, relax, and wait to see what Scott Paper extracts from everybody's favourite real estate mark, the NCC.

Citizen: NCC in talks to buy 'shadow of the Hill' [25 Jun 2003]
CBC: NCC gets OK to buy Scott Paper site [25 Jun 2003]
Citizen: Ottawa's waterfront transformation [3 Jul 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]

Friday, June 13, 2003

The people want more parking

So says the NCC, having polled 600 potential punters about what would get them to visit Sparks Street:

When asked what would make them visit downtown more often, the most popular response was "more parking."

But Dan Donovan finds that response difficult to believe, given the number of empty parking spaces downtown at night. He owns part of the Parliament Pub on Sparks Street and publishes Ottawa Life, also on Sparks.

He accuses the NCC of asking flawed questions to back its proposal for a parking garage.

"This is the first step in the NCC moving to gut four heritage buildings on Sparks Street," said Donovan, who vows that a group of people on Sparks won't let that happen. If the NCC goes ahead with the plan, Donovan plans to sue.

Of course, more parking dovetails nicely with the NCC's grand Sparks Street parking scheme.

Buildings slated for demolition include the Birks Building and the Richmond Building.

CBC: Businesses balk at NCC parking garage [13 Jun 2003]
Citizen: NCC survey urges more parking lots [10 Jun 2003]
OBJ: Spark needed to ignite mall's growth [23 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 Releases Environmental 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-Laramee Blvd. released [5 Jun 2003]

Monday, May 19, 2003

Ottawa's waterways a wasted asset

Hugh Hunter argues in the Citizen that Ottawa's waterways are woefully underdeveloped:

Ottawa's location on the map puts it on top of three major waterways: the Rideau Canal, the Rideau River, and the Ottawa River. The two Rideaus flow into the Ottawa, and to get there they both cut through the heart of the city. This means that every day, thousands of commuters look at them from bridges. But few Ottawans ever pause to think about the water beneath. It is a loss for all concerned.

For one thing, it's an economic loss. There are tremendous opportunities for business on a river or canal. For those who can afford it, pleasure boating is a beautiful summer recreation. But sadly, one can count the operating marinas on all three waterways on the fingers of one hand. As a result there is almost nowhere to buy gas, stop for a meal, or even launch a boat.

Those who can't afford to own a boat, but would like to rent one, are frustrated by the scarcity of boat rentals in the city. For instance it is virtually impossible to rent a boat in Ottawa to see the Parliament Buildings from the Ottawa River. It is true that the Ottawa River, as well as the Rideau River, has occasional rapids along it. But there should be an opportunity for more than one localized rental station along each river. Not developing the water is an economic loss for Ottawa, since this industry is largely closed to consumers.

The waterways are also a loss of image for Ottawa. Mr. Beaudry objects to the Domtar factory because it is an eyesore. Presumably the reason why it is an eyesore is that it makes the river look like the undeveloped logging route that it was a few decades ago. But by that reasoning, the river today is an even bigger embarrassment for Ottawa.

Of course, almost all waterfront property in Ottawa is owned by the NCC, and the NCC's only idea for the waterfront for the past 50 years has been to build "scenic parkways" and plant sod.

Citizen: Our waterways are a wasted asset [19 May 2003]

Sunday, May 11, 2003

NCC bemoans fate

Jeez, it sure is tough running a national capital. This seems to have been the consensus of delegates at the "Capitals Alliance" conference in Canberra in March 2002. Representatives of four (count 'em) capitals got together to seek solace in each other's company, evidently because no one else will have them. "We're the 'fat cats' of Canada" declared Pierre Dube from the National Capital Commission, in town with fellow pariahs Chairman Beaudry and Grace Strachan. Hey Pierre, attending conferences in Australia in March ain't going to do much to dispel that notion.

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 8, 2003

NCC meeting sparsely attended

The NCC had its annual general meeting for interest groups recently. Apparently nobody knew about it. Maybe they should lay on a more attractive buffet.

CBC: NCC meeting more like a love-in [8 May 2003]

Monday, May 5, 2003

"It seems this is almost impossible"

We wish. Chairman Beaudry got a few more column inches in the Citizen today to expound on his grand plans for Sparks Street, presenting a schizophrenic regard for infill development while lamenting that the NCC can't build the Metcalfe Grand Boulevard:

[Beaudry] says the criticism about the heart of the city -- dull, ugly, all concrete and no humanity, has some merit and there is no doubt the Sparks area, one of the city's prime locations, has lost "a lot of its lustre."

Mr. Beaudry says Sparks Street boasts a few good businesses, but most are "cheap shops, most of them second-, third- or fourth- rate."

He says the street is usually dead after 5 p.m., when it should be alive with activity.

Mr. Beaudry says the problem began when the area was being built decades ago. The city approved construction of tower after tower without proper regard for how the area would function as a meeting place for people.

"From the beginning," Mr. Beaudry says, "there should have been more planning and more care taken about the buildings in the core area. Particularly, more balance should have been put in there -- not only office buildings, but residences to put life in the area at night."

Mr. Beaudry says in cities such as London and Paris, which so many people admire, buildings had to be torn down to make way for large boulevards. And he laments that today "it seems this is almost impossible."

Mr. Beaudry says light rail is not necessarily part of the NCC's vision for downtown. The idea of having trains all the way to Sparks Street is the city's vision, and the commission has not taken a stand one way or another.

He says the NCC's aim is to bring more excitement to Sparks Street by having a mix of shops and apartments, and "whether you need light rail out there or whether you don't, I think the proof of that has not been made yet. It has to be proven that light rail will be beneficial."

Mr. Beaudry says he agrees with the city's plan of intensification and points out that, in fact, the NCC has been a leader of infill development.

Right now, he says, NCC-sponsored infill developments include 122 rental units at George and York streets in the Byward Market; 120 units on Murray Street; the 34 condos in the works on Sparks Street; 212 units at Nicholas and Laurier, near the University of Ottawa; and 2,500 units scheduled for LeBreton Flats.

But while he won't get his boulevard, it does look like he'll get his "Metcalfe Lite" square. Apparently a final decision will "likely" be made in the fall. Oddly enough, the article neglects to mention the main reason this square is being foisted on Centretown: it will be the roof for an underground parking lot. Yeah, that's the sort of thinking that made London and Paris great.

Citizen: Breathing life into downtown [5 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]

Environment minister receives 'mise en demeure'

Meanwhile, residents of the Wright neighbourhood in old Hull are demanding that Quebec's new environment minister stop the McConnell-Laramee freeway. The freeway is one of Chairman Beaudry's favorite projects.

Radio-Canada: Mise en demeure pour stopper McConnell-Laramée [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]

Saturday, April 12, 2003

LeBreton Flats public meeting

The National Capital Commission has announced a public meeting to be held on Wednesday, April 23, 2003, from 5 pm to 9 pm at Tom Brown Arena. Apparently it will include a general update and risk assessment studies. What are risk assessment studies? From their web page:

On LeBreton Flats, this type of study is conducted where site specific soil remediation criteria have to be developed and where the human health and ecological risks of leaving contaminants in place have been assessed and it has been determined that no threat exists.

In short, whatever it is, it's not a threat. There will be a formal presentation of the project at 7 pm, followed by a "question-and-comment" period. We're not sure what happened to the answers portion of the program.

To support their LeBreton Flats effort, the NCC has created a LeBreton Flats page on their site. To wit: "One of the key components of the new vision for LeBreton Flats is to reclaim for Canadians one of the last and most beautiful waterfront sites in the nation's Capital." In effect, they are reclaiming it from themselves.

The NCC also released the Class Environmental Assessment for the construction of LeBreton Boulevard. The road has an estimated cost of $16,057,207, work is planned to start in 2003. Comments accepted up to May 12, 2003.

NCC: LeBreton Boulevard Class Environmental Assessment [9 April 2003]

Friday, April 4, 2003

LeBreton Flats Environmental Reports

The draft Environmental Assessment Report (by consultant Dessau-Soprin) and the draft Environmental Screening Report (by the National Capital Commission) about the remediation of the blocks between LeBreton Boulevard and the open aqueduct are now available for public comment, up until April 25.

NCC: LeBreton Public Consultation Reports

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Same plans, different day

Chairman Beaudry spoke of the National Capital Commission's plans at an Orleans Chamber of Commerce networking luncheon. Nothing new here, same plans, same excuses for the LeBreton Flats, Sparks Street, Confederation Boulevard, and the McConnell-Laramee freeway.

OBJ: NCC chief charts out vision of future [26 Mar 2003]

NCC's fees scare off tourney

The Citizen reported today that William Wilson Group, organizers of a national street hockey tournament, have dropped Ottawa from its list of venues because of the National Capital Commission. While other Canadian cities are charging on the order of $500 for the use of streets for the tourney, the NCC wants $7,000 to use the Queen Elizabeth Driveway, and also want the group to become a "platinum" member of the Friends of the Rideau Canal for a mere $3,000. The organizers expect between 3,000 and 5,000 players in each city.

[Company co-CEO Scott] Hill said he doesn't want a quarrel with the federal agency because Ottawa is an important location, and his group wants to make the city part of the circuit. Still, he said the only reason William Wilson [Group] pulled out was the NCC's financial demands -- including, he insists, a request to become a member of the Friends of the Rideau Canal at extra cost.

He said when the company told the NCC it could not join the Friends of the Rideau Canal -- which helps raise funds for canal maintenance -- officials cooled "to the point that they wouldn't return our calls and e-mails. I didn't mention it (in the e-mail) because I didn't think it was in our interest to push too much. We think this program is good for kids and good for Ottawa. We are not looking to burn bridges, we are looking to build relationships."

Citizen: NCC's 'exorbitant fees' scare off street hockey event [26 Mar 2003]
Centretown News: Facilities rental cost offside, says organizer [11 Apr 2003]

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Mackenzie King Estate Access Road Report

The final version of the Preliminary Screening Study, the Public Consultation Report (by the consultants Tecsult) and the draft environmental screening report (by the National Capital Commission) are now available from the NCC for review by the public.

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

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Court challenge to NCC's dog rules

The battle over the National Capital Commission's dog rules has climbed to surreal heights as a coalition of dog owners filed a constitutional challenge against the NCC. Meanwhile, the NCC has compelled recalcitrant dog owners to stop posting notices about the legal challenge on NCC property. Predictably, the media is having fun with this one, with large articles featured in both the Citizen and the Sun. From the Citizen:

The three cases are those of Mary Haydon, who was charged with walking her shelties on NCC land without a leash; Karen Landheer, who was chased by an NCC officer while jogging with her old boxer across a piece of NCC property; and of Matthew Owers, who was escorted out of the Mud Lake Conservation Area when walking his dog in a prohibited area.

If convicted of wilfully disobeying a peace officer's order to leash her dog, Mrs. Haydon could be fined as much as $500 and face a possible six months in jail.

The wife of Andy Haydon, a 25-year veteran of Ottawa politics before his retirement in 1991, Mrs. Haydon declined comment last night on grounds the matters was in lawyers' hands.

"It's the common person trying to fight back," said Candice O'Connell, chairperson of the 284-member National Capital Coalition for People and Dogs which has raised more than $2,500 for court expenses. "Dog walking is a legitimate, recreational activity and the allocation of NCC land is woefully inadequate."

She said the three cases are probably just the tip of the iceberg since the NCC bans dogs at all NCC organized events and bans the use of dogs in sporting activities on NCC land. Many handicapped people use dogs, as do some people with severe depression, she said in a written statement. "The people would be barred from events like Winterlude and the Tulip Festival."

The legal team is arguing that NCC regulations are inconsistent with sections of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms on grounds they discriminate against the physically and mentally disabled, the elderly and women.

Their claim also alleged the regulations are unconstitutional because they impose fines or imprisonment on parents if their children violate the NCC's restrictions against animals. And it faults the NCC for establishing regulations in areas under exclusive provincial jurisdiction.

Citizen: Dog lovers take on the NCC [12 March 2003]
Globe and Mail: Restrictions on pets discriminate [13 March 2003]
CBC: Group challenges NCC's dog rules [13 March 2003]
Globe and Mail: Restrictions on pets discriminate [13 March 2003]
Legal challenge and defence fund update [27 Feb 2003]
NCC forces NCCPD to stop posting notices on NCC property [1 Mar 2003]
NCC Watch Feature: Give the Dog a Bone

Monday, February 24, 2003

Nice work if you can get it

Former Mayor Jim Watson slams the NCC in the Citizen for its lack of transparency:

The NCC has to be the most secretive and unaccountable federal agency in existence, and watching this so-called accountability session convinced me even more that this institution has to be reformed.

To say that chairman Marcel Beaudry rules with an iron fist is the understatement of the millennium.

He is the only head of a major Crown corporation who is both the CEO and chairman of the board at the same time, and I doubt very much if he subscribes to Paul Martin's "democratic deficit" theory when it comes to the control he has over his version of backbenchers -- the NCC commissioners.

A few months ago, I was flying into Ottawa and happened to be sitting beside a woman who asked if I lived in Ottawa. I said yes, and asked her where she was from.

She replied that she was coming to Ottawa for a board meeting of a Crown corporation.

My ears perked up and I asked her which one, and she said "the NCC."

[...]I asked her whether she enjoyed sitting on this board, and her reply was particularly candid.

She said: "I love coming to Ottawa, but we basically rubber- stamp everything the chairman gives us. But at least we get to fly business class!"

[...]In response to growing discontent about the NCC and its handling of a variety of issues (LeBreton Flats, Champlain Bridge widening, and the proposed demolition of parts of Metcalfe Street) the NCC appointed former Privy Council clerk Glen Shortliffe to bring forward recommendations on how to improve the organization.

The NCC, in typical fashion, received Mr. Shortliffe's report -- which in part called for more transparency -- then proceeded to discuss its 11 recommendations at a secret meeting.

The most pressing and relevant suggestion -- that board meetings be held in the open -- was not even put forward, and so we are left with a dog-and-pony show called the Annual General Meeting.

Interestingly in Mr. Shortliffe's report, a public opinion poll stated that "more than 90 per cent of residents think that the NCC should be open and accessible to the public in all its dealings, and meetings should be regularly held to account to the public for its plans and decisions." Yet despite this overwhelming response, the best Mr. Shortliffe could come up with was an annual public meeting and two semi-annual meetings.

Even then, Mr. Shortliffe's recommendation allows the chairman to keep a tight grip on his board members. This section of the report concludes: "The format will permit members of the board, with the permission of the chair (emphasis mine), to ask questions of the interveners."

[...]I know of at least two commissioners whose terms were not renewed because they dared to question actions of the chairman and management and who were viewed as not being "team players" in the eyes of Mr. Beaudry.

Citizen: It's time to end NCC secrecy [24 Feb 2003]

Sunday, February 9, 2003

The show will go on downtown

Mark Monahan, executive director of the Ottawa Bluesfest, has confirmed that the Bluesfest will continue downtown, despite being refused access by the National Capital Commission to Confederation Park, site of last years' fest:

Monahan feels the city is much more supportive of festivals than years past. "Mayor Chiarelli has been a big boost in changing that attitude." Monahan is now working with the city to develop alternatives for Bluesfest's outdoor stages and says, "We are looking at various locations around city hall, not on NCC property obviously, where we can stage the rest of the events (other than main stage Festival Plaza).

He also looks at the bright side of not being able to use Confederation Park. "Not having to deal with the conditions the NCC puts on us is a lot less stressful. In a way, I think it's a positive thing."

OBJ: Monahan aims to 'animate' city [9 Feb 2003]

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 23, 2003

Feature: Confederation Boulevard walking tour of NCC planning disasters

The NCC loves Confederation Boulevard, and they've created several walking tours to prove it. Unfortunately, they neglected a few notable points of interest. Not to worry. Take our handy map the next time you stroll the 'vard.

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]