Aberdeen Square and the power of a name

“Does a historic plaza like Aberdeen Square, now renamed after a Gatineau casino in front of a national heritage building, the Aberdeen Pavilion, next to a UNESCO world heritage site, the Rideau Canal, in the heart of Ottawa qualify as a positive public image in the nation’s capital?”

By Isla Paterson

In the December 2019 issue of the Glebe Report, my letter to the editor (“Aberdeen Square naming rights cannot be sold,”) contends that the sale of the naming rights for Aberdeen Square was not allowable under the Lansdowne Partnership Plan Agreement. Based on a letter to a reader from David White, City of Ottawa solicitor, responding to my published letter, it appears that my interpretation of the legal agreement was incorrect.

Why it’s legal
In part, White’s letter reads:

“OSEG did not acquire naming rights in respect of the Aberdeen Square and other identified parts of Lansdowne Park, by virtue of the Partnership Agreement [emphasis his]. Put simply, OSEG cannot rely on the Partnership Agreement to grant naming rights to a third party. However, it is legally inaccurate to interpret these provisions as prohibiting OSEG from ever acquiring such rights…

“…Section 23 of the Urban Park Programming (UPP) Agreement deals with “Sponsorship” rights, providing for and contemplating cooperation between the City and OSEG in respect of sponsorship opportunities. Notably, the City is required to “work cooperatively with LSLP (Lansdowne Stadium Limited Partnership) to maximize sponsorship opportunities and revenues to both parties.” The agreement for the naming of the Aberdeen Square and the payment of $143,521.20 to the City over a five-year period, as described in the September 23, 2019, memo to Council, complies with the City’s obligations under section 23 of the UPP Agreement and was entered into pursuant to staff’s delegated authority…

“Furthermore, there exists no legal bar to the renaming of Aberdeen Square.

“As the provisions of section 2.12 of the Partnership Agreement do not prohibit the future negotiation of naming rights between the City and OSEG, and recognizing that staff have been provided the requisite delegated authority to negotiate such agreements in the ordinary course, there is no contravention of the City’s Delegation of Powers of Policy.

“While I appreciate that some individuals may not agree with the decision made in this instance, it is incorrect to state that it has been reached by improper or unlawful means. Simply put, that some individuals may wish for a different outcome does not constitute evidence of inappropriate or unauthorized behaviour by City staff.”

But questions remain
Here’s why I erred.

Naming rights

In October 2012, city council approved Report 25 that included the naming rights provision, which is: “OSEG shall have no rights in respect of the naming of the urban park, Aberdeen Square, the “great porch” area, the Aberdeen Pavilion or the Horticulture Building and roadways.” It is clear: no naming rights to OSEG. The agreement lasts until 2042.

Somehow this provision ended up saying that OSEG could acquire naming rights that it wasn’t given and pass them through (assign them) to a third party. Does the legal agreement reflect the council’s intent? I think not.

Furthermore, on May 20, 2014, The Citizen reported that the former city manager was on record as stating that even if the agreement permitted the city to assign naming rights, it would not do so.


Mr. White refers to the sponsorship section of the Urban Park Agreement (UPA). Yet the city staff memo to the mayor and council of September 23, 2019, advising that the city is entering into a naming rights agreement states that “The scope of the City’s Sponsorship Policy does not extend to P3 arrangements like the one in place in Lansdowne.” If so, why was sponsorship in the UPA in the first place?

Even if it was, the city’s Corporate Sponsorship Policy prohibits sponsorship including naming rights that “compromise or contradict any by-law, or policy or reflect negatively on the City’s public image.”

As part of the Lansdowne redevelopment, the city signed an agreement with the Ontario Heritage Trust (OHT) to maintain the integrity of the heritage properties at Lansdowne, including the Aberdeen Square. The September memo makes no mention of any approval from OHT and the City’s Heritage Sub-Committee. Why not?

As to the city’s public image, does a historic plaza like Aberdeen Square, now renamed after a Gatineau casino in front of a national heritage building, the Aberdeen Pavilion, next to a UNESCO world heritage site, the Rideau Canal, in the heart of Ottawa qualify as a positive public image in the nation’s capital?

Finally, Report 25 has no mention of sponsorship rights or corporate advertising in relation to the Urban Park.

Please note: the city is advertising sponsorship opportunities, including naming rights, for the skating court/basketball court and the children’s water plaza/play area at the urban park.

Delegated authority

Mr. White has stated that there is no contravention of the Delegation of Powers Policy. The city’s policy is: “For transactional items that relate specifically to identifiable wards, if the Ward Councilor does not agree with staff’s recommendation, the delegated authority is withdrawn and the application is sent to the appropriate Standing Committee for a public meeting and decision.” When ward Councillor Shawn Menard opposed renaming the plaza, the staff’s delegated authority recommendation was not withdrawn and referred to a public meeting and the Community and Protective Services Committee, which is responsible for the city’s parks. Why was this policy not respected?

In November, Mr. Menard, with city staff, was directed by city council to undertake exploratory public consultations to determine whether the city-controlled operations at Lansdowne (bookings and community programming) should be handed over to OSEG. If this is a ward matter, why weren’t the naming rights?

Public consultations?

Don’t get me going on that! Citizens were not consulted about the name change and at a recent community meeting, when the change came up, booing was loud and sustained.

The only consultation was a five-question survey, online, not advertised, in mid-July, over 14 days when people were on holidays. Genuine consultation? Absolutely not. It is worth noting that the survey did not ask for views on what the plaza is to become: a Jurassic-park-like space with big screens to watch events.

Another gaffe!

OSEG announced the name change two months before the mayor and council were notified. The mayor was quoted in OSEG’s notice.

Guess what else? The Ottawa Tourism Destination Development Fund provided OSEG with a grant for the renamed square. The organization does not disclose the grants it provides.

Questions remain

Perhaps I erred, but too many questions remain. Why was a casino chosen for a five-year sponsorship agreement at the same time as the city is proposing that OSEG take over operations at the urban park?

Should the city cancel the sponsorship agreement? Yes. Should the city respect its Delegation Policy? Yes. Should the city post on its website the Urban Park Agreement so that citizens are fully informed before consultations begin, for once? Yes.

If you are upset about the name change, please email your concerns to the mayor, our ward councillor, your community association, the city’s heritage committee, the NCC, our MPP and our MP.

Isla Paterson is a Glebe resident. She may be contacted at islapat@sympatico.ca

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