Did you ever have that friend growing up who would take your stuff only to return it to you broken? Well, the City of Ottawa has such a “friend”. It was about half a century ago that the federal government took Lebreton Flats from local residents and businesses.
Now finally, the land may no longer be left to rot.
But the National Capital Commission—the agency now in charge of Lebreton Flats—isn’t returning the land to the city or to the descendants of those who used to live there (or to First Nations peoples whose ancestors were the first to have the land stolen). No, they’re going to sell it to someone else, and those people may look to us to help pay to clean it up.
So, together, the federal government and the NCC are the friend who takes your toy, breaks it, sells it to someone else…and then you get a bill to fix it.
Unsurprisingly, the city isn’t too enamoured with this scenario.
True, the city—through its brownfields program—regularly helps to pay for cleaning up contaminated land (to encourage development), but the notion that the program should be used to clean up Lebreton Flats is absurd.
Let’s put aside the fact that this would be a budget-busting expenditure. The program just isn’t set up to deal with the amount of money it would take to clean up the site.
Let’s also put aside that this is incredibly valuable land—we’re not going to get many more opportunities to have such a massive development right beside the city’s core—and so the cost of remediation should be factored into any sale and development of the area.
Let’s even put aside that the city isn’t even considered an official partner in this project, so we—the people who live in the city and will have to live with Lebreton Flats—have no official say in what happens.
Yeah, ignore all that, even though those are good enough reasons to balk at paying for cleaning up the site.
Lebreton Flats has been a wasteland for half a century. Approximately half of Ottawa’s residents aren’t old enough to have seen this prime land as much more than an open field, snow dump or parking lot (save for a few recent condo developments).
As great as a development at Lebreton Flats may be (and there’s no guarantee it’ll live up to its promise), the city has been robbed of the full use of this land for decades.
That’s less housing and fewer places for people to live. That’s fewer parks in our central neighbourhoods. That’s less development, less business, fewer attractions and a duller city.
That’s a big gaping chasm between downtown and the neighbourhoods to the west.
The vacant land stifled development around City Centre, Mechanicsville and the remnants of Lebreton Flats at the bottom of Nanny Goat Hill.
And for what? To host an office complex that would never be built? To rid the city’s centre of a low-income neighbourhood?
The NCC threw poor people out on the street. They destroyed a community. And they ensured that land would never be developed for half a century. They just let it sit there, contaminated…an eyesore a short walk from Parliament Hill.
So no, we, the residents of Ottawa, should not be paying to clean up that land. If anything, the NCC should just give the land to the city (or those whose ancestors first inhabited the land).
They shouldn’t profit from expropriating and wasting land for this long. They shouldn’t get to pawn off the costs of their neglect onto us.
The federal government destroyed one of our neighbourhoods. They let the ground get more and more contaminated. Part of our city was taken from us and broken. We shouldn’t be stuck with the bill.