NCC faces public scrutiny once more

By Joanne Steventon

The National Capital Commission’s second annual meeting was much like the first last year — discussion ranged from downtown development to the Moffat Farm along with a few new issues thrown in for good measure.

NCC chair Marcel Beaudry and his board of directors faced scrutiny from about 100 residents, many of whom questioned the operation of the much-embattled federal agency.

It was the second such public meeting held to counter criticism that it is conducting too much of its business in secret.

While some of the questions were raised last year, new issues causing concern include new dog walking regulations, road construction through Gatineau Park’s Mackenzie King Estate and paving the path through the Experimental Farm’s arboretum.

Candice O’Connell, chair of the National Capital Coalition for People and Dogs, criticized the NCC for not being more sympathetic to the needs of dog owners following the establishment of new rules restricting where people are able to walk dogs off leash on NCC park property.

“The new allocation of new off lead areas is woefully insufficient for the needs of thousands of dog owners,” O’Connell said to applause from the audience.

Board member Michael Kusner later defended the NCC and said the people of Ottawa are spoiled by the amount of over-all park space they have, especially compared to his old stomping-ground, Toronto.

“I’m appalled at the little detail quibbling I have heard around this issue,” said Kusner.

Some discussion centered on attempts to halt development of natural green space.

Muriel Howe, chairman of the Committee of Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society,

criticized the construction of a road through the middle of Gatineau Park’s Mackenzie King Estate. She said this will eventually lead to the constrution of a new parking lot, disrupting the natural characteristics of the estate.

Howe referred to commission documents that state the park should remain natural, but says the commission is giving in to outside pressures to build the road.

“Giving in will ruin the legacy that Mackenzie King has left all Canadians, not just the people of Kingsmere,” said Howe.

The arboretum is another piece of land that will soon be affected by the NCC, upsetting some Ottawa residents.

An existing stone-dust path would be replaced with asphalt to connect it with paved bike paths in the city.

But some believe this will create extra traffic through the area creating more noise and a hazard to pedestrians.

“The arboretum’s role, in addition to being a haven for trees, is to be a haven for the serenity of wildlife, people, their children and their pets,” said a speaker.

Although many people were uncertain if their criticisms would be taken into consideration by the NCC, O’Connell and others at the meeting were anxious to keep the agency informed as how they think it is doing.

“This is an ongoing process, we’re not planning on going away,” said O’Connell.