Catherine McKenna, Canada's minister of environment and climate change, told reporters she has "concerns" about the impending transfer of 24 hectares of land from the Central Experimental Farm to The Ottawa Hospital, and said it's not too late to revisit the decision.
"I have concerns the former minister [John] Baird did this, I think, without a lot of consultation, so I'm exploring what happened," McKenna said following question period at the House of Commons Thursday.
'I have concerns the former minister [John] Baird did this, I think, without a lot of consultation, so I'm exploring what happened.' - Minister Catherine McKenna
The decision to lease the land to the hospital was made official in November 2014 during an announcement at The Ottawa Hospital by Baird, who was joined by the hospital's CEO Dr. Jack Kitts.
The hospital needed the land "for the construction of a world class hospital and teaching facility," according to a media release issued at the time.
McKenna's comments came in response to a letter signed by close to 50 agriculture and climate change scientists and heritage advocates. It's addressed to McKenna, Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Lawrence MacAulay and Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly.
'Not just any land'
"This land is not just any land," the coalition wrote. "The fields proposed for transfer are the historically and scientifically most significant."
McKenna met with the group Jan. 6.
Retired Agriculture Canada scientist Harvey Voldengh is a member of the coalition, and has carried out a number of scientific experiments on crops in that particular section of the farm.
'We think they should look for another site.' - Retired scientist Harvey Voldengh
"We think they should look for another site," said Voldengh in an interview. "It's rather special for research in climate change and food security."
Voldengh said some of those experiments have been going on for decades, so transferring the land now would set the research back considerably.
An access to information request filed by the coalition revealed scientists at the Experimental Farm had not been informed of the decision to hand the land over to the hospital before the public announcement.
An email on the very day of the announcement, sent from scientist Edward Gregorich to Marc Savard, Agriculture Canada's associate director of research, development and technology, described his experiments as "irreplaceable."
"These plots are part of a tillage trial established more than 20 years ago," Gregorich wrote.
"I know. They didn't care," Savard responded.
"As a representative of Ottawa Centre, I've heard concerns about the fact that the land was transferred by former minister Baird," said McKenna. "There doesn't seem to be a lot of paper work, which is worrying."
McKenna said it's not too late to reconsider the decision because the land hasn't been transferred to the hospital yet.
"I think we need to look at all the options," said McKenna.
The National Trust for Canada listed the experimental farm lands as one of the country's 10 most endangered sites in 2015 because of the impending transfer.
The Ottawa Hospital was not ready to respond to requests for comment Thursday night.