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Past News: 2010

Friday, December 31, 2010

City appeals NCC property assessments

One of the problems running a city where all the land is owned by the federal government is those guys get to set their own taxes:

The National Capital Commission has paid about $24 million to the City of Ottawa over the past three years in payments in lieu of municipal taxes for its properties, but the city believes it is owed more money and will likely appeal to a federal panel for redress.

Higher levels of government aren't required to pay property taxes to the city, but long ago agreed to these "payments-in-lieu" so as to be fair to municipal governments' need for revenue. The catch, though, is that the federal government isn't bound by the assessments of its properties' value, which are determined by the Municipal Property Assessment Corp., a provincial government agency.

[...]Federal law allows the government to do its own property valuation and pay taxes based on that assessment. If the valuation conflicts with that of MPAC, it is often ignored.

"They don't have to pay what we invoice. They pay what they believe they should pay, and then we appeal to the panel," [deputy city treasurer Ken] Hughes said.

[...]Among the several disputed properties are:

550 Albert St., a piece of land MPAC values at $1.4 million, but the NCC says is worth only $530,000 because it's contaminated.

A piece of land on Cassels Street, near the Britannia Yacht Club, which is valued by MPAC at $2.4 million but zero by the NCC.

2010 Moodie Dr., a piece of land MPAC says is worth $132,000 but NCC says has no value because it is a bike path.

The NCC owns more than 1,400 properties in the capital, including office buildings, rental homes and land. The book value of its land holdings, buildings and infrastructure is $522.3 million.

The agency pays "PILTs" on properties it occupies or uses itself. But on those it leases or rents out, where it's acting like a regular commercial landlord, the commission pays full municipal taxes like everybody else, and collects the money from the tenants.

Citizen: NCC and city at loggerheads [31 December 2010]
Citizen: How much is this building worth? [31 December 2010]

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

NCC spends $249,000 to 'engage' Canadians

The "national engagement strategy" continues:

The National Capital Commission has hired a Toronto-based consultant for almost a quarter-million dollars to find out what Canadians want the National Capital Region to look like in 50 years.

[...]"The national engagement strategy is aimed at reaching out to Canadians, not just from our region, but from all over the country," says Cedric Pelletier. "The NCC wants to connect more Canadians with their capital, to care for and to have their say on the future of their capital."

The contract, which runs into mid-2013, requires DPRA to seek input from elected representatives, aboriginal leaders, all levels of government, area municipalities, special interest groups and other stakeholders.

OBJ: NCC spends $249,000 to 'engage' Canadians [21 December 2010]

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

NCC farm tenant high and dry

Another story about one of the NCC's valued farm tenants:

Somebody should remind National Capital Commission chief executive Marie Lemay that more than six months have passed since she spoke of the need to fix its relationship with its farm tenants.

Because in that time, Jennifer Englert, who rented a rural house from the commission in September 2009 with plans to start farming adjacent NCC land last May, has been left high and dry.

It's Dec. 8, and she is still waiting for her land access permit from the NCC, through its property manager, Del Management Solutions.

Not that the permit would do any good right now, but until she gets it - or the lease that she was also promised - she will be in the dark about next year, too.

[...]Englert has spent thousands renting a three-bedroom "heritage" house on Ridge Road, in the Ramsayville area, that has cost her a ton more in propane and hydro. She bought a new $18,000 tractor following more assurances that the permit was coming for about 14 hectares of land assigned to her in early spring. She bought other farming equipment and supplies, including seeds, bulbs and spuds. She relinquished her booths at two weekend farmer's markets last July because she didn't have any of the vegetables or cut flowers that were to come from her new farm.

[...]It's not clear which is the bigger villain in Englert's ordeal - the NCC or the property manager. Certainly, staff changes at Del Management and the NCC, as well as miscommunications and other gaffes made the situation worse.

But the NCC was neglectful, too, and, as the property owner, is the one which was supposed to sign off on her land access permit for 2010 and a subsequent five-year lease for 2011-2015. One NCC staffer actually suggested she complain to a Del Management superior. That got her far.

The NCC leases more than 60 farms on its Greenbelt lands. There have been numerous complaints about the condition of barns and other farm buildings, impractical leasing options and the property management company.

The problems were documented in a Citizen story on May 23. In a report the following day, Lemay said she was well aware of the complaints, adding the commission would have "to act so farmers know and are appreciated as partners with the NCC."

Citizen: Slow land permit process leaves NCC farm tenant high and dry [8 December 2010]
NCC Watch: Greenbelt grievances [24 May 2010]

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

NCC approves next phase of LeBreton development

Claridge, the winning (and sole) bidder to build condos on the still largely vacant LeBreton Flats, has had its next few buildings approved by the NCC Board. From the Citizen:

The NCC board gave Claridge Homes the go-ahead even as the agency is still working out differences with the developer over its failure to abide by NCC guidelines in the construction of an adjacent block. The problem, according to Francois Lapointe, the NCC's executive director of capital planning, is that Claridge began work on the tower block without getting final approval from the agency.

Planning officials found several deviations from the original design when work was well underway and had to scramble to reassert the original plan. The key issue was the removal of stairways for units on Fleet Street Mews that were an integral part of the original design. The NCC also had some concerns with the landscaping.

[...]On the next phase of the project - which consists of one six-storey condo block; a block of townhouses and an eight-storey building - the NCC said they were happy with the plans submitted by Claridge.

[...]The development of LeBreton Flats has been controversial from the beginning.

The land, expropriated by the NCC for a government complex, sat empty for 40 years before Claridge was picked in 2004 to start construction on a four-acre portion. The first building, with its green facade, received criticism from experts and neighbours alike, who said it was too mundane to grace as important a site as LeBreton.

Lapointe conceded that while the design was not perfect, it was a good one. He said that what's considered good design is often a matter of judgement, and believes that when the first phase of the project is completed and people see it in its entirety, they'll appreciate it.

"We believe that in the fullness of time, the project will good for the community," he said.

"In the fullness of time" being something of a mantra for the vigilant micromanagers at the NCC.

Citizen: NCC gives OK for next phase of LeBreton development [24 November 2010]
Centretown News: NCC OKs next phase of LeBreton development [8 December 2010]

Sunday, November 21, 2010

NCC heads into deficit

More on the NCC's finances, as Randall Denley in the Citizen reports that the NCC is projecting deficits, and wonders about their general inability to get around to that project to build a vibrant capital:

When National Capital Commission chief executive Marie Lemay recently said the agency couldn't afford to keep putting on Winterlude without more private-sector help, it was an oblique admission that her organization isn't in good financial shape.

Winterlude is the NCC's signature event and it costs only $3.7 million to produce. About $1 million of that is already from the private sector.

How can the NCC not afford an event that delivers such value and what are the implications for Canada Day, the sound and light show on Parliament Hill and Canada's 150th-birthday celebration? Lemay said these are also potential areas for private-sector partnership.

The NCC's financial statements certainly raise questions about its ability to keep playing a prominent role in the capital without more help from people in Ottawa.

The commission is expecting deficits this year, and for the next five years. The amounts aren't paltry. The commission projected a $21.4-million deficit this year on total spending of $149 million. The actual deficit is expected to be about $12 million. Lemay says deficits are projected for the next five years as well, totalling about $10 million.

To cover those shortfalls, the NCC has cash and short-term investments of about $38 million. The anticipated deficits will eat through more than half of that.

Part of the problem is declining support from the federal government. A $5.5-million budget cut is being phased in over three years. The future deficits are also due in part to internal administrative projects like increasing IT security.

[...]In Ottawa, we specialize in making simple things complex. The NCC has perfected this over the years. And yet, getting a good idea going can be as simple as presenting it to the NCC board, and persuading them to say yes.

Asked what's actually stopping the NCC from doing things like creating a canal park with real people attractions, Lemay pauses, then says, "If we wanted to, I suppose we could."

Lemay acknowledges that the public, both here and nationally, is actually pushing the NCC to make Ottawa a more vibrant place. Some real action from the NCC would encourage all of us to back that up with our time and money.

The NCC received a big infusion of cash for capital and operations in the 2007 budget.

Citizen: No shortfall in ideas [21 November 2010]

Monday, November 15, 2010

NCC landholdings revealed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 13, 2010

NCC asks for help with Winterlude

NCC CEO Lemay claims the NCC can no longer afford to put on Winterlude. From the Citizen:

National Capital Commission CEO Marie Lemay warned Friday morning that the popular Winterlude festival is no longer sustainable -- unless private business moves in to take part.

[...]"We know that if we don't change, really, fundamentally, the way we look at our business, the only thing we'll end up doing at one point is having to cut an arm," Lemay said. "That's the only result at the end of the day if you're not able to reinvent yourself and make really good use of your funds."

From now until about 2013, Winterlude will become a testing ground for how to involve the private sector in future NCC events and plans, Lemay said following her talk.

The NCC has been the role of sole producer for Winterlude, but for 32 years of tradition to move forward, that has to end, she said.

"That forced us to really think outside the box, and to really look at, 'OK, so what do we do with this?' "

"If we want to continue to have a Winterlude and if we want to get it to where we think it should be -- better, vibrant, exciting -- then we need to have partners and we need to involve the private sector and we need to do it differently."

Lemay said the NCC has been approached by businesses in the past to become involved with programming events, but because of the commission's existing framework, it just wasn't feasible.

Now, the NCC is trying to spread the message that private business participation is not only wanted, it's needed.

At the same talk, Lemay also expanded on the NCC's plans roll out of their new slogan for the capital:

She also announced the NCC's upcoming National Capital Region branding platform. The winning idea?

"Canadian. Just like you."

That beat out two others that made the shortlist, including "Where Canadian stories live," and "The capital of being Canadian."

Lemay said that "by far," the winning slogan resonated with people most during research testing.

She said a firm has been hired to help the NCC in its openness mandate -- first begun in 2006 -- to spread that message and better involve, interest and engage Canadians with NCC planning, events and more.

Plenty of money for national campaigns promoting themselves, then.

Citizen: Winterlude needs private funding [13 November 2010]
Your Ottawa Region: Winterlude needs businesses' help to survive [18 November 2010]
CTV: NCC plans campaign to market Ottawa to the country [12 November 2010]

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bill C-20 approved at committee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Jurisdictional confusion on the Greenbelt

As work gets underway on this trade show facility on Greenbelt land out by the airport, EMC Ottawa South attempts to figure out who's actually responsible for what:

Construction for the new trade show facility in Ottawa South has officially begun.

[...]The land in question falls into the Greenbelt, which is managed by the NCC and 4899 Uplands Dr. has been deemed a buildable site within the Greenbelt.

And while the NCC believes the Macdonald-Cartier International Airport and its land provides an excellent venue for further economic development, the NCC and the Ottawa Airport Authority currently have differing positions on the jurisdictions of the NCC in respect to these lands and are in discussions about the issue - but neither the NCC nor the airport authority would comment on what the discussions consisted of.

Krista Kealey, vice-president of communications and public affairs for the Ottawa International Airport Authority, explained that the authority's Land Use Plan, which is part of the authority's Master Plan and has been approved by the Transport Canada in 2008, governs the development on their land. It was also given approval by the NCC. However, in the statement of the NCC's approval, it lists a series of conditions, one of which is that submission of detailed environmental studies is required prior to development for the Uplands Employment Area in wooded or wetland areas only.

The site is currently a vacant wooded lot.

However, Kealey said the only approval the authority receives is from the Minister of Transport. In addition, NCC spokesperson Mario Tremblay said that the NCC "technically can't stop any development on the site."

[...]In addition to falling on the Greenbelt, the land is owned by Transport Canada and is leased to the Ottawa Airport Authority, which has then decided to sub lease their land to Shenkman Corp. As of Oct. 4, Shenkman was still waiting for approval of the lease from Transport Canada.

"This arrangement gives the Airport Authority the sole responsibility for operation, management, and development of the Airport lands," said Transport Canada spokesperson Maryse Durette. "The Airport Authority operates at arms length from Transport Canada."

Further, she explained that airport authorities are not currently federal authorities as defined under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and therefore "do not trigger a legal obligation to undertake federal environmental assessments."

Durette confirmed that while the site is owned federally, because it is leased, it is not considered federal land.

"To date, Transport Canada has not identified any actions or decisions by the Ottawa Airport Authority that would require Transport Canada to conduct a federal environmental assessment under the CEAA in relation to this project proposal."

"In this case, the Authority requires that Shenkman will follow the direction of the City of Ottawa through its site planning process and obtain all necessary permits, licenses and studies as the city sets out in its conditions to planning approval," said Kealey.

While the city has no authority over the land, they are in charge of ensuring that all studies are completed in according with their site plan control proposal process. City staff has maintained that all the necessary studies have been completed for the project.

However, there has been no Environmental Assessment completed because it is not required on federal land. But, as Durette said, this is not considered federal land.

[...]Regardless of the confusion of jurisdictions that surrounds, the project has begun and will continue in full force until its grand opening in Jan. 2012.

To recap, the NCC don't have jurisdiction, don't own the land, and approve of whatever gets built anyways. More good work on the Greenbelt file from the NCC, then.

EMC: Trade show and exhibition centre causes jurisdiction confusion [28 October 2010]
CBC: Ottawa development protest pressures minister [19 October 2010]
CBC: Protesters decry greenbelt clear-cutting [15 October 2010]
EMC: Trade show centre development raises questions about environment [14 October 2010]
EMC: A new Lansdowne in Ottawa South? [23 September 2010]
CBC: Residents oppose Greenbelt development [23 January 2002]

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Trash suitable for trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 15, 2010

The NCC closed circle

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

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

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

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

Read the entire thing.

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

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Unusual trail 'rehabilitation'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mer Bleue Bog advocate honoured

The NCC is celebrating 15 years of Mer Bleue Bog being designated as a "Wetland of International Importance" under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. The NCC frequently cites the bog as one of its conservation success stories. So what did the tall foreheads at the NCC want to do with the bog back in the early 60s? Why, turn it into a landfill of course. From the Citizen:

The top official of the National Capital Commission was full of smiles Tuesday as she presented a conservation award to the man who was once the most persistent thorn in the NCC's side.

"For the NCC, Mer Bleue represents 50 years of conservation success," said NCC chief executive officer Marie Lemay, as she presented a Mer Bleue Wetland Conservation Award to retired Carleton University biology professor Donald Smith.

But Smith, who accepted the award with grace, knew that the NCC didn't always see the bog in that light. And that if it hadn't been for the "persistent badgering" by himself and a group of like-minded naturalists, the internationally-significant wetland might well have ended up as a municipal dump.

"In December 1962, there was a little squib in the Ottawa Journal that just said, the NCC was considering for the local municipalities to dump garbage in the Mer Bleue peat bog. When we read this, we were quite alarmed," Smith recounted at the awards ceremony. "We talked about this and thought: What should we do? We've got to stop it. We've got to mobilize some naturalists and anyone who might have some influence on the NCC to stop this."

Citizen: Biologist wins award for saving bog [22 September 2010]
NCC Release: NCC celebrates Mer Bleue's 15th anniversary [21 September 2010]

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

More Greenbelt development

The NCC, as they like to tell us, are charged with protecting lands of national importance such as the Greenbelt. So when a new trade show facility is being thrown up somewhere on Greenbelt land out by the airport, some might expect - given a leading name like 'greenbelt' - that the NCC would nix the thing. Well, not so much. From the CBC:

Environmental groups in Ottawa are challenging the city's plan to build a trade show centre near the Ottawa Airport.

The Greenbelt Coalition of Canada's Capital Region - which represents 15 environmental and community organizations in Ottawa - says the city and the National Capital Commission, or NCC, are trying to rush the $40-million project.

They say the site on Uplands Drive where the trade show centre and hotel are to be built is in the middle of sensitive wetlands and could threaten wildlife.

They argue that the area's wetlands are protected by federal legislation and accuse the NCC and top city officials of treating the site like a developer's playground.

"It's all about development," said Sol Shuster, chair of the coalition. "It's seen by some people at the NCC as business opportunities rather than protecting the greenbelt."

[...]Coalition cochair Nicole Desroches said she isn't against the construction of a trade show centre but believes it should be built elsewhere.

"The location is problematic," she said. "Not only because of the wetlands, but closer to downtown would provide a more readily available access by public transit and avoids creating a field of parking used only occasionally."

Members of the alliance say the project could endanger wildlife in the area.

Cheryl Doran with the Friends of the Greenspace Alliance, a member of the coalition, said turtles are already being killed on Uplands Road and says she is sickened that more turtles - including snapping turtles and endangered Blanding's turtles that might live in the area - will be wiped out if the wetlands are filled in for parking lots.

"This is anything but greening the capital when you have to wipe out a federal wetlands and the species that live there," she said.

NCC officials were not available for comment but are on record as supporting the development even though there has not been an environmental assessment.

In fact, single-story trade show facilities with plenty of surface parking are just the sort of sprawl the NCC has always encouraged for the Greenbelt.

CBC: Environmental groups fight trade show centre plan [21 September 2010]
Citizen: Trade-show site plans raise concerns [5 October 2010]

Saturday, September 10, 2010

Ottawa's banal waterfront

Citizen columnist Mark Sutcliffe looks at riverside developments in other cities with envy:

Imagine walking down a scenic promenade lined with trendy restaurants and shops on one side and a majestic, magnificent river on the other.

You browse through a few boutiques along the boardwalk, make a reservation for dinner, stop for a coffee or an ice cream, then sit on a bench overlooking the river and watch tourists in canoes and rowboats paddling by.

Unfortunately, if you live in Ottawa, the only way to experience this scene is to use your imagination. Or to head out of town to a city that has tastefully and properly developed its waterfront into a hub of activity for citizens and visitors, like Chicago.

[...]Unless you make a special effort to get to the river, using one of the limited number of access points, you'll never see it. And unless you're a runner or a cyclist, you certainly won't have much opportunity to enjoy its beauty. Most buildings near the Ottawa back onto rather than face the river. The best views of the river are from the Quebec side or from tall buildings in downtown Ottawa that are several blocks from the water.

Ottawa's other major waterway, the Rideau Canal, isn't much better. Like the Ottawa River, it's lined with roads and paths. But over a stretch of several kilometres between the National Arts Centre and Dow's Lake, there is a grand total of one restaurant that faces the canal.

[...]Many cities in North America have done far more with their waterfronts despite having far less to work with. Navy Pier in Chicago is an obvious example. But cities like Baltimore, Cleveland, and San Antonio with its Riverwalk have also developed their waterfronts into popular destinations.

Many cities in North America also don't have an inept federal government agency controlling their waterfront, whose only talent is building and maintaining roads and acres of turf. Waterfront development in Ottawa began and ended 50 years ago with the NCC's driveways, which effectively cut off access to the river. Great for commuters though.

Citizen: Waterfront needs commercial attractions [10 September 2010]

Saturday, August 21, 2010

NCC buys recycling bins

The Citizen reports on some recycling numbers from an NCC environmental report:

After hiring people to dig through its own trash last year, the National Capital Commission concluded it could send a lot less to landfills after big events with a little extra effort.

According to audit results published in the NCC's most recent environment report, about 92 per cent of the waste left behind after the Rideau Canal Skateway and Winterlude in 2010 could have been recycled or composted. But only a small amount actually was -- about eight per cent at the Skateway and 22 per cent at Winterlude.

Slightly less than half of the waste left after Canada Day in 2009 could have been recycled or composted, but only about a fifth of the trash made it to blue and green bins instead of the garbage.

Geneviève Mercier, the environmental strategy and program officer for the NCC, said the commission has already started working on improving those figures. The NCC bought 180 new recycling bins for last July's Canada Day and Mercier said she thinks this year's results will improve as a result.

Good on the NCC for getting on board with this new fangled recycling program that the city has been operating for the last few decades.

Citizen: NCC needs work on its Three 'R's [21 August 2010]
NCC Release: NCC's first annual environment report [16 August 2010]

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Climbers reject NCC response

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 2, 2010

Just like the NCC

Everybody knew that whatever the NCC came up with would be lame; the question was how lame. So: "Just like you". Kelly McParland comments in the National Post:

What is it with Ottawa and its desperate need to find a slogan that city poobahs hope will convince Canadians it's more than just a boring place filled with politicians, bureaucrats and museums?

In a big announcement that almost no one paid attention to, the National Capital Commission revealed on Wednesday that it spent $102,500 coming up with yet another slogan.

Wanna hear it? OK, wait for it ... "Just like you".

Yup, that's it. Ottawa, just like you.

What's it mean? God knows. Only a city jammed with civil servants would consider it a good idea to spend $102,500 to "research, develop and test the concept" of a lame-ass slogan like "Just like you." Apparently it costs that much to discover that people think "Just like you" is catchier than "The Capital of being Canadian" and "Where Canadian stories live", two other equally lame possibilities that were considered.

[...]Grow up folks. Slogans only work for cities that already have an image in the public imagination. The slogan has to catch that image, it can't create it. Continually blowing money in the hope that some ad campaign will magically transform boring Ottawa into a sexy tourist destination is just a sign of rampant civic insecurity. And a waste of money, to boot.

Actually, we have to concede that its very meaninglessness makes "Just like you" less lame than the other two painfully earnest and truly astoundingly lame slogans that were apparently in contention, though the mind boggles. So way to go NCC!

National Post: Ottawa, lame like you [2 July 2010]
Ottawa Citizen: Capital region 'Just like you', NCC's new slogan says [29 June 2010]
Toronto Star: Come visit Ottawa: It's "just like you" [1 July 2010]

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

NCC wants to design transit stations

Scant weeks after the Citizen revealed the NCC was blocking the LRT tunnel on the pretext of heritage, the NCC is now offering its mad design skillz to the city for the transit stations. From the Citizen:

The National Capital Commission wants to team up with the city on some of the creative design for Ottawa's light-rail transit stations.

NCC chief executive Marie Lemay has asked Mayor Larry O'Brien if the city would be interested. Lemay is still coming up with the possibilities, but mentioned a potential design competition or showcase involving each of the country's provinces and territories.

[...]The two sides would have to discuss the idea further if the city's interested, Lemay said, adding the NCC's involvement wouldn't include additional financial help. The federal and provincial governments have each already committed $600 million to the project.

"At this point, what I'm talking about is more expertise and maybe being able to engage Canadians in this wonderful project," Lemay said.

In the past year alone, the NCC has refused to commit to allowing light rail along the parkway, balked at shuttle services on Queen Elizabeth Drive, and refused to grant approval for the LRT tunnel under the Rideau Canal. But they would like to inflict their bland, patronizing design on the transit stations.

Ottawa Citizen: NCC wants to help design Ottawa's LRT stations [29 June 2010]

Thursday, June 3, 2010

NCC blocks canal LRT tunnel

The city's LRT plans hit more snags in the multi-layered federal bureaucracy. From the Citizen:

The city's plan for a light-rail tunnel underneath the Rideau Canal has hit a heritage speed bump that could further complicate the biggest infrastructure project in Ottawa's history.

According to documents obtained under the Access to Information Act, a year of active talks between the city and Parks Canada over the placement of a tunnel have ended fruitlessly, at least partly because federal authorities want to keep a say over the design and placement of a new rail station near the National War Memorial.

The city's plans for a $2.1-billion new light-rail system, see a tunnel to be built 30 to 35 metres beneath the surface when it passes under the canal. By refusing to grant the city approval to run the tunnel underneath the canal, the National Capital Commission and Parks Canada maintain leverage in influencing what nearby Rideau Station will eventually look like.

The concerns about the Rideau Canal are the latest stumbling block federal departments and agencies have created for the city's attempts to bring light rail to Ottawa. The NCC has also yet to make any commitments to let the city use land it is counting on.

Ottawa Citizen: Plans for canal tunnel stalled [3 June 2010]

Friday, May 24, 2010

Greenbelt grievances

The Citizen has a three-part series on farming in the greenbelt, highlighting typical problems experienced by anyone who is a tenant of the NCC:

Behind one of the barns on Eliane Michèle Crematy's farm on Ramsayville Road is the rusted carcass of a Ford truck.

The windows are smashed, the vinyl seats are slashed and the white paint has turned grey with time. A Manitoba maple tree and other weeds threaten to swallow the truck whole with their foliage.

This isn't Crematy's truck, but it's been there since the day she moved onto the farm almost two years ago.

She has asked the National Capital Commission - her landlord - to remove the truck, yet here it remains.

"It's just so hard to get somebody here to say, 'Yes, you're right, we're going to fix this,' and take action," Crematy says, letting out a long sigh.

Farmers on the Greenbelt have many gripes: urban encroachment, crumbling barns and farm infrastructure, impractical leasing options and a landlord-tenant relationship that leaves many feeling disconnected from the NCC.

But "Canada's Capital Greenbelt" - the 20,000-hectare crescent of farms, forests and wetlands that hugs the city - is supposed to be a place where Canadians can experience their rural roots and natural heritage; a place where sustainable farming and forestry are key features.

[...]Today, the NCC owns more than 60 farms, leased to tenants like Crematy through a third-party property management company.

[...]Crematy's dream for her 10-hectare farm was to board horses, do some market gardening and ease into retirement with her partner, Anna.

Crematy hoped to get certified to teach riding horses.

But the 50-year-old barn badly needs repair. Its leaky roof creates deep puddles in the stalls she wanted to use for boarding and there is no running water. One section of the ceiling is caving.

Although the lease stipulates the NCC is responsible for structural repairs, Crematy said the couple has put more than $10,000 into the farm since 2008.

Those added costs, combined with some bad luck, forced them to miss two months' rent - something Crematy says would not have happened if they were boarding horses.

"We were told the barn was great and that was the biggest disappointment."

On the other side of the Greenbelt, near Shirleys Bay, David Burnford grows organic vegetables on about two hectares of land.

He says the line between what regular maintenance he's responsible for as a tenant and what tasks should fall to the NCC is fuzzy.

"I think that results in a lot of issues not being addressed by either party," he says.

He cites, as examples, a kilometre-long driveway that is pocked with potholes and a century-old barn needing structural work.

Burnford says the NCC should invest in the farms.

"If we're going to designate it as a special area and keep it away from development, we might as well do it properly," he says.

Burnford, who is more than halfway through a five-year lease, adds a longer lease would allow him to invest capital more confidently.

These problems have existed since the land was expropriated, and there's little reason to believe, consultant reports, 'buy local' faddism and Marie Lemay's personal enthusiasm for farming notwithstanding, things will ever change.

And while the NCC churns away on its next plan for the greenbelt, the city had its own consultant report on the greenbelt, recommending that land along major arteries be developed. However, as Randall Denley notes:

To really get anything done in Ottawa, one requires intelligent involvement by either the federal government or its agencies. That's a problem. The consultants highlight the disconnect between federal actions and good land use policies. For example, the federal government has done nothing to intensify development in its outmoded office campuses at Tunney's Pasture and Confederation Heights. These are prime revenue-generating and intensification targets, but the government has no particular motivation to act.

Citizen: Greenbelt Acres: Farm living, it's the life they seek [22 May 2010]
Citizen: Greenbelt grievances [23 May 2010]
Citizen: Bountiful opportunities for produce in Greenbelt: NCC [24 May 2010]
Citizen: Consultants tell city: tighten your Greenbelt [16 May 2010]
NCC Watch: Down on the farm with the NCC [24 Sep 2000]
Citizen: Greenbelt history left to rot [22 Oct 1999]

Friday, April 30, 2010

Government to continue "efforts in modernizing the NCC"

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

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

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

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A brand for all Canadians

There is no task that the NCC pursues with more zeal than their primary mandate: promoting themselves. And so it is that they are spending $2.5 million over the next five years to develop a brand for the Capital, for all Canadians. Apparently it is to be reflective, inspiring, and, uh, something to do with the environment. From the Citizen:

The National Capital Commission is working to develop a catchy yet dignified slogan, to be unveiled in June, that's meant to brand the capital region as a source of pride for all Canadians.

[...]"It's not just a phrase. It's about: Why does (the capital) matter to you as a Canadian?" said NCC chief executive Marie Lemay. "There are a number of things that are important to Canadians that are not, in their mind, reflected in the capital. Those had to do with the environment, with making it more reflective of the country, and inspiring. Working on those is really important. ... It's about the value of the capital to Canadians."

The slogan is to be part of a five-year $2.5-million branding and marketing project that the NCC began last year.

The values identified in the research are meant to infuse the NCC's corporate culture and operations, as well as the development of a new "Plan for Canada's Capital."

[...]In the efforts to come up with a branding and marketing strategy, the NCC commissioned Ipsos-Reid to conduct a survey of 3,500 Canadians on their attitudes toward the national capital.

The survey found that four out of five Canadians have a positive impression of the place. Most people saw the capital as historic, interesting, beautiful, welcoming, and culturally rich.

Fewer saw it as fun, dynamic, modern, cosmopolitan and innovative.

"It doesn't matter that much -- they don't expect you to be those things," said Ipsos-Reid vice-president Alexandra Evershed.

Obviously that's a good thing, being that this project is in the hands of the NCC.

Citizen: NCC to roll out hip (but not too hip) slogan for national capital region [22 Apr 2010]
Citizen: Slogans: keep it simple, stupid [25 Apr 2010]
Citizen: NCC banner needs approval to use Olympic rings [22 Apr 2010]
Citizen: Yes to self-promotion [27 Apr 2010]
Centretown News: Ottawa not just for Ottawans: NCC [21 Apr 2010]

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"Misinformation and regressive management practices"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plus ça change.

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

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Conroy Pit parking lot overflows

Been a few years now since the NCC unilaterally banned dogs from most of their property, and all off-leash dogs with the exception of a couple of fenced in areas. Now the parking lots are overflowing at Conroy Pit. From the CBC:

A lack of places where Rover can run free is forcing pet-owners to drive to one of the six dog parks in the city and creating congestion in those neighbourhoods, according to a city councillor.

Gloucester-Southgate Councillor Diane Deans wrote in an open letter Tuesday to the National Capital Commission that it should dedicate more space in the Greenbelt for off-leash dog parks as part of its Greenbelt Master Plan.

"Less than one per cent of the green space the NCC owns within the boundaries of the city of Ottawa is for dog walkers, or for dogs off leash," said Deans.

Deans said Conroy Pit, in her ward, is a great place for dog walkers, but the overflowing parking lot is beginning to cause problems with residents of the neighbourhood.

CBC: Councillor calls for more dog parks in Greenbelt [21 Apr 2010]
Citizen: More dog parks needed in Greenbelt: Deans [20 Apr 2010]
NCC Watch: Dog archive

Friday, April 9, 2010

Seventy years, thirty days notice

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

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

Hay, after all, was no ordinary woodsman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 2, 2010

Two wheels good, four wheels bad

Momentarily setting aside the NCC's solid 50-year legacy of road building and putting cars first, NCC CEO Marie Lemay blue skies a bit in the Citizen about making Ottawa a walking and biking capital:

Ottawa has a "car-first, bike-after" attitude, says the chief executive of the National Capital Commission. And Marie Lemay said residents have to decide if that's really the way they want to build the future of Canada's capital.

"One of the fundamental things that I think we need to have a discussion about is, do we want our National Capital Region to be bike- and pedestrian-friendly? And if the answer is yes, we have to be ready to do the things that implies. It might mean it will be more difficult for cars, for example," she said.

"Do we make the decision that bikes and pedestrians come first? And if we do that, everything else follows."

Lemay said the place of cyclists and pedestrians will be a central question in the NCC's new, three-year initiative to develop a plan for Canada's capital [surely they already have one of those? - ed.]. Public discussions on the plan are to begin this summer.

Given this is merely chit-chat in advance of an initiative to discuss, publicly, the development of a plan for Canada's capital, nothing is imminent. Obviously. Nevertheless, over at his Citizen blog, David Reevely sees this as a sign for some sort of hope:

This isn't to say that it ought to be the NCC's mission to make Ottawa a biking-first city - I'd like that, but the NCC's imposing it unilaterally would be no better than deciding that biking isn't the NCC's problem. What is nice to hear is that Lemay seems to see Ottawa's permanent residents as necessary partners in the enterprise of planning and running the place, rather than the hamsters that inconveniently happen to live in the city the NCC's planners want to build.

Being that the NCC was more or less the unilateral imposer-in-chief of Ottawa's "car-first, bike after attitude," they don't carry a whole lot of credibility in this regard. But this is the second time in a year Lemay's been put on the front page of the Citizen regarding these bicycle contraptions, so there's evidently something to be said for the whole concept.

Citizen: Pedal pusher [19 Apr 2010]
Citizen: NCC aims to peddle Ottawa as biking haven [15 Apr 2010]
A worthy challenge [7 Apr 2010]
Citizen: NCC wants a walking, biking capital [2 Apr 2010]
NCC Watch: Pathways to frustration [15 Aug 2009]
Greater Ottawa: A new attitude at the NCC? [3 Apr 2010]
CBC: Another cyclist struck on Sussex Drive [26 Apr 2010]

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Canlands Sparks St project launched

Last heard from about two years ago, the NCC's Canlands A project on Sparks Street was "won" by Ashcroft, and now the development has been announced. Surprise surprise, it's a luxury condominium, not unlike the one that went up at the Daly site, i.e., another condo by another ordinary Ottawa builder. Why is the NCC necessary to this process?

Citizen: Luxe living by the Hill [20 Mar 2010]
Centretown News: Sparks St. site of $5M condo [26 Mar 2010]

Thursday, March 18, 2010

NCC releases Gatineau Park conservation plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Gatineau Park Protection Committee website

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

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Not a public space

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

NCC bill dead, but will probably rise again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NCC gets "stimulus" money

In the giving from the right hand to the left department, the federal government is granting itself $35 million, give or take, to fix some roads, bridges and fancy washrooms administered by the NCC. There are 14 projects in all:

  • fully $21.45 million is going to a clutch of roads and bridges for repaving and so forth
  • $1.5 million for a new greenbelt pathway
  • $450 000 to repair a retaining wall in Major's Hill Park
  • $1.5 million to rehabilitate the Victoria Island Carbide Mill building masonry
  • $3.75 million to replace "the existing public skateway facilities (washrooms, info kiosks, etc.) placed onto the Rideau Canal Skateway each winter"
  • $3 million to Vincent Massey Park for "rehabilitation of the concession, bus shelter and bandstand buildings, plus select improvements to adjoining recreational pathways, parking facilities, and landscape renewal" - no mention of the planned $2.2 million dollar washroom though. Maybe that's because the washroom stimulus money's all going to the Hog's Back Park Washroom Pavilion, which is getting a whopping $3 million for "rehabilitation of the existing public washroom and concession buildings, including significant universal accessibility upgrades."

So the roads and bridges brigade beat out the parks and washrooms contingent roughly 2-1, which is probably par for the course.

CBC: National Capital Commission gets $35M in stimulus [6 Jan 2010]
Infrastructure Canada Release: Canada Invests In the National Capital Commission [6 Jan 2010]
Centretown News: NCC rescues crumbling mill to revive Victoria Island [22 Jan 2010]