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Past News: 2011

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Post summary of NCC Roadshow 2011

The National Post sums up the NCC's roadshow:

The National Capital Commission, the planning agency that overseas federal land and hosts national events in the capital region, is on a mission to make the capital more "vibrant" - although its timeline is admittedly long term. The commission's Horizon 2067 plan to re-imagine the capital is pegged to Canada's 200th birthday, a full half-century from today.

[…]The Horizon 2067 plan, which will be approved in the spring of 2013, is so far short on details and tangible proposals.

The commission this fall spent upward of $650,000 crisscrossing the country to hold what Ms. Lemay calls "capital conversations," where Canadians in Ottawa, Quebec City, Halifax, Victoria, Edmonton and elsewhere voiced their desires for a future Ottawa. It began with a capital conversation with the aboriginal community, which the commission hopes to better represent in the capital whether through renaming streets after aboriginal leaders or by celebrating the traditions through events.

"The question is," Ms. Lemay said, "Where do we see ourselves in 50 years?"

At the capital conversation in Ottawa, Montreal-born singer-songwriter Florence K suggested dubbing the city "HOTtawa" to give it a sexier image, and former diplomat Stephen Lewis suggested the capital become "one of the great conference centres of the world ... a centrepiece of international gatherings." Canadians also apparently want more bike lanes, "personality," landscape architecture, "pizzazz" and gay bars, according to the commission's "We Asked, You Spoke" webpage, where citizens are asked to give a word or a short phrase to describe their hopes for the capital in 2067.

In its discussion draft, the commission admits the "younger generation thinks less highly of the National Capital" than its older or less-educated counterparts.

"The clear message we got from the younger generation is: 'We want to experience the culture of Canada. We don't necessarily want to see a wooden panel that talks about New Brunswick. We want to live it, we want to taste it, we want to really experience it,' " said Ms. Lemay, adding that suggestions included pop-up restaurants featuring food from a particular province, or adding benches and portable chairs along the canal so people can rest and gather as they wish.

So hold onto your hats - fewer plaques and more portable chairs coming your way by 2067.

Post: Roll out the sidewalks: Horizon 2067 aims to give Ottawa more pizzazz [17 December 2011]

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Horizon 2067: no one cares

Citizen columnist Andrew Cohen lays into the NCC for its fecklessness in crisscrossing the country consulting Canadians about vague plans with interminable time horizons:

Yes, it was a nice idea to imagine Ottawa in 56 years. No matter that this will cost $650,000, that 2067 is an eternity from now, and that the NCC is discredited in reputation and limited in authority in this orphaned city.

But why should that stop the jumped-up nation-builders at the NCC, who thought this one up so that Canadians could pretend to care about Ottawa? Yes, vision and ambition are commendable in a city with little of either. That the NCC, under CEO Marie Lemay's spirited leadership, wants to lead a conversation on making a great capital is lovely. But you don't do it with an expensive road-show that is more an exercise in public rather than a public exercise. You don't do it to solicit motherhood prescriptions, as Chianello points out, such as "sustainable," "inclusive," and "culturally vibrant."

And you don't do it by commissioning self-aggrandizing polls suggesting how good people feel about Ottawa (why, 80 per cent have a "positive" view!). Honestly, what does that mean?

[…]If the NCC really wants to do something more enduring and more useful than a standing ovation at the National Arts Centre, here are some ways to take the discussion from the heavens to the plains:

Understand that Ottawa doesn't have 56 years to contemplate itself. It is already far behind other cities in mass transit, public architecture and institutions (like a central library). It has to rush into the future, not amble, which is its instinct.

Persuade the federal government to look at Ottawa more favourably. Little will happen in its realm until it does. Urge it to build great institutions - a science museum, a national portrait gallery, a history museum - as well as turning the old U.S. embassy into an exhibition hall displaying our founding documents.

Develop the shores of the Ottawa River, which the Aga Khan and his Global Centre for Pluralism and others are discussing privately, but slowly. Do the same with the banks of the Rideau Canal. The new chalets look good, even if they cost too much at $750,000 each. Now try some exhibits for Winterlude that don't date to 1985.

Lace the city with bicycle paths. Explore green energy. Encourage innovative street vendors and different street food. Build an aboriginal centre on Victoria Island, finally.

Mandate beauty in new buildings. Fill those that sit empty, such as the Canada and the World Pavilion on Sussex Drive, which could house the embassies of Scandinavia in one place, as in Berlin. Don't allow new construction on the greensward near Rideau Hall.

Do the little things: more outdoor chairs, more rental bikes, more nature trails, more public art.

Stop thinking about 2067. No one cares. Think about 2027 and announce a plan for the next 15 years. A horizon we can see.

Citizen: Canadians don't love Ottawa [29 December 2011]

Friday, November 25, 2011

Advice for the NCC: leave the city alone

A couple of recent editorials in the Citizen advise the NCC to more or less stick to its knitting. First up, Elizabeth Payne describes how communities are innovating on their own:

If you really want to know how to build an innovative city, don't ask the eggheads and bureaucrats - ask the guy behind the grill at a local burger shack. Or the bookstore owner. Or the chef.

While the National Capital Commission works away on its plan to "shape the capital's future" over the next 50 years - called Horizon 2067 - Ottawa's rapidly evolving neighbourhoods have ideas of their own.

Like raising money from neighbours to help a Hintonburger burger shack move into a boarded up KFC franchise (and soliciting ideas about what to do with the revolving bucket) - the gift certificates that are helping to finance the renovations are redeemable when the new restaurant opens. Or turning a local bookstore into a community meeting hub.

Don't tell the NCC, but Ottawa is shaping itself, recklessly, with a sense of fun and innovation few outsiders would probably associate with Canada's capital.

And while the NCC should limit its 50-year plan to the future of Official Ottawa (and has its work cut out managing that file), it could learn some lessons from Ottawa's neighbourhoods - namely that culture grows, incrementally, from the ground up and not the top down; and the best way to nurture it is to stand back and let it happen.

The editorial board, meanwhile, notes that the NCC already has enough on its plate.

Instead of coming up with a masterplan for Ottawa until 2067, the NCC should stick to what it does (and often struggles to do well): primarily keeping the slice of Ottawa that makes up the official capital vibrant and relevant. There is no shortage of improvements that could be made, all of which would make Ottawa a more lively and tourist-friendly capital, something that should suit all Canadians.

The problem with the NCC's ambition to create what it calls the most comprehensive plan for the capital since Jacques Gréber's 1950s masterplan, is that the NCC has its hands full trying to do its own thing - we don't want it to redesign the rest of the city, thanks.

[…]The best approach for the future of the capital is for the NCC to put together a realistic and doable plan for the incremental improvement of official Ottawa that it can complete, and let the city shape itself.

Citizen: National Capital region's future is taking shape all on its own [25 December 2011]
Citizen: NCC has its hands full [22 December 2011]

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Embassy wants NCC land in New Edinburgh

The NCC loves embassies, and it loves to have them built along Sussex (decades ago they expropriated all the land along Sussex in Lowertown for this purpose, leaving many properties to go to ruin) as they are, one assumes, sufficiently boring and can be depended upon to keep their hedges trimmed. Some parkland on Sussex in New Edinburgh looks to be next to join the 'International Sector' - from the Citizen:

The New Edinburgh Community Alliance vows to fight the National Capital Commission (NCC) over a proposal for an embassy on a rare piece of park land near the prime minister's residence that is used by the neighbourhood and visitors to Ottawa.

"We are distressed and angered to learn ... that the NCC is planning to sell a portion of the northern edge of New Edinburgh, a 'green precinct' that enhances the approach to 24 Sussex, Rideau Hall and the historic community of New Edinburgh," Joan Mason, president of the community alliance wrote to the NCC on Saturday.

The two parcels of land managed by the NCC are located on the New Edinburgh side of Sussex Drive between Stanley Avenue and Alexander Street.

[…]Last week, the agency sent an email informing the community that "we have been approached by a proponent who has an interest in using part of this land for a diplomatic mission."

As a result, the NCC is conducting a land survey, a geotechnical study, a review of possible contamination, and site visits to determine servicing. The commission has already conducted some assessments of the soil at 26 Stanley Ave. and 47 Sussex Dr. The planned work is a supplemental soil investigation of the site, a spokesperson for the NCC told the Citizen.

The NCC official says the assessed value of the two addresses in question tops $4.1 million for about 1.15 hectares of land. Located along the Confederation Boulevard ceremonial route, "these parcels of land have been identified ... as part of the capital's international precinct, hosting diplomatic missions and international organizations and institutions," the NCC says.

Mason argues the site should not belong to a foreign government. "This last bit of green space, in such a vitally important location next to the two most historically significant residences in this country, should not be lost to Canada.

"We are appalled that the NCC ... is prepared to contemplate selling off precious green space and public property, and to permit the construction of a modern, sterile foreign mission in jarring dissonance with the serenity and historic resonance of this area."

[…]Mason notes that while the NCC is travelling across Canada asking Canadians what kind of capital they want, the federal agency did not consult New Edinburgh.

"It has long been clear that the commission views the inhabitants of our neighbourhood as essentially self-interested property-owners whose views must be over-ridden or ignored in the interests of serving this mythical community of 'all Canadians'," she wrote.

New Edinburgh residents are well aware of the national treasure that surrounds them, she says.

"We live with the crowds of visitors that flood the area each year, and see at first hand what they respond to with delight and enthusiasm," she wrote.

"It is not the faceless row of sterile foreign missions along Sussex Drive. Rather it is the parkland, the Rideau Falls, the open spaces and the historic homes of the prime minister and Governor General."

Citizen: New Edinburgh group ready for land fight [23 November 2011]
CBC: New Edinburgh residents fight plan to build embassy [13 December 2011]
YourOttawaRegion: New Edinburgh concerned about NCC plans for park [30 November 2011]

Monday, November 21, 2011

Lemay defends NCC roadshow while Museum paves over park

Having conducted a cross-Canada tour to promote their essential wonderfulness and solicit ideas on just what the next century's sharing caring capital will look like, NCC CEO Marie Lemay claims in an interview in the Citizen, against all evidence, that "it is not just about us":

Marie Lemay defended the NCC's decision to consult Canadians across the country on a new plan for the capital, saying reshaping Ottawa for the next 50 years is not a job for a select few. If Canadians are going to embrace the capital as their own, and be inspired by it, then they should have a say in its creation, Lemay said in an interview with the Citizen.

Some believe the NCC could have achieved its goal by staying in Ottawa, but Lemay said the critics are wrong. She says the consultations produced fascinating ideas and insights that will form the basis of a new blueprint including: Ottawa as Canada's face to the world; as a window on the country, representing the Canadian experience and values; as a place to celebrate aboriginal culture and history; and as a vibrant capital that inspires Canadians.

[...]The new plan aims to reshape Ottawa for the next 50 years - to Canada's 200th anniversary.

The NCC hopes to create a "more representative and vibrant" capital that could become "a place of pilgrimage" where Canadians come to experience and learn about the country, she says.

[...]"The next part of the plan - developing the vision, starting to talk about strategies and concepts is going to happen here. The real work starts in January with the folks in this region to really engage them and say, 'Here's everything that we've got, what do we want to do with it? How do you see yourself?' "

Lemay said the big challenge facing the NCC is translate people's ideas into something concrete. When people say they want to see different parts of the country represented in Ottawa or that they want Canadian values represented in the capital, what does it really mean? How best can something like that be done and what form would it take? Some of the ideas could be integrated into NCC programming and activities, but others might entail major physical projects that will need funding to implement.

Meanwhile, down the street, one of the capital's historic national museums will be building surface parking because that's what passes for planning in the sharing caring capital:

People living near Ottawa's newly renovated Museum of Nature are angry over a plan to turn former parkland into a parking lot.

The museum says it needs at least part of its "West Lawn" to accommodate the growing number of visitors.

The lawn was used as a staging area during construction and is now an automated, public parking lot.

While there is a plan to restore some greenspace, neighbours said it's not what they were promised.

"They were all promised a park," said Roshell Bisset, who lives in the neighbourhood.

"That promise should be honoured, and that this is something that would make it much more liveable, and would keep the people living here."

Area councillor Diane Holmes called the situation ironic.

"It's pretty sad that in the nation's capital, we have a museum that was in a parkland, that's a natural museum, and it's now going to be surrounded by asphalt parking lots."

Want to know why no one takes the NCC's plans seriously? Because in downtown Ottawa a federal institution is about to build a surface parking lot around the country's first national museum, the Victoria Memorial Museum, and the NCC is presumably too busy ensuring that Canada's Capital Region is a source of national pride and significance to notice.

Citizen: Lemay defends talks on capital [21 November 2011]
CBC: Museum neighbours angry over parking lot plans [16 November 2011]

Friday, November 11, 2011

82 per cent of Canadians approve of Ottawa's right to exist

The NCC has conducted a motherhood and apple pie survey to help backstop their Horizon 2067 plan and roadshow. From the Citizen:

The poll, commissioned by the National Capital Commission (NCC) and the Association of Canadian Studies and carried out by Léger Marketing, found that Ottawa was the most positively perceived major city in Canada, earning an 82-per-cent approval rating.

"In this particular survey, I don't think they're thinking of it politically," said Jack Jedwab, executive director of the Association of Canadian Studies.

"They're thinking of it more esthetically. A lot of people like Ottawa esthetically. They like the Parliament buildings. They think it's a fairly easy city to navigate. They like the museums. They like the historic heritage of the city. Those are the things that people seem to connect with about Ottawa."

Nine per cent of respondents had negative images of Ottawa.

"When people react negatively, it's a function of politics, or they don't think (Ottawa) has a lot of nightlife," Jedwab said. "There may be a tinge of people not thinking it's a great city in the scheme of things. This survey evoked a competitive current. Some may be saying, 'Compared to my city, it's not as great as my city.' "

[…]The survey is part of the review of the NCC's Plan for Canada's Capital. So far, public forums have taken place in Halifax, Quebec City, Victoria, Vancouver and Edmonton with upcoming events set for Toronto and Montreal.

According to the survey, 75 per cent of respondents think that Canadians should have a say in the future plans of Canada's capital, and 65 per cent say representing Canada to the world is the most important role that Ottawa plays, followed by representing Canada to Canadians.

Citizen: No joke: Canadians actually like Ottawa, poll finds [11 November 2011]
OpenFile: Is Ottawa the most liked city in Canada? And is Toronto really the most hated? [10 November 2011]
NCC: How Canadians Rate their National Capital [10 November 2011]

Friday, November 4, 2011

NCC roadshow drags on

The Citizen's Joanne Chianello reports on another of the NCC's cross-Canada self-promotion exercises, this time from Edmonton:

The NCC has had five formal meetings in Ottawa, Quebec City, Halifax, Victoria and Edmonton to consult with Canadians about what they want to see in their capital.

I've been to three and I can report that the speakers were interesting in a sweeping kind of way, some downright fascinating. Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of hearing Larry Beasely, the former head planner of Vancouver who headed up that city's intensification effort with spectacular results.

But as I listened to him talk about how Ottawa should become a model for urban planning and "blow up the template for suburbs," it was clear the NCC has virtually no authority over the subjects he touched on.

Beasely knows this because he sits on the NCC's planning advisory board.

The NCC's five key meetings were really high-level urban-planning idea-swapping sessions, attracting urban-planning types. At the Edmonton meeting, the emcee was architect Vivian Manasc (also a member of an NCC advisory committee). During the question-and-answer period, she was able to identify by name most of the individuals who raised their hands.

[...]When the NCC project was launched in September, I predicted that "the citizens of this country will want their capital to be inclusive, sustainable, environmentally sensitive, rich in arts and culture, and vibrant."

I must be brilliant, because that's what I've been hearing at the meetings I've attended. (They also want good public transit, but are satisfied when they discover that light rail is on the way.) Perhaps I could have saved taxpayers $650,000, the two-year price tag for this project.

Sadly, I'm not that prescient. I'm just like everybody else, and pretty much everybody likes inclusivity and sustainability and vibrancy. What they're not so sure about is how to achieve them.

Michael Matthys was also at the Edmonton meeting. The university-age student admitted that most ideas were "more abstract concerns.

"So we want an inclusive capital because that reflects Canadian values, but how that translates into actual planning, I have no idea."

A man after my own heart.

Citizen: Turns out the NCC could have stayed home [4 November 2011]

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

More on road building in Gatineau Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 21, 2011

NCC passes buck, has buck handed back

More tales from the walking and biking capital, where the NCC has re-opened that cycling link, presumably out of embarrassment after CEO Lemay sent out a somewhat hilariously inaccurate letter in response to a complaint. From WestSideAction:

Well, Madame Chairman Marie Lemay has finally responded to a resident. Here is her letter (I added the bolding to the key phrase):

"Thank you for your e-mail of September 30, 2011, regarding the closure of an informal passageway leading north from Preston Street. We are sorry for the inconvenience or the apparent ambiguity in our messages but, as always, public safety is our priority. This access is closed for safety concerns, specifically the fact that it leads to the Transitway at a point where there is not a marked pedestrian crossing. […]We are currently looking into this matter with the City of Ottawa to determine if it can be made safely accessible to the public, specifically at the Transitway crossing.

There are two major errors in the explanation. First, the NCC claims there is no marked pedestrian crossing of the transitway. In fact, it has been a marked, signed, painted legal crosswalk there for three decades.

Having passed the buck to the city for arbitrarily closing a path that the city has authorized for decades, the error of their ways was presumably pointed out to them. They finally agreed to open the gate, not without requisite waffling about jurisdictional issues, blah blah - from the CBC:

The NCC's director of urban lands and transportation, Marc Corriveau, said it came down to a jurisdictional issue.

"We had no authority on the Transitway so we wanted to have confirmation with the City of Ottawa that they were OK," he said.

City officials said they have not received any reports of incidents and fully supports reopening the path.

So on Friday morning, NCC constables will once again cut open the gate at the south end where people had posted angry notes in recent weeks.

Another triumphant success in the walking and cycling capital!

WestSideAction: NCC passes buck to City, with eyes wide closed [19 October 2011]
WestSideAction: NCC / City agree to reopen Preston "extension" [20 October 2011]
WestSideAction: NCC reopens the gate [21 October 2011]
CBC: NCC to reopen LeBreton Flats pathway [21 October 2011]
Centretown News: Shoreline shortcut reopened for use by road-weary cyclists [28 October 2011]

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

NCC roadshow: "Honey, I'll be dead in 50 years."

The Citizen goes to Halifax to see how that NCC roadshow is playing in the provinces:

The NCC was in Halifax on Tuesday, the third in its five city tour for Horizon 2067, a visioning exercise to come up with a blueprint for the capital's future. The entire project will cost about $650,000 - including the cross-country trips and the online surveys and all the reports that those entail - and will result in a vision statement in winter 2012.

[…]Sure, the experts who were on the panel spoke eloquently (and some not so eloquently) about wide-ranging urban issues. They suggested that Ottawa - and every city, really - needs to be more vibrant, move to an open-24-hour-a-day schedule, make people feel welcome, be more inclusive, move forward on a sustainable basis, even conserve water.

Other than that last one, I'm starting to lose all sense of what these concepts mean. And I'm not sure the panellists aren't, too.

[…]On one level, I applaud the NCC for trying to engage the rest of Canada in shaping the capital. It's a lovely concept. And probably more Canadians should care about how their capital develops.

But they don't.

Yes, they want it to look good and have nice buildings to visit and for it not to be an embarrassment.

But they don't have specific ideas on how to plan the city because, for one thing, they're not planners. More important, they know, instinctively, that Ottawa is our city. We live here, we shape what daily life is like - and it's not all good - and we pick up most of the tab.

[…]If Ottawa is important to people outside the city, it's because it's the centre of government, and all that that entails. It's not anyone's second home, as the NCC is trying to market it. As one Dalhousie urban planning student said, "I already have a home and it's in northern British Columbia."

Perhaps these sentiments are best described by the gentleman who left his survey on my table after he left during the break. He wrote that "a people place is made by the people who live there, who care for those spaces day in and out."

Citizen: Halifax blasé about NCC [19 October 2011]

Sunday, October 16, 2011

NCC rubber-stamps another architectural mediocrity in the core

The Citizen's Kelly Egan reports on plans for a new glass tower on Elgin Street to replace the aging Lorne building, and notes the NCC's crucial role in safeguarding the integrity of Confederation Boulevard's nationally significant dullness:

On a final note, the design of the building was, according to Public Works, approved by the National Capital Commission. Makes you wonder what the NCC's role really is as the traffic cop of federal development downtown.

The commission, you'll recall, is embarking on a cross-Canada tour to seek input into a 50-year vision, Horizon 2067.

Meanwhile, it is allowing important sites to be devoted to glass towers to be filled with mouse-armed accountants.

Here's a vision: The way to make Ottawa less boring is to stop filling it up with so many boring buildings in gorgeous locations where people, at the end of the day, don't want to be bored.

Citizen: Just ordinary for Ottawa [16 October 2011]

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

NCC no charity

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cycling link locked again

Still in the walking and biking capital, WestSideAction was on hand to observe the locks going back on the gate across that formerly useful walking and cycling link:

[…]the brightest and best of our black and whites (that's a pun on police cars, although these guys drove a white and green) fiddled with the lock, and got it in place, but the gate is not closed tightly, so one can sort of squeeze through it.

Come to think of it, that's not a bad solution. The gate is locked, cars are kept out, but peds and cyclists can continue through.

Note too, that in all this concern for public safety by Madame Chairman, there is a crooked piece of rebar that sticks up out of the ground, as it has for a year or more, and someone put a chip bag on the end so someone else doesn't poke their eye out. One would think a bureaucracy concerned with public safety would be sending a fresh team out right now to fix this eyesore, but alas, the chip bag is safe in its afterlife as a public safety cone.

NCC CEO Marie Lemay, on the eve of attending the Global Velo-City 2010 cycling conference in Copenhagen last year, expressed the hope that "people would turn to us and say: How is it done in Ottawa? How is it done in our capital?" Answer: with fences, gates and rent-a-cops. A shared platform of knowledge to build on, that.

WestSideAction: Madame Chairman relocks the gate [11 October 2011]

Thursday, September 29, 2011

NCC closes popular cycling link

Meanwhile, in the walking and biking capital, WestSideAction notes that the NCC has locked a gate across a popular walking and cycling route:

Now that letter doesn't actually contain the words "we promise to keep the route open", but it does allay our protests by calling the previous closure temporary, and saying it has been reopened for pedestrians and cyclists.

But, alas, it seems it was only open long enough to fabricate a large metal box, now welded to the frame of the gate, enclosing the lock and chain, so that it can't be cut off by irate citizens

Irritated users of this popular path, which has no record of safety issues, might wish to let their wishes be known to

Personally, I don't know if this is just a case of a lawyer off the leash who thinks that anything that isn't officially open must be locked up; or if it is a plot between OCTranspo and the NCC to cut off the route. Choose your villains, there's plenty of villainy to go around. Ironically, the city put up signs this week making the path along Albert (from where these pictures were taken) a signed city bike route.

Still, that whole walking and cycling capital lark was good for a trip to Copenhagen. Nice one CEO Lemay!

WestSideAction: NCC closes popular cycling link after promising to keep it open [29 September 2011]

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Gatineau Park roadbuilding continues

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 10, 2011

NCC roadshow

Roll up, the NCC is taking its mad visioning skillz on the road. Ever eager to promote themselves, the NCC will hold "engagement activities" in several cities across the country in the coming months. From the Citizen:

In coming up with its 50-year plan for the capital - called "Horizon 2067" - the NCC is taking it to the streets (okay, it's taking it to the museums and universities and concert halls) to hear directly from the people about how the national capital can be more inspiring, more inclusive and more vibrant.

Stop rolling those eyes, at least until you've heard the details.

In collaboration with the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, the NCC is launching "Capital Conversations," a series of discussions led by expert panellists to include the public in the debate about what they want for the nation's capital.

This national chat starts right here on Sept. 27, before heading out to Quebec City, Halifax, Victoria and finishing up in Edmonton in early November.

[…]Panellists will include urban-affairs guru Richard Florida; former politician and diplomat Stephen Lewis; George Hazel, who, among other things, is a British expert on how towns and cities work; and jazz singer-songwriter Florence K.

[…]These "engagement activities" - which include all the events, online activities, logistics, and followup from the consultation - will cost $650,000 over two years.

Now you can start rolling your eyes.

[…]practically speaking, it will likely result in nothing but looseygoosey feel-good ideals that will mean little to the real planning of this city. I can tell you right now that the citizens of this country will want their capital to be inclusive, sustainable, environmentally sensitive, rich in arts and culture, and vibrant.

What else can come from some of the questions the NCC is posing, such as, "How can the national capital be made even more inspiring for all Canadians?" One of the challenges the NCC identifies is "building a capital that is representative of Canada and Canadians." It's a challenge because it's impossible to know what this means.

Of course, nothing useful can possibly come from this exercise - it merely serves to give the appearance of doing something and, more importantly, gets the NCC into the press.

Citizen: NCC to search Canada for a vision for Ottawa [10 September 2011]
NCC: Horizon 2067

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Whither Ottawa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah yes, the waterfront - such potential:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Paid a lot to do a little

In the Citizen, Kelly Egan remembers that the NCC has an ombudsman, and tries to figure out what she's accomplished:

Apologies to Laura Bruneau, who is paid $1,160 a day to work roughly 50 days a year, but I'd forgotten she existed. Quiet is as quiet does?

The ombudsman's position was created in 2008 as part of the Crown corporation's drive for more openness.

[…]The scorecard, which, admittedly does not tell the whole story, reads as follows.

In the 2009 annual report, during which services were open to the public for only six months, there were 25 "contacts" with the office: three were inquiries, seven were referred outside the NCC, 12 were referred within the NCC and three "files" were open (two were closed).

For the full year 2010, there were 50 contacts, with 23 being referred elsewhere, 21 sent for further in-house redress and six files opened for "examination or intervention."

So, in the first two years, nine "files" were opened.

According to its own website, there has not been a single news release since Bruneau's appointment and under "Final Reports," there isn't a single entry.

The latest annual report also contains this worrisome sentence.

"There is no statistical evidence within the NCC known to the Ombudsman, and only the limited experience described above, on which to base the performance of the NCC Ombudsman office, to date.

Furthermore, it is not practical to include a case study."

[…]In fact, we had a pleasant exchange a few days ago about a possible interview and she responded with a need to check with chairman Russell Mills and the other directors.

Odd. Where is the independent streak that makes ombudsmen valuable, if not feared? Indeed, I would have thought the most potent weapon an ombudsman has is the threat of public embarrassment. Just ask André Marin, now Ontario Ombudsman, who rattles teacups wherever he goes.

[…]It is also discouraging, as a resident of the city, to see a fresh idea disappear into the fog of government; that is, the office has flow charts, pie graphs, policies, websites, colour reports, a complaint form that asks if you're aboriginal or a member of a visible minority, but nothing concrete to offer about how it makes the NCC a better organization.

Citizen: Paid a lot to do a little [18 August 2011]

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

NCC to recycle its crumbling properties

The NCC is partnering with Habitat for Humanity to recycle building materials in all those crumbling properties it maintains, presumably before they burn down. Hurray!

NCC Release: Habitat for Humanity and the NCC together to give new life to used construction materials [19 July 2011]
Citizen: NCC partners with Habitat for Humanity [20 July 2011]

Monday, July 18, 2011

A European view of Ottawa

Writing in the Citizen, historian and writer Phil Jenkins takes us on a sightseeing tour of Ottawa, circa 1951, touching on many locations that have since been transformed by the NCC.

A windows down, elbows out drive along the canal is recommended next, on the west side; the east side ends in railway tracks. Our tourists do not pass under the Queensway, still a decade away from being flown over the driveway, or must they turn left at Laurier before the Arts Centre, and they continue along the canal and past the Roxborough apartments and arrive at the War Memorial again, where we started. Passing between the Grand Trunk's monumental Union Train Station, then in its hey day, and the Loire Valley-esque copper spires of the Château Laurier, the guide directs us left across the streetcar tracks onto Sussex Drive, with government workers entering and leaving the venerable Daly Building, though none are lingering outside to smoke, something they are perfectly able to do indoors.

Citizen: A European view of Ottawa [18 July 2011]

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Red tape strangles art project

An art installation about art, nature and bureaucracy has been nixed by the bureaucrats at the NCC. From the Citizen:

The art installation planned for Confederation Park was supposed to celebrate, most positively, the connections between art, nature and bureaucracy.

Designed by Ottawa artist Jennifer Macklem, the installation was to be on view during the annual Rideau Canal Festival July 28 to Aug. 1, and was to be titled The rapture coming to transfigure bureaucracy.

But there was a problem. The bureaucracy - specifically the bureaucrats at the National Capital Commission - were not enraptured with Macklem's creation and gave it a thumbs down.

Why? The art would have touched a tree.

[…]Macklem wanted to attach several strips of lightweight, biodegradable plastic to a high branch of the tree and then lead them earthward like sunbeams at a 45-degree angle to encircle a desk and chair placed on the grass.

The internationally renowned artist, who is a sculpture instructor at the University of Ottawa, said she is respectful of nature, including trees, and would have attached the plastic strips in such a way that no branch would be damaged. After all, she had created a similar installation, attached to a tree, for Winterlude this past February. And no one raised a fuss about that.

In fact, during the past two Winterludes, the NCC allowed art projects, including the one by Macklem, in Confederation Park that involved material wrapped around trees or branches.

[NCC spokesman Jean] Wolff said those projects were "experimental." No damage was done to the trees in those "pilot projects," he conceded, but officials felt it best to stop permitting artists to incorporate trees into art installations.

Macklem said she can understand the NCC having a policy that prevents damage to trees, but that the commission is essentially telling people "you are not allowed to touch a tree." She used such words as "juvenile," "appalling" and "humiliating" to describe her experience.

[…]Macklem had offered to use a lamppost on the nearby Mackenzie King Bridge instead of a tree, with the plastic strips pointed toward a spot on the grass of Confederation Park. The NCC killed that idea too. The latest proposal involves installing a dead tree in the park for Macklem to use.

Citizen: Red tape strangles artistic celebration [12 July 2011]

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Canada Day show criticized

The NCC's Canada Day show drew some criticism this year, seeing as how folks were actually paying some attention due to the presence of some celebrity royals. From the Citizen:

The National Capital Commission is defending its Canada Day show on Parliament Hill, calling it highly entertaining, despite the negative comments received from Canadians.

"I'm proud of the show that we produced," the NCC's Guy Laflamme said Tuesday, about the July 1 musical lineup that drew dozens of negative e-mails to the NCC, and several letters to The Citizen.

[…]But many people called both shows "an embarrassment" and a "big disappointment" and complained about the selection of acts as well as the duplication of noon and evening performances.

[…]The NCC said it strove to balance regional, linguistic and gender representation in selecting the musical lineup, adding that artists are chosen based on "relevance, affordability" and "availability."

Citizen: Canada Day show on the Hill draws some boos [4 July 2011]
Citizen: NCC defends Canada Day show on Hill [5 July 2011]
Citizen: Building a better Canada Day [5 July 2011]

Friday, June 10, 2011

It shouldn't be too complicated

NCC CEO Marie Lemay visited the Citizen, and claims to be seeking an "overarching statement with two or three points" for guidance from other levels of government. This appears to be part of a PR exercise promoting the NCC's next 50 year plan for a vision. From the Citizen:

"We have such a complex region in terms of jurisdiction," she said. "It really does influence a lot of the way we do business. It really does stress the fact that we need to collaborate on many things.

"If we were able to decide together what we are putting first then we can all make our decisions accordingly."

For example, the NCC is working with the City of Ottawa on plans for a public square at the intersection of Sussex Drive, Rideau Street and Wellington Street. When traffic studies are done "we will have to decide who is going to go first. Is it going to be pedestrians or cars?" The commission and the city are also in the middle of a debate over the proper route for a western light rail transit line.

Lemay recalls a trip to Berlin, Germany where she saw brightly coloured lawnchairs placed along the river for public use.

"I'm thinking, why can't we do this along the Rideau Canal? It shouldn't be too complicated," she said.

"In any European city, they take over the sidewalks and use them. We have our rules and regulations the minute you want to use one foot of it.

How hard indeed. Bold words from the head of possibly the most hidebound micromanagers in a city full of them. As the Citizen notes in a related editorial:

It is encouraging to see that Lemay is open-minded about what it might take to bring change to the capital. During the meeting, she mentioned over-regulation as one of the reasons there are not sidewalk cafés spilling all over the street in parts of Ottawa, for example. She mentioned street life in European cities such as Berlin and wanting to see more of that vibrancy here. Lemay should be commended for raising the issue.

In the past, however, the NCC itself has sometimes been a stumbling block in efforts to make the capital more vibrant - everything from the lack of cafés and restaurants along the city's waterfronts to banning dogs from the Ottawa River have helped create a pretty, if sometimes remote and sterile, capital, which seemed to be the NCC's vision then.

Lawnchairs on the canal by 2067? It shouldn't be too complicated.

Citizen: Nation's capital region needs a shared cross-river vision [10 June 2011]
Citizen: A living capital [9 June 2011]

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Chaudiere Island for sale

It appears Domtar is looking for a buyer for Chaudiere Island. From the Ottawa Business Journal:

Most of Chaudière Island is for sale. Its owner, Domtar, the Montreal-based paper manufacturing company, says it has no further use for it following the closure of its mill there in 2007.

The NCC, a federal government agency, says it would like to acquire much of Chaudière Island, and then decide what would be the best use of it. But Marie Lemay, the NCC's chief executive officer, says the agency does not have the estimated $100 million required to buy the land, clean up more than a century's industrial pollution, and stabilize the buildings.

The NCC gets a lot of criticism - some of it richly deserved - for timidity. It is funded by the taxpayers of Canada, essentially to make the nation's capital a better place to live and to visit.

The NCC dilly-dallied for decades over what to do with LeBreton Flats, a former industrial area on the Ottawa River shoreline just west of Parliament Hill. Finally, it decided to turn over the land to private developers for apartment building construction. Most recently, the NCC spent several years searching for a tenant for the former Mill Restaurant on the shoreline of the Ottawa River, just across from Chaudière Island. It eventually leased the property to Toronto's Mill Street Brewery, which plans to open a brew pub there.

[…]For decades, the federal government agency has been doing occasional studies on what might become of Chaudière and Victoria islands. The most recent study, updated in 2008, embraced the idea of an Aboriginal centre on Victoria Island, celebrating the culture of Canada's native peoples.

The NCC study also suggested the two islands could be connected by footbridges. It foresees "a vital mix of restaurants and shops, with adaptive reuse of existing buildings." The study included no price tag or timeline.

The NCC has long coveted the remaining industrial land on Chaudière and Victoria islands that it doesn't already own, but has done exactly nothing with the land it does own - there is simply no reason to believe that the NCC might suddenly reverse its spotty redevelopment record, here or anywhere else in the city.

OBJ: A chance to reverse the NCC's spotty redevelopment record [8 June 2011]
Open File: Chaudière Falls: The anchor of Ottawa's waterfront [6 June 2011]
NCC Watch: Chaudière Falls archive

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Abandoned greenbelt properties up in smoke

Two abandoned NCC properties on the Greenbelt went up in smoke in the space of a week. First, on May 24, from the CBC:

The fire at 305 Robertson Road broke out at about 7:30 p.m. and took 45 firefighters about two hours to extinguish.

The farmhouse has been abandoned for a number of years and there was no one inside when firefighters arrived at the scene, said Ottawa Fire Services platoon chief Jim Bloom.

[...]Damage was estimated at about $500,000.

Four days later, an empty bungalow owned by the NCC at 4057 Richmond Rd burned down.

The NCC has numerous abandoned properties throughout the greenbelt, expropriated decades ago and simply left to chance. This is the second fire in a year at the Richmond Road house.

CBC: Fire engulfs abandoned farmhouse [24 May 2011]
CBC: Fire destroys NCC building [28 May 2011]
CTV: Fire destroys another Bells Corners NCC building [28 May 2011]
CBC: Ottawa firefighters put out 2 blazes Sunday [19 July 2010]

Friday, April 19, 2011

More NCC farming tenants get out of Dodge

Hugh Adami in the Citizen catches up with some Greenbelt farming tenants originally profiled last May, and, predictably, finds more farcical goings on:

If the National Capital Commission is going to neglect its farm properties like the one it leased to tenants Eliane Michèle Crématy and Anna Lamontagne, it should give serious thought to getting out of this agricultural venture altogether.

But that doesn't seem likely, given the NCC hype over its Greenbelt master plan review. A review update this month says a couple of strategies will be to "protect and expand farm assets and build infrastructure" and "engage passionate people (as tenants) and build partnerships" with them.

Tell that to Crématy and Lamontagne, who were featured in a Citizen story last May about the disconnect between the NCC and farm tenants. Despite a decrepit barn that was virtually unusable for their plan to board horses, they were determined to wait for repairs. But today, they are among a growing number of former farm tenants who bailed well before their leases expired.

Bungling bureaucrats appear to be one problem. But Dell Management Solutions, under contract with the NCC to oversee the 60-plus Greenbelt farms, deserves a good kick in the pants, too. Its property managers can be elusive at times and then full of false assurances. To be fair, it was a property manager from Minto, which had the contract before Dell took over in 2009, that got the whole mess rolling. She's the one who assured Crématy and Lamontagne that the barn was in good shape and ready for use.

Crématy and Lamontagne say afterward, they were promised repeatedly that their concerns with the barn at their Ramsayville Road farm would be addressed, but nothing ever happened.

Has the NCC apologized to Crématy and Lamontagne for wasting 2.5 years of their lives - which they say has led to various stress-related health problems? They lost thousands of dollars in projected revenues and cashed in about $17,000 of registered retirement savings for maintenance work, a good deal of it unexpected.

Instead of expressing its regrets, the NCC is showing the couple that bad landlords don't like to lose. It is seeking $6,000 to $7,000 in rent arrears, which the couple would have been able to pay had they not been hit with financial setbacks due to an unusable barn. The couple, now renting a private farm in Russell, was paying $1,330 a month for the 10-hectare NCC property.

The NCC says the couple should have inspected the barn thoroughly before signing the lease, as repairs to all buildings, except the farmhouse, are the tenants' responsibility.

How can that be fair? The barn's roof alone would cost $25,000 to $30,000 to replace. Adds Crématy: They would not have signed the lease had they been told the truth.

That's some partnership.

Citizen: Closing the barn door after tenants are gone [19 April 2011]
Citizen: Greenbelt grievances [23 May 2010]
NCC Watch: Greenbelt farming archive

Friday, April 8, 2011

NCC board meeting fails to go awry

Kelly Egan at the Citizen attends an NCC board meeting, something that was considered impossible and out of the question by the NCC board a few short years ago, and finds things running half decently:

The open board meetings are a relatively new development at the NCC, which for decades met behind closed doors.

Its first public board meeting was held late in 2007, the same year Russell Mills, ex-Citizen publisher, was appointed as chairman.

The format seems yet to have caught the public's attention. It runs much like a municipal council meeting. Staff make presentations on a pre-set agenda, members debate, then vote. The public does not speak.

There were only a smattering of "real people" there Wednesday, though Ottawa-Vanier MP Mauril Bélanger, donning a red scarf, stayed the afternoon.

Timing may be an issue, as the meetings are held on a weekday and go on for hours. There is, however, good coffee, served in actual cups, with saucers, and four of the largest television screens you've ever seen.

The proceedings are, of course, simultaneously translated. Two board members spoke in French only. Only one member was spotted using his Blackberry during proceedings. All the men wore ties. Mills, looking patrician, his hair nearly white now, kept things moving crisply but without undue formality, addressing members by their first names.

It was a decent showing, actually. All those years, you wonder, what were they afraid of?

Citizen: NCC board is worth studying [8 April 2011]

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Homeowner in battle with NCC over blocked drains

More landlord from hell hijinks courtesy the NCC. From the Sun:

How bad is the smell? So bad that Sweet's had to install a big $16,000 air-cleansing power vacuum machine in his basement to suck in the particles from the sewage gas.

When it comes to the air we breathe, Sweet, 46, is an expert: He's the owner and CEO of Air-Medics, an indoor air quality consultants and cleaning company.

"I'm not going away. If I have to be a thorn in their side forever, I will be."

He's talking about the National Capital Commission. It owns the land on which his house stands. It's a two-bedroom bungalow on Braddish St. near Bank St. and Conroy Rd. He bought it about 20 years ago for $150,000. He owes about $90,000 on the mortgage.

The NCC says he's responsible for his septic system. He knows that. The problem for Rob Sweet is this: Why is the NCC not responsible for his screwed-up septic system that, he says, wouldn't be screwed-up, causing sewage and health problems, had the NCC not decided some seven years ago to fill in the drainage ditch along the road at the left end of his driveway?

The NCC left the drainage ditch to the right of his driveway intact, but when a garage on a property to the left of his driveway was torn down, the commission had the ditch on that side filled in.

[...]Sweet says there wouldn't be a problem had the ditch not been filled in. What he finds strange is that the NCC now claims ditches - such as the one in question - are not its responsibility, even though it's the NCC that filled it in.

Mr. Sweet has been inspecting other properties in the area and has posted more info on his blog at Air Medics.

Sun: Raising a big stink [20 March 2011]
Air Medics blog: Living in the Green Belt on NCC Managed Property [30 March 2011]
NCC Watch: Greenbelt farming archive

Friday, March 4, 2011

NCC frets over Congress Centre sign

As the new Congress Centre nears completion, the NCC is concerned that a proposal for a large electronic display facing Mackenzie King bridge could disturb the universal drabness of the area. From the Citizen:

Called the Art Wall, the Convention Centre sees the massive screen overlooking Mackenzie King Bridge as an innovative platform to showcase Canadian art, connect Ottawa interactively with the rest of the country, and create a new buzz in the city. It would also show live video of events and could feature sponsorship advertising.

But the Citizen has learned that the NCC, which has responsibility for safeguarding the historic character of the capital, doesn't like the proposal. The new convention centre, which is on the main ceremonial route, across from the Rideau Canal, and within the sight lines of the War Memorial and Parliament Buildings, sits in a historic centre of the city. And because of the location, NCC officials apparently believe the visual representations on the screen might be incongruous. More importantly, they worry that the screen might be exploited for commercial purposes, and sooner or later, distasteful advertising might appear near hallowed downtown sites. The NCC has the power to approve the convention centre design under a covenant covering the site, which in the distant past, used to belong to the federal government, convention centre officials say.

[...]Graham Bird, project manager for the convention centre, says the cutting-edge design of the new building represents what Ottawa can do, and using new media for the south wall is designed to push the envelope and help the city banish its reputation as a joyless place.

[...]The NCC will not say publicly how it feels about the art wall because it won't comment on a proposal under consideration. All spokesman Jean Wolff would say is that the proposal would be reviewed with an eye on the commission's responsibility to protect the character of the capital. The Citizen however, has learned that the commission's advisory committee on planning and design is meeting in Ottawa Thursday and Friday and will review the proposal.

"The NCC has received an application for this project and there is a review underway. No timeline has been set to provide the final decision. We have to let the process take its course," Wolff said.

Except in this case, apparently, as NCC CEO Marie Lemay was talking to the Citizen the very next day defending the NCC's right to question the proposal:

The proposed LED screen on the south wall of the Ottawa Convention Centre has wider implications for the capital and the National Capital Commission has a responsibility to ask tough questions in order to make the right decision for the future, the commission's chief executive Marie Lemay said Thursday.

[...]Lemay said the NCC has a mandate to safeguard the "inner character of the capital," including scenic landscapes and views along the Rideau Canal, and any proposal that might affect the surrounding environment has to be vetted. She said the NCC hasn't made up its mind on the proposal, and at this stage its permanent staff don't know whether they would recommend the screen to their board for approval or not. But they have enough concerns to raise for a healthy discussion. Among the questions: Is this the right thing to do, is this the right time to do it, and is it a good fit?

[...]Convention Centre executives appeared before the NCC's advisory committee on planning and design Thursday to present their proposal to a panel of architects, planners and designers drawn from across the country. The panel's comments will go to NCC staff who will make a recommendation to the board for a decision. Lemay couldn't say when the board will take the issue up, even though the centre is hoping to set up the screen in time for Canada Day.

Whatever happens, Lemay said the proposal has opened up a serious discussion about what kind of capital Ottawa should be, and whether innovations like new media screens should be part of its future.

"I don't know where this is going to end, and at the end of the day I don't know if we would recommend to the board to go down that path or not. But it is important that we seriously look at this and maybe it will also help us take a good look at the future," she said.

Considering the new screen will face NDHQ, the most conspicuously ugly building in the entire city, put there by the design visionaries at the NCC, and the NCC is also in the process of developing the LeBreton Flats to a whole new standard of ordinariness, remind us again why anyone pays the NCC the slightest attention in matters of design?

Citizen: Convention centre, NCC argue over the big picture [2 March 2011]
Citizen: Bright lights, growing city [3 March 2011]
Citizen: NCC guarding capital's character by questioning big screen near the canal, CEO says [4 March 2011]
Citizen: Picture the potential [4 March 2011]

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Greenbelt farming gong show continues

Hugh Adami profiles another would-be Greenbelt farmer in his Public Citizen column at the Citizen:

All Steve Fournier wanted to do was raise and sell chickens and ducks, and host school field trips at the farm he rents from the National Capital Commission.

He wasn't expecting the Green Acres sitcom horrors that have been part of everyday life since he and his wife, Elizabeth, became NCC tenants in 2009.

[...]Rent for the 5.7-hectare property is about $1,000 a month. It includes a barn, a garage/shed and a farmhouse. He knew the barn was basically useless unless he carried out major repairs.

But the couple had no idea what awaited them in the farmhouse. They only discovered its many problems - the worst being a leaking foundation - after moving in.

[...]They discovered the leaky foundation problem soon after moving in. Last winter, several holes were drilled into the basement floor so water could drain. But water continued coming in every time it rained or during a thaw. Eventually, the moisture led to black mould throughout the basement and a vile smell that ruined a family get-together last Thanksgiving.

Fournier called Ottawa's health department, which inspected the basement and ordered the NCC to clean it.

The mould was chemically removed. Wet insulation that partially covered the basement walls was replaced last month, and the new insulation was covered with drywall. But work on the foundation footings was not done and water continues to seep in, even from areas under the new drywall.

The couple was forced to throw out clothes, furniture and many other belongings they had stored downstairs.

Besides the problem foundation, the couple had to put up with a faulty furnace last winter that cost them $1,100 in heating oil in one month alone. And the fireplace can't be used. It's stuffed with insulation to keep out cold air.

Some doors don't close properly, and there are cracks in the walls. Fournier says the failure by contractors to grout shower tiles in the upstairs bathroom caused water to seep down the wall. Eventually, a small section of ceiling on the main floor caved in.

There have been electrical problems - three fuses blew at the same time - and the septic system backed up last April. Just recently, a rotting support beam in the basement dropped to the floor, just as Fournier was tending to another problem a few metres away.

The couple's complaints just add to the growing pile about the commission's ineptitude as a farm landlord.

Citizen: Public Citizen: Farm tenants find Green Acres [23 February 2011]
NCC Watch: Greenbelt farming archive

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Demsis not certified to maintain Gatineau Park trails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"We do value farming in the Greenbelt"

The Citizen followed up today on the plight of valued NCC farming partner Jennifer Englert, who rented a farmhouse and some acreage from the NCC in September 2009 with the expectation that she would be able to, y'know, farm. But after more than a year, the NCC never came across with a land-access permit they required. Now she has had to move out:

The faster the National Capital Commission fairly compensates Jennifer Englert for a farming venture that never got off the ground, the faster it will do the right thing.

So far, the NCC has offered her about $3,200 - the equivalent of two months rent for the commission-owned farmhouse on Ridge Road that she vacated Tuesday. The offer is a joke because it is a fraction of what she lost in anticipated revenues and money that she wasted on farm supplies, including an $18,000 tractor.

Englert waited all last year for a land-access permit from the NCC, through its property manager, Del Management Solutions, so she could begin farming 14 hectares of Greenbelt land. The permit never came.

She moved into the farmhouse in September 2009, with her young son, Jaden. She hoped her tenancy would expedite the land assignment under a separate lease with the NCC. The land was assigned to her last spring. Then came the fruitless wait for the access permit.

Not only is the NCC offer of $3,200 grossly insufficient, but it comes with a sleazy catch. If she takes the money, she has to sign an agreement that she will not pursue any claims for the bureaucratic fiasco that killed her dream. "($3,200) doesn't come close to what I've lost," says Englert, who is still calculating how much money she is out.

[...]But after acknowledging the "unfortunate situation" in early December, the NCC told The Public Citizen that it would "work hard at making sure her farming season (in 2011) can start as soon as she wishes."

NCC spokesman Jean Wolff said at the time that Englert was the type of tenant the commission wants farming its lands because of the products she was planning to grow and sell.

Obviously, that mea culpa was then. This is the NCC now: "As anybody else who wants to farm on NCC land, she can apply," said Gadbois-St-Cyr. "And the NCC will consider (her application based on its merits)."

[...]She says she cannot believe the countless miscommunications from the NCC. Even on Christmas Eve, after being initially told she could move out of the house at the end of February, as requested, she was shocked to hear that she would be responsible for the rent through next August.

She was told the NCC automatically renewed her lease for another year when it raised her rent last September.

[...]Rent for the farmhouse was $1,582 a month, and she spent hundreds more on heating and electricity. When she signed her lease, the NCC had told her propane expenses would run around $200 to $250 a month. Her propane bill this month was about $825.

Organic vegetables were going to make up a large part of Englert's farm. She was also going to cultivate seeds from a variety of organic squash plants. She was also going to grow 1.5 hectares of "cut" flowers to sell at local farmers' markets.

She was able to plant the flowers late last spring after Del Management contract manager Stephan Groleau gave Englert the go-ahead in a signed email.

She had already purchased the tractor following Groleau's assurances the permit would come at any time. But she was ordered to get off the farmland twice - once when Groleau was away and days later, after he quit the job. She was told by his replacement that Groleau didn't have the authority to allow her to farm without the permit. Englert couldn't even tend to the flowers she had planted. An acre of cut flowers, she says, could have yielded her as much as $20,000 in revenues. "I didn't get to touch them," she says.

At this point, it is worth quoting NCC CEO Marie Lemay's interview in the Citizen last May, when they ran a series on the challenges farmers in the Greenbelt face:

"Farmers can't just be tenants," she said.

"The first thing will be to sit down with them, not just talk through other people, and identify clearly what are the impediments."

The NCC leases more than 60 farms on the Greenbelt, most commonly for periods of five years at a time.

Many farmers say urban encroachment, crumbling barns and farm infrastructure, impractical leasing options and dealing with a third-party property management company hired by the NCC often leave them feeling disconnected from the NCC.

Lemay said she's heard many of the complaints before.

She used the example of new leasing arrangements as one way of building better partnerships between the NCC and its tenant farmers in the future.

"If you want people to be invested in their farming operation, then you probably want them to be living there and have an ownership of the property. Even if we're the landlords, they have to feel that they're a true partner in this," she said.

Farmers should be happy the NCC is currently reviewing its master plan for the Greenbelt, Lemay said, reiterating their importance.

"We do value farming in the Greenbelt, that's not something they should question," she said.

Looks like we have a candidate for impediment number one: issuing permits. But no doubt Jennifer Englert is thrilled the NCC is reviewing their Greenbelt master plan. Another horror story courtesy the absentee landlords at the NCC.

Citizen: Farmer's dream goes to seed [25 January 2011]
NCC Watch: NCC farm tenant high and dry [8 December 2010]
NCC Watch: Greenbelt grievances [24 May 2010]
Citizen: Bountiful opportunities for produce in Greenbelt: NCC [24 May 2010]

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"I'm sure foie gras will be on the menu"

Celebrity chef Martin "foie gras" Picard has backed out of helming the NCC's Winterlude beanfest kickoff dinner in February. Back in December, some animal rights activists protested the event and the NCC promptly declared foie gras wouldn't be on the menu, while insisting Picard would still do the dinner. Now the NCC is once again a national laughingstock. From the Post:

When the folks at the National Capital Commission signed up chef Martin Picard to host a gala dinner in Ottawa next month, they knew exactly what they were getting. This was the self-described wild chef who gleefully demonstrated the preferred preparation of moose testicles on his TV cooking show and made foie gras poutine the signature dish at his Montreal restaurant, Au Pied de Cochon.

"With Martin Picard, I'm sure foie gras will be on the menu," the NCC's Andrée-Anne Bonin told the Ottawa Citizen when the event was announced in December. "We can't do Martin Picard without foie gras."

Well, not unless a handful of animal-rights activists unhappy with the treatment of ducks in foie-gras production kick up a stink, in which case you inform Mr. Picard to leave the delicacy in Montreal.

On Monday, the federal commission announced that Mr. Picard had withdrawn from the Taste of Winterlude event rather than be told what he was allowed to serve. He will be replaced by P.E.I. chef Michael Smith, who will offer an Atlantic-themed menu.

Citizen: Chef Martin Picard quits controversial Winterlude dinner [10 January 2011]
National Post: Foie gras flap has chef Martin Picard ducking out [11 January 2011]
Globe and Mail: Duck-liver flap ruffles foodies' feathers [11 January 2011]
National Post: Ducks in Dire Straits [13 January 2011]
Citizen: NCC says no to foie gras for Winterlude [17 December 2010]