Opinion: All quiet on the 2017 front as Leeder laments slow pace of 150th plans

In less than four years, it will be time to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial – or, to put it in plainer language, the nation’s 150th birthday. But is the country’s capital doing enough to take advantage of the festivities planned for 2017?

Not content to wait for federal or provincial leadership, the City of Ottawa has created a group called the 2017 Task Force, which has taken on most of the efforts to plan the celebration. The committee, which has Mayor Jim Watson and councillors Rainer Bloess and Katherine Hobbs at the helm, is working with local business groups such as Ottawa Tourism to co-ordinate the events that will make the city a destination for tourists in 2017 and the years leading up to it.

So far, details about the task force are limited to a video on the group’s site which features now-departed Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson and a media release announcing that the group has come up with a logo. In addition, the site says, “Ottawa and Gatineau are open for business to celebrate Canada’s big year in 2017.”

Not much to go on so far.

Senators president Cyril Leeder, who resigned from his role with the task force a month ago, said he wanted the group to focus on different priorities.

“I would have liked to see plans for Canada 2017 move a little quicker,” Mr. Leeder told me in an interview. “It looks to me like the task force is mainly focused on encouraging individuals and businesses in Ottawa to step up and plan special activities and events for 2017.”

There was little discussion and even less support, Mr. Leeder said, for any new facilities to be built to celebrate Canada 150.

“The first leg of Ottawa’s LRT is not scheduled to open until 2018, so it won’t be a factor in 2017,” he said.

“Perhaps there will be an announcement during Canada 150 that Ottawa’s LRT will be expanded, hopefully one day connecting to the Canadian Tire Centre.”

(That doesn’t appear to be on the table either, however. After my conversation with Mr. Leeder, the mayor announced the city’s intention to spend $2.5 million on expanding the city’s rail system by 2023 – plans which did not include a connection to the hockey arena.)

Legacy infrastructure, which includes buildings and other amenities that remain available for use following construction for a major event, is an integral part of the benefit that a celebration such as this brings to a city.

Montreal’s Expo 67 left behind several key legacies that visitors can still recognize on trips to the city today. Île Notre-Dame and the French and Quebec pavilions that now house the Casino de Montréal are just two examples of what that city now enjoys as a result of hosting that event nearly 50 years ago.

Vancouver now enjoys new venues such as the Richmond Olympic Oval skating rink thanks to its role in hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics, while the SkyTrain transit system connects the city’s downtown to its airport.

What can Ottawa expect in terms of legacy projects in 2017? Looks like not much, at least if Mr. Leeder’s experience with the task force is any guide.

Take, for example, one of the ideas that he supported but that the task force ultimately wasn’t interested in.

I have felt, for a long time now, that the capital would benefit from a boardwalk linking the institutions that dot the shoreline of the Ottawa River in Ottawa and Gatineau. Under the plan, visitors would be able to walk from the parliamentary precinct to the Canadian Museum of Civilization and then back to the National Gallery of Canada.

This didn’t appear to be of much interest to the task force, either.

“Although I personally supported the idea of building the longest boardwalk in the world to go along with the longest skateway, that suggestion didn’t get much traction with the task force, who felt that their focus should primarily be to help mobilize events in Ottawa instead,” said Mr. Leeder.

Mr. Leeder doesn’t rule out the possibility that the feds, the Province of Ontario or possibly the mayor’s task force may yet come up with something.

But for now he concludes, “It’ll be up to entrepreneurs to get Ottawa’s economy and 2017 celebrations off the ground.”