LeBreton Flats part deux, the Château Laurier and a ‘let them eat cake’ attitude by public servants

Photo: RendezVous proposal for LeBreton (supplied by RendezVous LeBreton Group)

After managing and overseeing the LeBreton Flats debacle, The National Capital Commission (NCC) sent out a notice in June in what appears to be LeBreton Part Deux. Apparently, it will “be open to a flexible real estate strategy to increase competition and leverage opportunities. This renewal process will build on experience to build a lively fusion of residential, commercial, cultural and social elements accented by world-class public-realm amenities”. In other words, their new plan is to let a patchwork of developers parse up the land to build cheesy condos with no streamlined vision that integrates this historic area with the rest of the capital. If you think I’m being melodramatic, just say Château Laurier extension out loud.

We’ve been to this rodeo before. Last time round, the NCC’s bidding process was so bureaucratic, expensive and complicated that only two bidders came forward. Devcore Canderel led by Montreal billionaires André Desmarais, president of Power Corp., and Guy Laliberté, founder of Cirque du Soleil. Their plan included a professional NHL hockey rink even though they did not own an NHL franchise in Ottawa. The second bidder, the RendezVous LeBreton Group (a partnership between Eugene Melnyk and Trinity Development’s John Ruddy) won the tender. A year later the whole thing collapsed in acrimony and insults driven by a business dispute between the parties. The hopes and dreams of citizens who desperately wanted the LeBreton Flats redevelopment to become the centre piece of a modern 21st century capital was dashed, and Sens fans were let down because they wanted the team downtown.

The NCC record of incompetency goes back over five decades. In the 1970s the NCC completely destroyed the old town of Hull when overseeing the building of Place du Portage. They allowed the development to have its back face the Ottawa river and Parliament. In 2000 they completely botched the countdown to the Millennium on Parliament Hill, they spent millions for skating shacks on the canal yet turn around and ticket children selling lemonade on NCC property. In 2017 they were part of the group that completely botched the Canada Day 150 celebrations in the capital — but I digress. The NCC remains fraught with cronyism, inertia, systemic management failures, poor communications, ethics violations, oversight problems and governance challenges. 

From left to right: Former CEO Mark Kristmanson and Current NCC President Tobi Nussbaum

Current NCC President Tobi Nussbaum was appointed in controversy last fall. He ran and won re-election to Ottawa City council but failed to disclose when running that he had applied for the NCC CEO job. Despite winning re-election, he accepted the NCC post and resigned leaving taxpayers on the hook for a by-election that cost half a million dollars. This, right after the former CEO, Mark Kristmanson was found by Federal Ethics Commissioner, Mario Dion, to have contravened federal conflict of interest rules on 12 occasions, by accepting invitations that could “reasonably be seen to have been given to influence him in the exercise of his official powers, duties and functions,” from organizations that have business dealings with the NCC.”   

Kristmanson response to these findings was that he, “fully and without reservation regrets any reputational impact this has caused the NCC or the government of Canada.” That was the end of it. No consequences. Then again, Federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion remains a stunningly underwhelming performer and top political eunuch for the Liberal government. Dion found Ottawa West MP Anita Vandenbeld in breach of federal guidelines for using her office to help her husband in the municipal campaign last fall. Despite her guilt, Dion did not sanction her, suggesting she broke the rules in good faith . . . Ugh. The theme in all of this — whether it’s the incompetency or ethical and transparency violations of Vandenbeld, Kristmanson and Nussbaum or the “ethics” commissioner himself, Mario Dion  — is that we are not well served by their  ‘let them eat cake’ attitude. There is no public interest for these types who suck on the hind teat of government for their own pleasure. Think I’m being dramatic. Well, can you say Château Laurier extension.