Doucet; Ottawa City Hall Lacks Transparency

Doucet; Ottawa City Hall Lacks Transparency
Posted on April 5, 2019 | Clive Doucet | Written on April 5, 2019
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Letter type:
Op-Ed

The lack of transparency at City Hall makes it very difficult to ever know exactly what’s going on in any project. An announcement of a billion dollar over-run for LRT II gave the opposition about two weeks to react.

One thing that is clear there has never been a more secretive administration than Mr. Watson’s. The more important the decision to be made, the less likely Council is going to know anything about it. Think about the new hospital. The people’s and the NCC’s choice were clearly Tunney’s Pasture. In about 72 hours, Mr. Watson marshalled a city-wide political no to Tunney’s and yes to the farm and the west side of Dow’s Lake. No public consultation. No report to Committee and Council. No reasons given, it was just done.

On LRT I, there have been rumors for more than a year that there were serious hydrological problems at the Rideau Station which makes sense as this station is right in the gut where the Rideau Canal runs between the higher land of Parliament Hill and Lowertown. This is the reason during the election, I said before we decide on LRT II, let’s find out if LRT I is going to work.

We now know the rumors are true because this is exactly what the deficiencies report of the inspectors described. The Rideau Station should never have been moved from the original planned location on higher land in front of the Parliament Buildings to the gut as the city decided to do. It looks like there’s going to be industrial sump pumps going to keep that station functioning.

Lansdowne Park is another mess of the city’s own making, but again it has always been impossible to discern what is going on. Remember ‘Revenue Neutral’?  Right now Revenue Neutral to the city is looking more like a 200 million dollar costs to the city depending on how you add up the bills – if you can find them.

What is going on now? The OSEG audited annual reporting doesn’t break down the costs between the sports operations and the mall rents. So who knows?

If it’s the mall losing money, that makes sense. We always said Lansdowne Park was the wrong place for a Mall for many reasons, one of the most obvious being the difficulty of parking, a key to any Mall’s success. We argued that the city didn’t need to give away the land to finance the stadium reconstruction. Nor did it because the project has never been revenue neutral; so why was it done? 

If the losses are from the sports teams, this is harder to figure out because the events have been are well attended. Regardless, why should the city bail the OSEG partnership out once more? The proposal coming from OSEG seems to indicate that they want a share in the revenue from what public spaces are left at Lansdowne and which seem to be comfortably in the black.  The answer seems to be if OSEG is failing financially - find a way for OSEG to get control of the public assets that remain - the Aberdeen Pavilion, the Horticulture Building and the little rink and child’s play structures in front of the Pavilion. Why not? The city’s given away the bulk of the park anyway? 

What constantly amazes me is the calm way the original proposers have always assumed that no matter what happens at Lansdowne, the public will pay. So far, their confidence is not misplaced.  The Mayor ponies up to the OSEG trough and pours in the land and money requested.

When a new roof was needed with an unanticipated cost of 17 million for the stadium, it shouldn’t have been a problem for the city because the contract with OSEG for the stadium was fixed cost, but OSEG didn’t want to pay it. So the city diluted its already thin revenue share from the commercial rents and paid for the 17 million. When OSEG wanted the Horticulture building moved for a better entrance for parking, no problem the city ponied up the five million to relocate the building. 

Where did the idea come from that private profits must be protected at Lansdowne and city assets and costs ignored?  It happened because OSEG has brilliantly set up the revenue sharing agreement for the mall to ensure that the city will feel any revenue losses first, not OSEG.  Whatever OSEG loses the city will lose more.

Whether it’s Lansdowne, LRT, the hospital or a 65-story condo at Bayview, the story is always the same. No information and gunshot votes on Council.  It all started when a competitive process to prepare a renovation plan for Lansdowne was replaced with a ‘revenue neutral’ non- competitive, sole source contract to OSEG, and its’ never stopped. That’s what I saw coming and there’s no sign it’s going to change. No worries. The public will pay.

About The Author

A career on the front lines of the city.

Clive Doucet is a passionate urbanist. His life is all about cities: how they work; what people need from them; and how to make them better.  He was... More