Over to the NCC

On May 20, 2016 Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly tasked the National Capital Commission with a review of possible locations for a new Hospital.  A report is due in November.  (Ottawa Citizen; CBC News; more in the Citizen here and here)

The Coalition wasted no time meeting with NCC officials.  We received assurances that the assumption of a 60-acre requirement will be questioned and that our input is welcomed.

At the Commission’s Annual Public Meeting on June 27, Leslie Maitland expressed support for the NCC’s assignment.  Another participant, Don Harper, shared his experience in participating in the CEF’s participation in Open Doors Ottawa and used it to annotate Minister MacAulay’s Reply to MP Poilièvre’s Question.

At the Board of Directors meeting the following day, outgoing Executive Director Stephen Willis presented a workplan, consisting of a 5-step process:  (1) determination of the requirements, the results of which will be made public; (2) over the summer, establishment of the criteria, in consultation with stakeholders; (3) examination of potential sites, including but not limited to the sites considered in 2007; (4) a comparative, qualitative evaluation; (5) ranking and report.  Public consultations will be held in September.  A steering committee consisting of two Board members, two architects and a heritage specialist will oversee the work.  Lucie Bureau will be the Executive responsible.  Board Member Norman Hodson pleaded for envisaging a new hospital in the context of core city building.  Observing Mayor Watson wanted to know more about what was really going on at the CEF.

Here is NCC staff’s report to the Board of Directors (1.4 MB), which includes an Appendix on federal sites, the May 20 letter from Minister Joly, the NCC’s reply of June 17, and biographies of each the steering committee’s members.

In a long editorial, the Citizen of June 30 is supportive of the NCC’s assignment but says that the consultation period is too short; online consultation alone is not good enough — “Let’s hear from all.”  The Metroland papers also printed an editorial in the week of July 11, emphasizing that “getting it right is crucial … a poor, rushed decision about [the new hospital’s] location must be avoided.”

Over the course of the summer, the Coalition assisted the NCC in several ways: It suggested relevant stakeholders and provided a 10-page brief on what research is taking place at the Farm. It attended two stakeholder meetings.

On September 12, the NCC revealed the 12 sites it would evaluate as well as the draft criteria — a list of 3 x 7 criteria under the headings “functional and operational,” “Capital interests,” and “local and regional interest objectives.”  Four of the sites are on the Farm — two adjacent parcels (including Field No. 1) totaling 48 ha, the John A. Carling site and the southwest quadrant at Baseline and Merivale. Two of the sites that were not on previous lists are on the Poets’ Pathway: the Woodroffe-Merivale corridor and a site at Lincoln Fields and Pinecrest Creek.

Lots of media coverage, including quotes from and a video with Coalition members Paul Johanis and Leslie Maitland: CBCnews, Ottawa Citizen, Metro, CFRA, and more. Joan Chianello opines that Field No. 1 is virtually certain to be saved, in light of the criteria.  Kelly Egan, on the other hand, thinks the list is stacked to end up with a C.E.F. site.

Some 300 people attended the presentation by NCC officials at a public meeting at the Canadian War Museum on September 22 (the video of the presentation, including the Q&A period, is available here – 1:50:15). Many more visited the Open House from 3 p.m. onward.   In his opening comments CEO Mark Kristmanson made a reference to the Bridgepoint Hospital in Toronto which has just won a Governor General’s Architecture Prize; it is a 10-storey, 680K SF, 464-bed facility, sitting on 15 acres of land. Later on, he noted that the previous effort to find a site for the new hospital failed to obtain a social license.  He vowed that the NCC’s recommendation would be strictly evidence-based.

The set of draft criteria was presented; as noted above, they fall under three headings: Functional & operational; Capital interests; and Regional & local interests.  The criteria under each are quite comprehensive.  Video pictures of each of the 12 sites were shown that gave a very realistic view of each; see them in a loop here.

During the question-and-answer period many, including active and retired scientists, spoke in favour of protecting the Central Experimental Farm.  Others pointed out that closeness to public transit is an absolute must.  Someone asked how the various criteria would be weighted.  That is where the very smart survey comes in: It asks the public to rate each of the criteria from Not at all important to Very important.

Comments were also made about “site 13,” that is, privately owned land.  Evaluation of private land options is outside the NCC’s mandate but Kristmanson invited the public to make suggestions.  The survey has room to do so.  (It also has room to suggest additional criteria.)

Go here to access the survey.  It is open till October 6.

Media coverage includes:  Elisabeth Payne in the Ottawa Citizen of September 22 and September 23; the latter article features CEF scientist Ed Gregorich.  CBCNews (includes two brief video clips). Lots and lots of letters to the editor in the Citizen’s Saturday paper, all opposing location on the CEF, criticising the alleged requirement for parking or urging proximity to transit. An article in the Metroland papers reported more on what people had to say than any other media outlet.

By closing day, the NCC had received 7,695 responses; just three days earlier the NCC had tweeted that “over 3,000” had participated.  (Source: Ottawa Citizen, October 8.)

+ On November 24, 2016, in a split decision, the NCC’s Board of Directors voted to recommend to the Minister of Canadian Heritage that the Tunney’s Pasture site be offered to the Ottawa Hospital for its new campus.

(The vote split was as follows:

Yea – Brunette, Hotson, Aditya, Kristmanson, Loughery, Macdonald, Mills, Pankiw, Stewart (9)

Nay – Coburn, Plamondon (2)

Abstain – Rivard, Stanley (2)

Conflict of Interest – Poliwada did not vote  (1)

David Reevely in the Citizen (Nov 24) criticized some of the Nay or Abstain voters for not having done their homework.)

The report (15 MB, 256 pages) is here.  (The first 35 pages are the actual report; the remainder are appendices.  The staff report and the Appendices on the public consultation are here [4.7 MB].  A shorter consultation report is here.)  From the Executive Summary:

The Tunney’s Pasture site emerged as the most suitable location based on the comparative analysis of the 12 potential sites, using the 21 criteria, grouped under three themes.

Functional and operational hospital interests

 The site’s area of 20 hectares (50 acres) meets the projected land requirements.

 The configuration is well suited to accommodate the anticipated hospital layout.

 The location optimizes the distribution of existing hospitals across the urban community.

 It is located in closest proximity to the region’s urban core.

 The site provides good roadway access for patient and emergency access (e.g. Scott Street, Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway, Holland Avenue).

Regional and local interests

 The site provides the best access to the expanding light rail transit (LRT) system. (Confederation Line, Tunney’s Station in 2018, westward extension projected in 2023).

 The site is well served by existing municipal infrastructure.

 It offers a positive contribution to the population intensification and mixed-use urban development expected along the western LRT corridor.

 The location will support planned developments at LeBreton Flats, the islands and Bayview Station.

 It is well integrated into the urban fabric, and affords opportunities to mitigate impacts on adjacent properties.

 The site features several access points, and offers benefits from an emergency preparedness perspective.

Capital interests

 The site is associated with the least impact on natural, public recreational and agricultural functions, and is occupied by many surface parking areas.

 Any potential impacts to the heritage character of the site could be mitigated through design.

 Selection of this site avoids impacts to the Central Experimental Farm National Historic Site.

 Selection of this site may displace some existing federal facilities; however, the NCC-approved Tunney’s Pasture Master Plan already envisions the divestiture of the western half of the site for non-federal mixed-use development.

 It may offer opportunities for partnerships or adaptive reuse, given the presence of Health Canada’s existing facilities on-site.

Reading the report, it is clear that the representations on the heritage, greenspace and research importance of the Central Experimental Farm loomed large in the evaluation committee’s deliberations.  Just about all the letters found on this web site under Building a Coalition are reproduced in the Appendices!

Another interesting aspect of the public consultation results is that, based on what they said in the open-format last question of the on-line survey, about an equal number were opposed to a location on the C.E.F. as were in support (1,550 vs. 1,390).   That gives added weight to the findings on what ranked highest in importance for most of the 7,671 respondents:

Capital interests — natural environment, cultural resources, green spaces;

Regional and local interest — emergency response, integrated transportation including transit;

Hospital requirements  — emergency access, site size, location in the core.

There is a high degree of consensus in Ottawa!

Survey responses were also subjected to extensive text analysis.

Media coverage: Elisabeth Payne and  David Reevely in the Ottawa Citizen; Joanne Chianello on CBCNews; “Reaction mixed” – CBCNews; Metro; CFRA.

More media coverage: Jon Willing, Don Butler, Kelly Egan and an editorial in the Ottawa Citizen; Elisabeth Payne again; on CFRA with Solomon, Durrell, Poilièvre, a.o.; on CBC Ottawa Morning Radio with snippets from Kristmanson, McKenna and Poilièvre, and interviews with Leslie Maitland and Councillor Leiper; CKOY (1310 news) story 1 story 2; former mayors Holzman and Durrell in the Citizen: “A bad decision is about to be made.”  Lots of letters to the editor in the Ottawa Citizen of November 26, all opposed to the NCC’s recommendation.  Kelly Egan again, about the Heart Institute angle: “Are we nuts?”

Initial response from the Ottawa Hospital; in its email to donors this statement was illustrated by a 4-story building.  Also Dr. Kitts on CFRA; Kitts and MPP Naqvi on CBCNews.

A November 25 poll by 1310News ran 60/40 in support of the NCC’s recommendation.

Saturday morning on CFRA, with Pierre Poilièvre, Paul Johanis and James Valcke (clip no longer available).

Comment: In the CFRA interview, besides Mr. Poilièvre continuing to spread his “evidence” and liberally quoting from the Holzman-Durrell piece, the discussion turned mostly on traffic and the current problems on Parkdale.  A bit sad.

In his interview on CFRA, Mr. Poilièvre made clear that he is launching a campaign to lobby Min. Joly, using Facebook.  In the House of Commons on November 24 he had again extolled the excellence of the evaluation done in 2007, confirmed in 2016.

Comment: Readers of this web site know better!

+ Negative responses to the NCC’s recommendation began to build further.  On November 29, the TOH Board of Governors concludes that the Tunney’s Pasture site is not acceptable, citing concerns about access, costs and timelines.  A statement by five Ottawa Liberal MPPs (the entire provincial Ottawa Liberal caucus) supports the hospital’s conclusion.  Media coverage: Elisabeth Payne; Joanne Chianello.  In an op-ed, Leslie Maitland writes: “The hospital didn’t look this gift horse in the mouth. It didn’t look at it at all.”

Thrown into the mix was a report on salt contamination of the fields adjacent to Carling Avenue (Andrew Duffy in the Citizen of November 30). George Neville saw in it “an opportunity to conduct plant research on the growing problem of soil salinity for agricultural crops.”

By December 1 the Citizen (Willing & Sherring) could report that “Momentum is building for the Sir John Carling site to become the new home of the Civic hospital.”  Mayor Watson stepped forward as the convenor to argue for this option.  A press conference the next day cemented the support by all three levels of government (letter; statement; lettre, déclaration).   Minister Joly accepted the advice the same day.  The Ottawa Hospital promptly declared the solution “A win for all patients.”  Friends of the Farm expressed its disappointment that the hospital will end up on the Farm after all.

The Coalition wrote on its Facebook page:

So it’s official. Minister Joly has agreed to make available the Sir John Carling site for the campus of the Ottawa Hospital. We are disappointed because it is one of the four sites located on the Central Experimental Farm. We won the bureaucratic round, which resulted in the NCC staff recommendation for Tunney’s Pasture. Right from the Board meeting however we saw that it would be facing stiff headwinds. The political round which followed ended up a draw. The Hospital did not get the site they have been coveting for a decade, and we lost the former SJC site. The united show of local, mostly Liberal, political force for this option made it irresistible.

So we are disappointed, but relieved that the working heart of the Farm, its research fields, its heritage core and its vast green spaces have been preserved. We take solace that the Sir John Carling is a brownfield site, where headquarters functions were once performed, not research, and that it was due for some type of redevelopment, hospital or otherwise.

Now comes the next phase of our work, ensuring that this development does not damage or degrade nearby green space and heritage assets, like the Arboretum and ornamental gardens. And longer term, this will strengthen our resolve to get real, long term, protection enacted for the Central Experimental Farm. We plan to engage with Minister McKenna immediately on the subject.

This forum and this community has been most valuable in taking up the fight. Thank you for being there. Hopefully we can continue to work together to Protect the Farm.

Media coverage on December 2: Minister McKenna and MPP Poilièvre on CBC Radio’s All in a Day; says the latter: “The Liberals performed a rescue mission today.” (clip no longer available)  More coverage: Ottawa Community News; Ottawa Sun; Ottawa Business Journal ; CBC News, Dec. 3.

A scathing editorial in the Citizen (Dec 4) — “a herd of Liberals” — though not saying that the SJC site is a bad choice.  The Green Party of Ontario insisted that the new hospital should be located on the future LRT and on a brownfield (December 8).

Kelly Egan has Dr. Kitts tell the backstory on the roller-coaster week (Dec. 7).  David Reevely tells Min. McKenna’s backstory (Dec. 13).

POSTSCRIPT – December 2022

Six years later, some members of the community continue to be upset about the choice of location for the new hospital. Valerie Swinton, a volunteer with ReImagine Ottawa, wrote a ‘Who dunnit’ in the Glebe Report of December 9, 2022. She concludes that “The Ottawa Hospital bears initial responsibility for the loss of Experimental Farm land and Queen Juliana Park.”  Further, the federal government “bears primary responsibility for making the decision, based, it would seem, on loss of income and existing plans for Tunney’s.” And the City of Ottawa “played a key facilitation role.”  “The influence of community leaders who objected to Tunney’s and from the development industry is invisible but likely.”  Final word: “Transparency? Zero.”

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