Opinion: The NCC: Steward or greedy landowner?

There’s something exhilarating about living in the National Capital Region, where one is often compelled to stickhandle through more layers of government in an afternoon than most see in a lifetime.

But it’s especially exhilarating when all those scrumptious layers start bickering with one another.

It’s pure entertainment, really. Though it usually means as a city, we don’t get a whole lot done.

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But while the rather catty letter sent by the National Capital Commission last week to Ottawa deputy city manager Nancy Schepers – a letter which, in effect, told the city to get its grubby paws off certain NCC Greenbelt lands designated for a light-rail system – is a great example, it also illustrates another, more disturbing pattern.

And that is that the NCC, for decades tasked with “building a great capital for Canadians,” has in effect become a big landowner first and foremost.

A builder of a great capital? That one seems a very distant second, in many cases.

For the record, the NCC’s mandate reads like this: To “prepare plans for and assist in the development, conservation and improvement of the National Capital Region in order that the nature and character of the seat of the Government of Canada may be in accordance with its national significance…”

Of course, I get the “nature” and “conservation” part. The NCC does this very well. It’s fair to say our city wouldn’t be nearly as livable without our vast network of trails and paths and selective green space.

But where’s the development?

Regardless, the two sides are now engaging in a he-said she-said exercise about just how informed was the NCC about this particular plot of land, bordering Moodie Drive and Bayshore north of the Queensway. Ms. Schepers says they were kept abreast, while the NCCdenies that.

But it doesn’t really matter. Because the partial text of the NCC’s letter to Ms. Schepers and the rest of the city exposes the commission’s real position on the issue. “It should not be assumed that NCC property is available for new projects, but rather a thorough justification must be presented to demonstrate that all other options are not feasible.”

Well. Apparently, it’s not just enough that NCC lands are rated a good or excellent option. No, for NCC land to be used it apparently has to be the only option, period, or else it’s a non-starter.

That doesn’t sound much like a steward of our capital. To me, that sounds like an organization that values land ownership above all else.

And let’s not get hysterical about the commission’s mission to protect the Greenbelt at all costs. After all, the NCC expropriated poor old Harold Munro’s 195 acres of farmland by Innes and Blair roads several decades ago to make room for the Greenbelt. A few years after that, they sold the land for more money to make room for big-box stores.

So I guess the commission isn’t that averse to development after all.

Now, let’s be clear: there’s nothing wrong with the NCC protecting and having a say over what happens with its land. Indeed, it would be delinquent if it didn’t.

But there’s a difference between protecting lands for the good of the capital, and protecting lands for the good of the NCC.

It seems this rather secretive organization, which discusses most issues during behind-closed-doors meetings, has confused that important point.

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