NCC oversight: Should a local federal cabinet minister be in charge of influential Crown agency?

Should a local MP in the next cabinet have the responsibility for the NCC, which is the largest landowner in the capital region and is expanding its clout in capital planning?

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There are two ways to look at whether political oversight of the National Capital Commission should fall to an MP based in the capital region.


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On one hand, no MP knows the federal land issues better than one who represents a riding in the Ottawa-Gatineau area.

On the other hand, being responsible for the NCC could be a political liability for a local MP. Having a disinterested MP in cabinet in charge of the NCC might be the safest choice for a party.

The NCC’s impact on Ottawa and the Outaouais is huge.

In fact, outside of the federal workforce and the government’s role as the region’s main employer, no other federal issue might have the kind of influence like the NCC has in Ottawa-Gatineau. The NCC’s authority has become stronger in recent years with the agency taking a larger role in transportation planning between the two cities.

So, should a local MP in the next cabinet have the responsibility for the NCC, which is the largest landowner in the capital region and is expanding its clout in capital planning?

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On paper, the NCC is arm’s length from its government masters since there’s a board of directors acting as a primary layer of supervision, but the government is ultimately boss.

The Justin Trudeau government has decided to keep the NCC’s direct political responsibility away from a local MPs, despite having two Ottawa MPs in cabinet (Ottawa Centre’s Catherine McKenna, who’s leaving politics, and Ottawa-Vanier’s Mona Fortier).

Today, Oakville MP Anita Anand, the minister of public services and procurement, has oversight of the NCC. Before Anand, the job fell to Montreal-area MPs Pablo Rodriguez and Mélanie Joly at different times in their former roles as ministers of Canadian Heritage.

The Stephen Harper government assigned the NCC duty to local MPs in cabinet. Pierre Poilievre, John Baird and Lawrence Cannon took turns being in charge of the agency.


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Poilievre, who’s seeking re-election in Carleton, couldn’t be reached for comment on Tuesday.

The NCC has included more local-government influence by adding municipal voices. The mayors of Ottawa and Gatineau were invited to participate in board meetings in 2016 — just not as voting members — and they can ask NCC management questions about the agency’s projects and advocate for their residents.

The Conservative candidate in Ottawa Centre, Carol Clemenhagen, touched on the issue of NCC governance during a debate this week when she suggested the MP in her riding should have a formal role with the NCC.

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The NCC has several high-profile projects in Ottawa Centre, including the redevelopment of LeBreton Flats and a plan to change a swath of grassy land in Mechanicsville into a diplomatic district with new embassies.


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On Tuesday, Clemenhagen said there should be a role for an Ottawa-based cabinet minister when it comes to the NCC to provide “greater answerability to local residents on local needs.”

The NCC’s reach, of course, extends outside of central Ottawa. The agency is tasked with protecting the the greenbelt separating urban Ottawa with suburban communities. It has also received more responsibility from the government to plan interprovincial public transit and examine the need for a sixth interprovincial bridge.

The agency also has a major influence in the Gatineau area.

Sophie Chatel, the Liberal candidate in Pontiac, didn’t say if she thinks a local MP in cabinet should have responsibility for the NCC, but she noted the importance of one of the most important federal land masses in the region.

“I know that the residents of Pontiac appreciate the inestimable value of our green spaces, especially the Gatineau Park, which is managed by the NCC,” Chatel said in an email. “I share their passion for these spaces and I will ensure that their protection is a priority. It is crucial that the priorities of the residents of Pontiac are respected by the decisions of the NCC. I am committed to ensuring that their voices are heard.”

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