Sunday, 29 November 2015

Consultation on Design Only are Not Consultations

The 60 Acres at the Central Experimental Farm
On Thursday, the Ottawa Citizen reported that the Ottawa Hospital will, finally at long last, be holding consultations on the new Civic Campus early in the new year. This comes just less than 13 months after John Baird announced the gift of 60 acres of the Central Experimental Farm, an important scientific research station and a National Historic Site of Canada, to the Hospital to build a new campus.

The Hospital's consultations will be on the design of the new campus, not its location. Given the lack of transparency in selecting the site at the Farm as well as the Farm's important role in Canadian agricultural science and history, there can be no true consultation if the location is off the table.

Records obtained through federal access to information and provincial freedom of information requests reveal that the Ottawa Hospital has consistently fought, delayed, and cancelled attempts by local politicians to hold consultations on the transfer. Indeed, in the year before Baird's gift was announced, the Hospital worked to keep news of the pending transfer under wraps.

The Central Experimental Farm is governed by a long-term management plan that demands its integrity and continued use for agricultural research as the best way of respecting its rich history. The NCC's urban lands master plan supports keeping the Farm intact.

Since the announcement the Hospital has portrayed the gift as the only way to build a new Civic Hospital, which is reported to hold less beds than the current campus and be the hub of a distributed network of clinics despite requiring almost triple the land space, is on the Farm land across the street.

This is a false dichotomy. The question isn't Hospital or Farm. There is more than enough space in Ottawa for both institutions, even on federally owned land.

The 60 acres in question are part of the original 465-acre Farm and today represents approximately 15% of its research land. Field #1 in particular has been the site of important research since the Farm's inception in 1886. Notably, long-term international research underway on Field #1 feeds into the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The loss of this land will end this important research and damage Canada's reputation with our global scientific partners.

This cavalier attitude towards science, history, and government transparency is characteristic of the previous Conservative government. The Liberal's promise of "real change" is being sorely tested by their silence.

The Farm-or-Hospital dichotomy relies on silencing stories of the Farm's past, present and future importance to Ottawa, Canada, and our international partners. Rather than seeing the experimental fields as rare and invaluable archives of past use and laboratories for future generations that they are, we're to empty them of meaning and render them worthless.