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NCC is abusing the public interest (The Ottawa Citizen)

The Ottawa Citizen
April 25, 2002

Anne Cools

NCC is abusing the public interest

Editor's note: The National Capital Commission wants to allow the development of the Moffatt Farm, on the edge of the Rideau River in southwest Ottawa. Senator Anne Cools, who lives near the Moffatt property, opposes the NCC. She wrote the guest column below in response to Citizen editorials that questioned her use of her Senate position in the debate.

Re: Not Cool, April 17, and Public debate, in public, April 19.

What mumbo jumbo. Certainly the Citizen's editorial writer can do better than this.

The April 17 editorial stated that I am entitled to speak, but that I ought not to use my letterhead to convey my thoughts. Pray tell, whose letterhead should I use? We all need to fight with every means available the National Capital Commission's unreasonable activities against the public interest.

Oddly, the editorial writer does not object to the NCC and its supporters using their letterheads and offices to support the commission's proposal. At issue is publicly owned parkland in the national capital, zoned as parkland, that has been in public use for more than half a century.

The other editorial capriciously asserted that my public stance on this NCC assault on protected national capital parkland somehow might put me in a conflict of interest because I live near the Moffatt Farm parkland, adjoining Mooney's Bay and Carleton Heights.

That is baffling. It is exactly because I do live in the neighbourhood that the residents came to me after being shunned by their elected members of Parliament. After all, I am a senator from Ontario, which includes Ottawa.

Your writer should acknowledge that the NCC is a creature of Parliament, created by the National Capital Act. He should say that every member of Parliament, including senators, owes the citizens of Canada a duty of diligence in the oversight of every statute of Parliament, and of every department, ministry, tribunal and commission created by Parliament.

This is especially pressing when local citizens and elected city councillors have asked me for assistance because they believe that the NCC is acting against the public interest and is assuming the role of a private developer.

My community is opposed to the NCC's efforts to force the rezoning of this parkland to residential, which will also establish precedents for similar parkland sales in other communities. Moreover, I am opposed to the NCC's bizarre attempt to hijack the citizens of Ottawa to obtain an inflated value for the Moffatt Farm.

The current value of this parkland is about $400,000, which has been the basis of the government's "grants in lieu of taxes" paid to the city for many decades. The NCC is proposing that the City of Ottawa rezone the Moffatt Farm from parkland to residential to justify a high market-price approaching $10 million, so that the city may purchase it from the NCC at that elevated price and then turn around and restore the zoning back to parkland.

The result would be that Ottawa taxpayers would pay the federal government an extra $9.6 million, and that the city would have collected the government's "grants in lieu" at the lower land value rate for decades. How could Ottawa Council justify this to its taxpayers? And why should the federal government, through the NCC, engage in this kind of unfair enrichment, and attempt to enlist the Ontario Municipal Board in its scheme?

Such distortion of land values does not serve a public purpose. The editorial writer is missing the point that such land privateering is not fitting for a commission such as the NCC that owns public lands. Neither is such land privateering countenanced by the purpose or character of the commission that Parliament intended in the National Capital Act.

As a member of Parliament, I would never try to set policy for the Citizen's journalists. Similarly, I believe your writers should not try to set my parliamentary agenda. The editorialist has raised a red herring, rather than concentrating on the central issue, the NCC's unwarranted and unjustified assault on the citizens of our national capital city.

In my view, supporting my community is not only a political and parliamentary obligation, but a moral imperative.