The Lebreton Flats Fiasco and Why Melanie Joly Must Reform the NCC
For years the National Capital Commission (NCC) has been the most inept, closed, secretive, elitist and incompetent organization in the federal government. Their tagline should be “The NCC—We Never Miss an Opportunity to Miss an Opportunity”.
The NCC board of directors has 15 members, including the chairperson and the chief executive officer (CEO). Thirteen members represent the regions across Canada. Five are from the Capital Region. They are appointed by the minister responsible for the National Capital Commission (now the Hon. Melanie Joly), with the approval of the Governor-in-Council. Their role is to oversee the corporation, ensure that the corporation’s resources are used effectively and efficiently; to monitor, evaluate and report on performance; and to foster relationships between the NCC and other levels of government and the public. In all cases they get an F.
The NCC’s continuous incompetence over decades is mind boggling. Where to start? They botched the memorial to Victims of Communism project, interfered and tried to delay Ottawa’s $1 billion light rail, against the wishes of the democratically elected Ottawa City Council. In 2011, they spent 5.2 million taxpayers’ dollars to install seven new ice chalets at a cost of $750,00 each (shacks) along the Rideau Canal which is double the value of most families homes in Canada. They messed up the so called Metcalfe Grand Boulevard plan, the King Edward Avenue redevelopment plan in the 1980s, spent decades fighting with Public Works Canada and the City of Ottawa over the development of Sparks Street, embarrassed the entire country by making a complete mess of the Millennium Celebrations in 2000, tried to unilaterally expand the Champlain Bridge against the wishes of every local city council in the region, destroyed the town of Hull in the late 1960s with the horrible development of federal buildings on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. In 1998, Rhys Phillips, in his book Great Gaffes of the National Capital Commission said of the NCC and Hull: “what emerged from the rubble was a textbook example of the twin horrors of postwar urban renewal and late-modernist architecture. Brutalist concrete buildings encase a soulless mall that spans a bleak, six-lane street; they cruelly mock the former humanely scaled cityscape. Four thousand people were displaced. The new ‘city centre’ turns a cold shoulder to the river and the parliamentary precinct across the water.”
The NCC board members are largely unknown. One is a forest industry person, another in general management and marketing, a philosopher and the rest are all either government administrative or education management bureaucrat types. There is not one serious entrepreneur or businesses corporate executive like a Terry Matthews or Jim Balsillie. This explains the insanity of the current Lebreton Flats redevelopment proposal. NCC conditions for applying were so ridiculously secretive and onerous that only two bidders stepped up. Of these, only the Rendezvous LeBreton, 100 per cent private money proposal led by Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk is credible. The other, the LeBreton Re-Imagined by Devcore, Canderel and DLS Group (DCDLS) is not a serious bid. Their plan is built around an NHL arena and reliance on existing government incentives (whatever that means!). DCDLS does not own an NHL team and will not own one. This should disqualify them immediately from consideration. If the NCC board is dimwitted enough to proceed with the DCDLS LeBreton Re-Imagined proposal (and we know from their track record that they are foolish enough to do this) it will create the biggest white elephant in the region’s history. DCDLS is jesting in the media that they can build and then sell their rink to the competition. This is unprofessional and disrespectful to what should be a serious process. Their glib remarks about Mr. Melnyk are in poor taste to the Ottawa Senators organization who has put hundreds of millions of dollars into our economy over the past quarter century, including millions to local charities. The Rendezvous LeBreton proposal should be approved and given the fast track to proceed as soon as possible. Heritage Minister, Melanie Joly should introduce a bill to disband the NCC and set up a new agency that can better serve Canada’s capital region, of which the Mayors of Ottawa and of Gatineau should be permanent ex-officio members. The incompetence of the NCC does not serve the public interest and continues to destroy the soul of our great city.