Catherine McKenna, Ottawa MP, says National Capital Commission needs reform

The only Ottawa-area MP in cabinet will not be directly responsible for the National Capital Commission, but says the agency is in need of reform and that she plans on working toward it with the minister of Canadian Heritage.

Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, of Montreal, to oversee NCC

Catherine McKenna, minister of environment and climate change, spoke to Ottawa Morning host Robyn Bresnahan Thursday about her new role and her priorities for Ottawa Centre. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

The only Ottawa-area MP in cabinet will not directly oversee the National Capital Commission, but says the agency is in need of reform and that she plans on working toward it with the minister of Canadian Heritage.

It doesn't satisfy Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod, of Nepean-Carleton in Ottawa, who announced on Twitter Thursday morning that it's "unacceptable" for a minister outside of Ottawa-Gatineau to be handling the NCC file.

In an interview with Ottawa Morning radio host Robyn Bresnahan on Thursday, less than 24 hours after being sworn in, Catherine McKenna said her local priorities are restoring respect for the public service, addressing the affordable housing shortage in Ottawa Centre with Mayor Jim Watson, and working with Mélanie Joly to reform the NCC.

McKenna said the controversial Canadian Memorial to the Victims of Communism, planned to sit at an already approved site between the Supreme Court of Canada and Library and Archives Canada in downtown Ottawa, was something she heard a lot of frustration about during the campaign.

The final design of the memorial has not yet been voted on. It has undergone significant revision.

"I think it demonstrated greater problems," McKenna said of the memorial. "We're in 2015; we need to be doing better in terms of transparency and consultation, and also the appointments process ... being selected based on merit."

She said she'd like to see the NCC reach gender equity and include people with different backgrounds.

MacLeod said Thursday that the NCC's lands are throughout her riding and Ottawa-Gatineau, and that the NCC therefore needs a local MP who knows the area to be responsible for it.

'I want frank and fearless advice'

Also on Ottawa Morning, McKenna discussed her plans for her role as minister of environment and climate change, a new title that reflects the Liberal government's priorities, she said.

"The message that we need to be sending when we go to Paris [for the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference] is, we're back, that we realize that climate change is a big problem and that Canada has a constructive role to play, and that we're going to be at the table, and that we're there with the provinces," she said.

"I think we were seen as laggards. It wasn't just on climate change, it was on a whole range of international issues where we weren't seen to be playing a constructive role, and sometimes not even at the table, so that's certainly changed."

As her first act, McKenna sent a letter to top public service officials Wednesday, she said.

"I want frank and fearless advice," McKenna told Bresnahan.

"We need our scientists to be out there, able to speak, to share their research, because that is how we're going to find solutions. I'm excited about creating that culture where people feel ... that they have that opportunity, that we're not muzzling them or preventing them from sharing their work."

The Liberals were the only party that did not set a specific national emissions reduction target during the federal election campaign.

McKenna said the government needs to sit down with the provinces to come up with a plan "that's actually going to work," and that the government has pledged to have specific targets in place within 90 days.

"It will be, I'm sure, some tough negotiations, but I think there's a lot of goodwill and I can't wait to get started."