Politics Chatter
Politics Chatter

POLITICS CHATTER: Offering up a cost-cutting suggestion for Tony Clement — time to scrap the NCC

Contributing editor Mark Bourrie offers up a cost-cutting suggestion to Tony Clement: Ditch the NCC!

I have an idea for Tony Clement and his budget cutters that will not only save federal taxpayers millions of dollars a year but will also recover hundreds of millions more that are locked up in federal real estate holdings. Let’s get rid of the NCC.

It’s a relic of the 1950s, an unwieldy, undemocratic, unresponsive, and expensive bureaucracy that replicates services and has no obvious public benefit. Lots of other NCC operations should either be handed to the city — with grants, if warranted — or to agencies of the federal and provincial governments.

Why, for instance, are small parks like Confederation Park across from City Hall and Brébeuf Park on the Ottawa River in the west end of Hull run by the NCC? Those parks serve no national purpose. They’re city parks. Let the cities pay for them.

The NCC also runs a network of small conservation areas. This allows the NCC to maintain yet another set of employees and bureaucrats, while letting the local conservations authorities off the hook.

Same with roads owned by the NCC: the river and canal driveways and the Airport Parkway. Those are city roads. They would be in fine hands if they were handed over to Ottawa and Gatineau.

Though not a fan of the Greenbelt concept, Bourrie argues that if we do want to keep it, we don't need the NCC in charge of that land.

The Rideau Canal — along with most of the other small canals in eastern Canada — is operated by Parks Canada until it reaches the National Capital, where both Parks Canada and the NCC have control. I see an easy fix there.

The Gatineau Park should be a national park. People in the Chelsea area have been lobbying for that for years. But, rather than fold the Gatineau Park into Parks Canada, an agency that actually runs big parks all over Canada, the NCC maintains a complete bureaucracy and parks staff.

Why does the NCC run Winterlude but not the Tulip Festival? The cities should run their winter carnival and similar events. If the government believes Ottawa-Gatineau’s winter carnival has some great national importance, it can give the cities a grant.

The NCC is a huge land-owner in the region. For reasons unfathomable, it owns many of the lovely old houses along the Aylmer Road. It also owns houses and cottages in the Gatineau Park and farms in the Green Belt. These places are leased to the people who live in them.

Sell them. The buyers of those old houses in Aylmer, those park cottages, and those farms, will take good care of them. Municipalities and provinces have more than enough tools to protect the heritage properties, and the NCC should not be in the real estate business.

But there’s more. The NCC owns office buildings and businesses all over downtown Ottawa and in the Byward Market. This is a very good time to sell them. The business people of the capital region will do just fine looking after these buildings.

Then there’s LeBreton Flats.

Great job there, guys.

In the middle of one of the biggest building booms in the city’s history, the NCC, sitting on hundreds of acres in the middle of the city, after spending millions on studies, comes up with a vast acreage of ragweed, a solitary tree that a hobo sleeps under, and the most ghastly piece of residential architecture that this city’s seen in an awful long time.

The NCC maintains the Greenbelt. I’ve argued here before that the Greenbelt is a bad hold-over from 1950s planning. Rather than prevent sprawl, it moves it to soulless satellite communities.

But if we are going to maintain a Greenbelt, we don’t need the NCC. The federal government and the province of Ontario could reach an agreement to bring in legislation that would use zoning to freeze development.

Then there’s the issue of interprovincial bridges. The NCC tries to control those, too. When the Champlain Bridge was widened a decade ago, residents of the Island Park neighbourhood said it would not solve gridlock. It would simply facilitate urban sprawl on the Quebec side. And they were right. Vast areas of swamps west of Hull and north of Aylmer were quickly built over, and the wider Champlain Bridge is just as locked up at rush hour as it was 10 years ago. Island Park Drive is now a far less pleasant place during peak traffic times.

There was a reason the NCC could turn a deaf ear to the residents of Island park: the NCC is, essentially, an undemocratic organization. No one elects its board members, except for the mayors of Ottawa and Gatineau, who sit as ex-officio members.

No minister takes responsibility for it in Parliament. Strangely, it files its financial reports through the ministry of Foreign Affairs. That’s John Baird’s ministry.

Sell it. Shut it down.

It’s time.

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