Citizens want NCC abolished

By Ryan Baker
When community activists met at City Hall last month to discuss ways of improving the downtown core, someone suggested the National Capital Commission be abolished. The idea sparked resounding applause.

This reaction was prompted by the NCC’s latest plans for Sparks Street, which remain veiled in mystery.

“It really is time for the NCC to be abolished,” says Barry Padolsky, an urban planner and member of Stop The Metcalfe Nonsense, the community group that pressured the 101-year-old Crown corporation to scrap its plan to widen Metcalfe Street last year.

Padolsky says the NCC shouldn’t make decisions that have enormous impact on downtown residents and business owners without including them in the decision-making process.

“The NCC seems to act like a secret cabal of theologians that know what’s best for Ottawa and don’t trust the public to be able to participate in decision-making,” says Padol-sky. “There is really no space left in a democratic country for this kind of institution with all the power that it wields.”

The NCC recently bought the 10-storey building at 100 Sparks St. and arranged to buy the commercial property at 134 Sparks St. with part of the $40 million the federal government recently gave them for the project. What it will do with this real estate remains to be seen, but it’s considering whether to demolish buildings along the south side of Sparks Street to make room for residential housing, office space and public areas.

Although the NCC has promised to consult with the community before it goes ahead with anything major, some community members say they’re suspicious and feel left out of the decision-making.

“This is basically window dressing,” says Padolsky. “They’ll hold a public hearing and then they’ll ignore the public response to it.”
“There’s no doubt the NCC is a third level of municipal government,” says Walter Robinson, Federal Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and member of the Metcalfe coalition. “If it’s not going to change its ways, it should be abolished.”

The issue has some local politicians up in arms as well.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says he doesn’t think the NCC should be abolished, but it should be “radically reformed.”

“I think now is the time to review its mandate. I don’t personally believe they should be in the business of land speculation or development. I don’t think that’s an appropriate role for a publicly-funded body.”

Nor does Watson approve of the NCC making decisions behind closed doors.

“It’s pretty frustrating for us as a community to constantly find out second and third hand what’s going on at the NCC because their meetings are closed.”

Watson recently sent a letter to Sheila Copps outlining his NCC grievances and plans to meet with the heritage minister soon to discuss the future of the Crown corporation.

But not everyone is unhappy with the NCC.

Ottawa Centre Liberal MP Mac Harb says abolishing the NCC would mean the loss of more than 1,000 jobs, around $100 million in government funding and possibly another $100 million in spin-off profits from things like Winterlude and tourism.

The Liberal MP says local residents are always consulted before any major actions are taken, but sometimes the greater interest takes precedent.

“The NCC is not just accountable for a small neighbourhood in the national capital region, they are accountable to the taxpayers of the whole country,” says Harb.

“From time to time they make decisions certain people in certain neighbourhoods may not agree with. That’s not a good enough reason to say the NCC is not good and we should abolish the NCC.”

Harb adds other Crown corporations like the CBC aren’t required to have open public meetings and the NCC is no different.

“The NCC has played and continues to play an important role in shaping this capital,” says Diane Dupuis, spokeswoman for the Crown corporation.

“No other organization other than an organization like the NCC can do that.”

Regarding the public having a say in decision-making, Dupuis says the NCC voted twice on whether to open its meetings to the public, in 1994 and 1998, and both times the idea was defeated by the commission’s members.

“You can’t make long-range decisions on how to shape the capital function if you’re a municipal government,” she says.

“We don’t have a three-year agenda as an elected representative may have. Our horizon is a 50-year horizon,” Dupuis added.

Dupuis adds the public is always consulted before the NCC takes any significant action.

The Crown corporation has tentatively scheduled public consultations regarding Sparks Street for March.