New Civic Hospital location – the story behind the story

By Greg Roger

So Yasir Naqvi, our MP for Ottawa Centre, lauds the introduction of Bill C23, an act designed to protect the Experimental Farm from any further development. Here’s the story behind the story.

In mid-2016, the Liberal government asked the National Capital Commission (NCC) to conduct a review of potential federal lands for possible gifting to the planned redevelopment of the Civic campus of The Ottawa Hospital (TOH). The NCC conducted an extensive review, interviewed 7,700 individuals, met with a number of community groups, evaluated about a dozen federally owned sites against 21 objective criteria. On November 24, 2016, the NCC recommended the selection of Tunney’s Pasture.

Just four days later, on November 28, the TOH board announced its rejection of that recommendation.

On December 2, Mayor Jim Watson convened a meeting of 17 elected area MPPs and MPs. Yasir Naqvi was a member of that group, as MPP at that time for Ottawa Centre. Bob Chiarelli was in the group too, as MPP for Ottawa West. That group flipped the NCC’s recommendation to the northeast corner of the Experimental Farm, then a designated National Historic Site. The then Minister of Heritage, Melanie Joly, removed the designation from a 42-acre portion of the Farm.

Subsequently, Public Works executed a 99-year lease of the taxpayer’s property to TOH for the sum of $1 per annum.

To this date, almost six years later, neither any of the politicians involved nor TOH nor the City has provided a credible explanation for the switch. The matter continues to be a contentious municipal election issue because Naqvi’s constituents in Ottawa Centre and the citizens of Ottawa have paid and will pay in perpetuity an enormous price for the reversal of the NCC recommendation.

The new Civic Hospital will be located on 52 acres of the Central Experimental Farm, as well as Queen Juliana Park.

Environmental Costs

In a time of climate crisis, the TOH development will entail the removal of over 700 mature trees and the paving of 52 acres of green space (one of the last significant green spaces remaining in the Ottawa Centre riding).

The residents of Ottawa will lose forever the 10-acre Queen Juliana Park that will become the site of a 2,500-vehicle parking garage situated opposite Dow’s Lake and below the Farm escarpment where the hospital will be located. This massive development above Queen Juliana Park will result in a huge downward flow of storm water into the O-Train tunnel and Dow’s Lake, polluting the lake, the Rideau Canal and river and imperilling aquatic and other wildlife.

Quality of Life

The development will result in an additional 3,000 vehicles, seven days a week, on Prince of Wales Drive and the adjoining Preston and Carling avenues. It will significantly compromise the public’s access to and enjoyment of Commissioner’s Park and Dow’s Lake.

Additional Costs

The hospital has already asked for a municipal contribution of $150 million (no details or justification provided). Mass-transit access to the hospital will be constrained. The nearest O-Train stop will be on the north side of Carling Avenue, 450 metres (the length of four football fields) from the hospital entrance.

This would necessitate the building of an all-season bridge between the O-train station, the top of the parking garage and entrance to the hospital. The Flora Bridge at Fifth Avenue was completed several years ago at a cost of $43 million. The similar-length bridge over Carling Avenue will cost taxpayers multiples of the sum.

The only public response I have heard from Naqvi about these and many other criticisms of the switch of the NCC’s sensible recommendation for the TOH site is that “nothing is perfect.”

We taxpayers do not expect perfection of those we elect to represent our collective interests, but we do expect rational, evidence-based transparency and responsible conduct.

The Tunney’s Pasture site offered easy, direct access from the east-west LRT, thus reducing the demands of greatly increased automotive traffic. It entails none of the alarming environmental effects and eliminates the additional cost effects of the Farm and Park sites.

The rejection of the recommended Tunney’s Pasture site, in spite of all of the evidence in its favour, was a colossal blunder that will result in a huge cost to the public and a black mark on the records of those that facilitated it.

Greg Roger has lived in the Glebe and Centretown and takes an active interest in Ottawa civic matters.

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