Fed up over his inability to reach a compromise with the National Capital Commission on several key municipal files, Mayor Jim Watson signalled he’ll be suggesting changes to how the federal Crown corporation goes about its business.
© File photo
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.
Until now, Mr. Watson has shown a willingness to find middle ground between the NCC and the City of Ottawa for projects on which the two bodies can’t immediately agree.
But in calling for fundamental changes to the way the NCC works, those days appear to have come to an end.
“Over the course of the next couple of months I’m going to be speaking about how I think we can reform the NCC to make sure that it is more of a help than a hindrance,” said Mr. Watson, who made the comments to tourism officials at an event organized by the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association.
He referred to the NCC as “another level of government that no other city in the country has to deal with.”
Mr. Watson, without going into specifics about what he wants changed, singled out a number of policy areas in which the NCC has created a “problem” for the city’s attempts to attract visitors.
These include the NCC’s concerns about the Ottawa Convention Centre’s desire to get an art wall on its exterior and its decision to shut down a tourism office across from Parliament Hill.
A particular source of frustration appears to involve the city’s plan to extend its light-rail transit project to the west. The city is currently working on a route that would take the project farther west of the current construction route, which only goes as far as Tunney’s Pasture.
City staff announced last year their preferred option would be to run the route for long stretches on land the NCC controls along the John A. Macdonald Parkway. However the NCC expressed an unwillingness to give up the land, citing concerns that LRT would limit access to the waterfront.
The city initially showed a willingness to work with the NCC’s concerns by returning to the drawing board. It released a similar version of the route that would take the route underground for stretches at a time.
The NCC again said that option was unacceptable, though, because it still used the Parkway. That apparently lead Mr. Watson to the conclusion that the two bodies weren’t going to be able to reach a compromise without major changes to the Crown corporation’s mandate.
“When we’re trying to get light rail even farther west and take one and a half acres of scrub land and they’re saying ‘sorry you can’t do that, try another option that’s going to cost you another $600 million,’ that's a problem,” said Mr. Watson.
His speech ended too late for OBJ to get comment from the NCC.
Other complaints involved matters for which the federal government, rather than the NCC, were responsible.
He expressed disappointment that the Government Conference Centre, a former train station the federal department Public Works maintains just east of Parliament Hill, is open only to government meetings rather than the public.