NCC demands costing taxpayers, former councillor says

A former Ottawa city councillor is calling for closer scrutiny of the National Capital Commission, claiming the Crown corporation's interference in certain city projects is forcing unnecessary costs on municipal taxpayers.

Steve Desroches calling for closer scrutiny of Crown corporation

Former city councillor Steve Desrochers is calling for closer scrutiny of the NCC's influence over city projects. (Andrew Foote /CBC )

A former Ottawa city councillor is calling for closer scrutiny of the National Capital Commission (NCC), claiming the Crown corporation's interference in certain city projects is forcing unnecessary costs on municipal taxpayers.

"I think if we are going to have an institution like the NCC that says that all Canadians have a say in the shaping and development of our national capital, then they need to be sensitive of the cost they are imposing on local taxpayers," Steve Desroches told CBC's Ottawa Morning. 

The former councillor for Gloucester-South Nepean plans to run as a Conservative candidate in the next federal election.

For example, Desroches said, NCC requirements jacked up the price of the western extension of the city's LRT project because the commission didn't want it running above ground.

"It essentially said that that would effect the vistas of the river and that the rail line had to be underground, which imposed significant cost to that project," Desroches said.

The city and the NCC finally reached a compromise in March 2015.

In Desroches's own ward, he said he had to push to make sure the Vimy Memorial Bridge project stayed on budget.

"I think it took some massive political pressure for the NCC to show some restraint," he said. 

The National Capital Commission owns and manages thousands of square kilometers of land in Ottawa and Gatineau, including the pathways along the Ottawa River and Rideau Canal. (CBC)

Civic hospital costs

Desroches said he's not suggesting the NCC be abolished, but believes there are practical ways to complete projects on time and on budget.

He said he's also concerned about the new Civic campus of the Ottawa Hospital because it's being built on federal land.

"We already see with the NCC that they are starting to put conditions on this hospital, saying that they will have design expectations," Desroches said.

"My hope is that they will show restraint because of the pressures our health-care system is under," he said.

Desroches had several suggestions for improving oversight of the NCC, including having the federal minister responsible the Crown corporation sign off when the NCC forces changes to a project amounting to an added cost of $50,000 or more.

An important role

Not everyone agrees that costs imposed by the NCC are an unnecessary burden, however: Ottawa architect Toon Dreessen said the NCC plays an important role in the development of the capital.

"They serve as a design critic in a way, to review design and help bring out the best of architectural talent," Dreessen said.

"If there is anything adding cost, it's the fault of the original procurement process not valuing design enough," he said.

The NCC is mandated to look after federal lands and buildings in Ottawa and Gatineau.