Donation Withdrawn by Katasa Group after Claims Company Was Pressured

The Ottawa City Council meeting last week, the first of the year, saw some of the heaviest debate the 2022-2026 term has seen yet.

The discussion was over a donation of $300,000 from Katasa Group, a development and construction company based in Gatineau working on several large-scale projects, including a 22-story tower at Carling and Bronson Avenue. While the construction of the project was already amended by city staff to include a height reduction and retail space in the project, it was clear that Ward 17 Councillor Shawn Menard wanted a bit more for his ward from the construction, and came to an agreement of a $300,000 voluntary donation from the group, which included $100,000 destined for traffic calming in Ward 17, and $200,000 to the City Manager for discretionary use in Ward 17, with input from Menard.

Menard was supported by the progressive anchors on Council, including Jeff Lieper, Ariel Troster, Theresa Kavanaugh, Rawlson King, and Sean Devine. Troster was a strong proponent of the donation to Ward 17, saying that her predecessor, Catherine Mckenney, had done something similar during their tenure as Ward 14’s councillor. Troster also pointed out how disruptive constant construction can be to the quality of life in downtown wards.

The debate around the donation was intense, with Councillor Matt Luloff calling it a “slush fund” and stating he had it on good authority that there was pressure to donate. However, Luloff did not back up these words with any tangible evidence. Councillor Laura Dudas also stated her opposition to the donation, arguing it would set bad precedence for future housing development negotiations in the city as developers would feel pressured to donate arbitrary amounts of money to get acceptance of their projects. Dudas also said that she had reviewed the letter from the Katasa Group’s lawyer, and it was clear to her that although the company was going ahead with the donation, it would not like to make another similar donation again.

Ottawa developers expressed their frustration by sending a letter to councillors expressing concern about the donation’s precedent. Council agreed to move forward with the donation but also supported a motion by Councillor Cathy Curry that suggested the $300,000 amount would be moved into the city’s general coffers to be dispersed as needed among the wards rather than staying within Ward 17.

Today, Katasa Group pulled their $300,000 donation. The company stated it had believed the donation was part of the process, but amid the vigorous debate at Council at last Wednesday’s meeting, it has become clear to them that it was not standard. A statement from the group’s lawyers stated bluntly: “We believe this was part of the process, and now we know it’s not.”

Despite the vigorous debate, it appears that Councillors Luloff and Dudas may have been correct in asserting that there was an element of strong-arming and that the group was sceptical about making such a donation as per the previous letter sent by the group’s Lawyers.