The Developer Lobby Is Too Strong: DOUCET

 

By Clive Doucet

The Central Experimental Farm belongs to all Canadians.

It’s where winter wheat was developed which revolutionized western production and continues to produce important environmental research which is used around the world.

The developer’s U.S. consultant tells us 40 years of environmental science is not threatened by shading from the most recent proposal for more condo towers at the privatized end of the farm.

Sorry, but there is a serious conflict of interest here, but this shouldn’t surprise anyone. Most projects the city has ever done since the term of Mayor Bob Chiarelli (1997-2006) ended (the O-Train won a procurement award, not a court date) has been littered with them. The only surprising thing about the developer’s shade study is the developer had to go as far as Michigan to find a consultant who could give him the shade white-wash he needed. Apparently no one local could stomach signing on.


I should have learned a long time ago to just close my eyes and ignore the carnage. Unfortunately for my blood pressure, neither distance or time from my hometown can seem to stop me from caring.

The destructiveness of this most recent proposal beggars the imagination. In a reasonable world, it should not be possible for a national treasure owned by all Canadians and benefiting all Canadians to be threatened by one developer’s profit line. But we said the same thing about Lansdowne Park which had been given to the city in perpetuity by local farmers in 1868 for agricultural and public use.

When first proposed back in 2006, it just didn’t seem possible a proposal to surround a heritage building such as the Aberdeen Pavilion (there’s only one other like it on the planet) with a big-box mall, then publicly fund a stadium, then hand it over to the same mall developers gratis to run the stadium as they wished. The whole idea just seemed too crazy.

The reality has been otherwise.

Since Chiarelli’s days, Ottawa City Council became a publicly funded tool used by developers to increase their profit margins. This has been the way it has been for decades.

The only sitting mayor to challenge the developer hegemony in the city was Chiarelli who stood up for putting the LRT where it should have gone along Carling Avenue. He also made the mistake of opposing privatizing Lansdowne Park. Sadly, he was hounded out of office by the righteous left which couldn’t make up its mind who to support in 2006 and split the vote. Since then it has been a free-for-all and Ottawa has been littered with developer carnage ever since.

The city’s failed LRT was about servicing developers who held land along the western parkway. It never made any sense. It had nothing to do with giving Ottawa the transit where it was needed which was along Carling where people worked, shopped and hospitals were located. To do this, the council ignored the National Capital Commission’s request to stay away from the parkways and river front.

Meanwhile, the massive Tewin subdivision was all about getting the cheapest land possible into the hands of local developers for the maximum profit possible. In doing so, council ruptured its own urban growth line against the recommendations of city planners.

Just as the Lansdowne privatization had nothing to do with football, nor does the continued colonizing of the farm have anything to do with housing. It’s about very big business getting what it wants and is just another statement about the power of the economic vision that has created the climate and economic crisis which Canada faces today.

The privatization of the farm puts large corporate profits first and pushes 40 years of agricultural research to the back of the bus. At the same time, it flushes local priorities such as preserving historic urban green space down the toilet.

This is a colonial vision of economic development where the colonists are not foreigners but local pashas and the gold mine is the city. It’s one of the principal drivers behind climate change today.

Growth for growth’s sake as we have known for what seems like forever now doesn’t work but as a city councillor, I could see no way of overcoming it.

The developer lobby was simply too powerful and remains so.

Clive Doucet is a former Capital ward councillor and author. His last book was Grandfather’s House,On Returning to Cape Breton. His newest, The Poetry of Necessary Things: A Poet’s Memoir is expected this fall.

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9 Responses

  1. Robert Robers says:

    Citizens of Ottawa don’t seem to care about the city. So they let the developers and a small group of players run the city.

  2. Andrew says:

    Excellent piece Clive!

    Just to add: the city allows so called “shadow studies”, to graph only 70% of the shadow. How is any decision maker supposed to act in good faith when given flawed studies? (have a look at the shadow studies the City put forward for Lansdowne 2.0, the shadow is cut off!). Other cities use 4 times the height for the scale of the study so the entire shadow is presented, but that would show too much for Ottawa’s city planning to put a thumb on the scale, apparently we can’t handle the truth!!

    As well, the Central Experimental Farm and Canal are designated heritage. Yet the Farm and the QED are being forced give up the green-space for the construction of both a hospital and of all things a “commuter” road and truck route (for the hospital). As well the Heritage land will soon host, a Class 2 Nuclear Facility, massive diesel generators and fossil gas generators and Boilers for the hospital, adding to the impact of the brand new diesel O-train running all the way to Barrhaven. (the Hospital was forced onto heritage land so the preferred and developable Tunney’s Pasture could be sold to developers…hmmmm)

    I like to reflect on the saying : “We have not inherited the earth from our fathers. We have borrowed it from our children.” At the current rate, they are not left with much on Ottawa.

  3. sisco.farraro says:

    In an early song entitled “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” a young Bob Dylan included the following insight – “Money doesn’t talk, its swears”.

  4. Andrew says:

    Excellent piece Clive!

    “We have not inherited the earth from our fathers. We have borrowed it from our children.”

    At the current rate, they are not being left with much in Ottawa.

  5. Theresa says:

    Clive, Thanks for this. What can be done to change this mindset? Making it illegal for city councillors to accept campaign contributions from any and all developers would be a good start. Even more so at the provincial level, since cities are creatures of the province, which has final say on city planning, especially with the current (developer-orchestrated) provincial government.

    Perhaps, since the Experimental Farm is federal property, the federal government could step in?

  6. Ken Gray says:

    Theresa:

    The charter would not allow individuals to lose their right to donate to candidates.

    It’s a real obstacle to making fair candidate donations.

    cheers

    kgray

  7. Theresa says:

    Ken, Oh dear, I expect you’re right — I can definitely see why my suggestion would violate the charter. Surely we can come up with a legal solution to this problem, though — set the maximum donation amount at $50, perhaps? Or something else?

  8. Andrew says:

    I agree Ken we all need have the ability to contribute regardless of our occupation. What we can do is reduce the upper limit, so when the typical donation range is $20-100, keep it low to perhaps $150 or $200. That would mean developers would be limited to that limit that the rest of us seem to find high. We do not need hundreds of TV ads like our current mayor ran during his campaign, we need debates, media interviews and community engagement at the local school or community center. This would keep the influence of the wealthy at a reasonable level and honouring all our rights.

  9. Theresa says:

    Andrew, I really like your suggestion — it should be the absolute limit — e.g., no additional monetary contributions or expensive presents for anyone related to the political candidate’s family (as in wedding gifts). This limit should apply to the provincial level as well. How do we get this to happen?

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