Monday, 17 August 2015

Ottawa Hospital and Consultations: 60 Acres

Foreground: Tractors on display at the Central Experimental Farm. Background: The Civic Hospital
In July, Cameron Love, COO of the Ottawa Hospital, told the Carlington Community Association, the Civic Hospital Community Association, and City Councillors Riley Brockington and Jeff Lieper that the decision to severe 60 acres of the Central Experimental Farm from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada for development is final. Consultation will only happen on the design of an as yet hypothetical, unfunded 2.5 million square foot mega-hospital campus.

Love is the main Hospital representative in the ongoing negotiations between AAFC, the National Capital Commission, and TOH. As late as last April, according to documents obtained through an access to information request, the Hospital has been working against any public consultation until after the ink dries on the severance agreement, set for this September. Any consultation that will have no impact on the decision is not actually consultation.

This raises important questions, not least: How can long-term planning documents and processes produced after years of study and public consultation, such as the CEF Management Plan and Advisory Council, be overturned and rendered toothless in secret? 

Mark Kristmanson, the CEO of the NCC, told Heritage Ottawa that "the NCC was asked essentially by the government act as the middle man" between AAFC, who has a long history of fighting encroachment, and the Ottawa Hospital, which has been coveting the Farm from across the street for years. 

The NCC received this direction, presumably from then-Minister John Baird or someone on his staff, sometime before the spring of 2014, the date of the earliest documents in my current ATIP release packages (though it is clear that the closed door talks were well underway at that point), and with the same spirit that has characterized its role in the Communism Monument fiasco, pushed ahead on laying the grounds works for a memorandum of understanding without, apparently, bothering look to either the public for its input, nor to the CEF Advisory Council and the management plan for guidance, nor to the Farm scientists who know well the value of the land and the ongoing, long-term research projects on Field 1.

As with the Communism Monument, long term plans for an important parcel of federal land in the capital were ignored. Where is the line in the sand that will cause the NCC and its board to say "Hey, wait a minute. Our mandate is to plan, so let's at least get planning right." That line is not at the Supreme Court, nor is it at the Farm. In both cases, we are long past due for a return to the respect, process, and democracy that characterise the existing, trampled, plans. 

It should be possible for our politicians or even the NCC board to slow this down, restart the process and do it properly. It's clear that's not what they intend to do. Indeed, despite the ongoing lack of consultation, transparency and process and despite that we're currently in the midst of an election campaign, AAFC, the NCC, and the Ottawa Hospital are working towards signing the next set of documents by the end of September.

Is this how we want our dwindling national scientific stations treated? Is this how we, as Canadians, want to treat our important national historic sites? These are important questions to bring into all candidate debates in the coming weeks and to the ballot box on October 19.