NCC Board turns its back on Gatineau Park

NCC Board turns its back on Gatineau Park
Posted on February 6, 2019 | Jean-Paul Murray | Written on February 6, 2019
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Letter type:
Op-Ed

Author's Note:

Author's Note:

Senior officials in charge of reviewing the Gatineau Park Master Plan were nowhere to be seen at the last public board meeting of the National Capital Commission. Instead, staffers who updated the board on the review sent out disturbing and confused messages.  

The NCC’s January 24th board meeting illustrated why Gatineau Park is an ongoing administrative nightmare. A number of questionable statements were made and the absence of key park planners was the elephant in the room. 

In particular, the presentation on review of the Gatineau Park Master Plan was awkward and problematic, given that key managers—like Planning Director Lucie Bureau and Park Warden Christie Spence—were not in attendance. Instead, Hugues Charron and Catherine Verreault made the presentation. Mr. Charron's participation sent a very bad message, since he confirmed his inability or unwillingness to defend a pillar of the last park master on September 25, 2018. In a letter he sent to the municipality of Chelsea on that date, he expressed NCC approval for construction of a two-storey house in the riparian buffer zone at Meech Lake. This is a repudiation of the letter and spirit of all park master plans, which time and again have confirmed the need to gradually eliminate all housing in the park. (I would also argue that residential construction in the park flies in the face of section 25 of the National Capital Act.[1])

However, the worst part of the meeting, in my view, came when planner Catherine Verreault claimed the NCC maintains a degree of control over the Hull Cégep lands. This statement is not accurate. To wit: in 1973, the NCC handed management and control of the Cégep lands (255 acres in all) to the Quebec government, in exchange for 61.5 km2 of lands and all lake bottoms in Gatineau Park, by virtue of an agreement and accompanying orders in council.

Unfortunately and for years, the NCC has misrepresented this land exchange by maintaining that “17% [of Gatineau Park, i.e., the 61.5 km2] is owned by the Province of Québec and is managed by the NCC under the terms of an existing agreement” (p. 75 of the 2005 Gatineau Park Master Plan). This is equivalent to speaking out of both sides of your mouth: it’s impossible because “management and control” IS ownership... Besides, section 3.4.3 of the Guide to the Federal Real Property Act and Federal Real Property Regulation confirms that “‘administration and control’ is in essence a right of ownership.”

In 2005, when asked why it claims the province still owns, or holds “title” to,[2] 17% of the land in Gatineau Park, which, by extension, would mean it owns the Cégep lands, the NCC answered: “The issue of ownership of these lands is complex because of the nature of the agreements governing these lands […] The NCC does not have clear title to these lands.”[3]

However, the notion of land title is completely irrelevant, because government land exchanges involve management and control, not title. Here’s how Professor Mundell has explained it:

“Lands held by the federal and provincial governments are both vested in Her Majesty but […] the administration of the lands is carried out on her behalf through different representatives. It follows that no conveyance of title can be made by one government to another. Title remains throughout in Her Majesty. All that need be transferred is the authority and duty to administer the lands on behalf of Her Majesty […] by complementary Orders-in-Council […]. No further conveyance is necessary nor would it be proper.”[4]

The principle in question is called “indivisibility of the Crown.” As the Supreme Court has said, citing that principle, and quoting legal scholar Paul Lordon, “Her Majesty is the owner of the property whether in right of Canada or the province and cannot grant to Herself. Only administrative control of the property passes. The transfer is, therefore, made by reciprocal Orders in Council and is confirmed by statute where third party rights are involved.”[5] 

In perpetuating the falsehood regarding true ownership of the lands in question, the NCC is not only betraying its mandate, it is parroting the myth propagated by successive Quebec governments. For instance, former Quebec Interprovincial Affairs Minister Benoît Pelletier, falsely claimed that the 1973 agreement still needed to be “finalized,” “officialised,” and “clarified,” since the titles were never registered with the land registry office.[6] Utter and complete nonsense.

The issue regarding ownership of the Cégep lands, and by extension of the 61.5 km2 of lands in the lac La Pêche sector of the park, was settled in March 2009 before Quebec’s Administrative Tribunal, when the provincial government withdrew the claim it didn’t own the Cégep lands. This happened as a result of the motion to intervene brought forth by the Gatineau Park Protection Committee.[7] 

Case closed beyond the shadow of a doubt. Except in the minds of some NCC bureaucrats. I note that Park Director Christie Spence endorsed the validity of the 1973 exchange in a September 11, 2017 report by Radio-Canada,[8] which confirmed the NCC owned the lakebeds. As well, Planning Director Lucie Bureau told me, at the May 3, 2018 public consultation on the park master plan, that no one now challenges the validity of the 1973 land exchange... 

Besides this January 24th misrepresentation of parkland ownership, board member Larry Beasley did a serious disservice to the NCC’s mandate and the park’s integrity by arguing municipal concerns should be addressed in the master plan.

Mr. Beasley should know that the NCC already addresses those concerns by including the mayors of Ottawa and Gatineau as ex officio members of its board, and by inviting the mayors of other municipalities to make presentations. He should also consider the serious damage municipalities do to the park, such as allowing construction of 133 new houses within its boundaries since 1992. As well, he should ponder Gatineau’s attempts to renege on the Gamelin Road land exchange, or Chelsea’s 2018 cash grab over payments in lieu of taxes, or its refusal to enforce shoreline protection bylaws at Meech Lake, etc. Mr. Beasley should focus more on protecting the capital and Gatineau Park, instead of claiming that municipalities are being ignored.

The NCC needs a major overhaul where Gatineau Park management is concerned. It remains to be seen whether incoming NCC CEO Tobi Nussbaum will be up to the task, or be swallowed up by the bureaucracy as were his predecessors.

My feeling is that he has the skills, experience and intelligence to see through the smoke and mirrors that surround park management. But, I'll be keeping a very watchful eye on him...

The 1973 land exchange agreement and accompanying orders in council are included below.


[1] Section 25 of the National Capital Act says: “All works of the Commission, whether constructed or executed before or after February 6, 1959, are hereby declared to be for the general advantage of Canada.” How allowing construction inside Gatineau Park is “for the general advantage of Canada” is beyond me...

[2] See Senate Sessional Paper 1/38-461S, April 12, 2005, pp. 1, 4, 5, and Gatineau Park Master Plan, National Capital Commission, Ottawa, 2005, p. 75.

[3] Information obtained from the NCC Intergovernmental Relations Branch, September 25, 2006.

[4] David W. Mundell, “Legal Nature of Federal and Provincial Executive Governments: Some Comments on Transactions Between Them,” Osgoode-Hall Law Journal, vol. 2, no. 1, April 1960, pp. 71-72.

[5] Osoyoos Indian Band v. Oliver (Town), 2001, SCC 85, [2001] 3 S.C.R. 746. See also Lordon, Paul, Crown Law, Butterworths, 1991, pp. 29-30, 282-283.

[6] «‘Il n’a jamais été question d’un parc national’», dit Benoît Pelletier, Le Droit, le 14 décembre 2005, p. 17. This interpretation of the 1973 agreement was confirmed to us by an official in the minister’s office on October 18, 2006.

[7] See the Quebec government’s notice of discontinuance and the Gatineau Park Protection Committee’s brief and motion to intervene, items 4, 5 and 6 on the GPPC’s Web site: http://www.gatineauparc.ca/documents_en.html

[8] « Des abris à bateaux et des quais menacés au lac Meech, » 11 septembre 2017, Radio-Canada.

 

About The Author

A writer, certified/literary translator and communications specialist with nearly 25 years experience working on Parliament Hill. In 2015, Ekstasis Editions published his translation of Robert Lalonde's Little... More