Council greenlights Algonquins of Ontario land for future suburb

City council has voted to let Ottawa grow by way of a whole new suburb in the rural south-east, and shot down a motion to give city staff more time to analyze the proposal and consult with all Indigenous groups. 

City staff recommended more time to analyze poor-scoring land, but council voted that down

The Algonquins of Ontario have purchased lands near Boundary Road and Highway 417 to develop with their partners Taggart. City council has voted to let the Tewin project move forward. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

City council has voted to let Ottawa grow by way of a whole new suburb in the rural south-east, and shot down a motion to give city staff more time to analyze the proposal and consult with all Indigenous groups. 

The Tewin project proposed by the Algonquins of Ontario and Taggart Group infuriated chiefs of Quebec First Nations in the past week, after a joint committee backed by Mayor Jim Watson pointed to reconciliation as a reason to allow 445 hectares of land near Carlsbad Springs to be urbanized.

    "Some [councillors] will say we have to wait another four or five years of study to make a decision. I think that's a shocking abdication of leadership," said Watson. He said that extra work staff would do between now and when a final official plan comes before politicians in September would provide the due diligence. 

    Ultimately, Watson and other councillors said during a seven-hour council meeting Wednesday that they did not want to wade into conflicts among Algonquin groups.

    Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, shown here in a photo from December, acknowledged that approving new land would have been a 'harder sell' if the Algonquins of Ontario were not involved. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

    The way Watson sees it, the Algonquins of Ontario own the land — with financing from Taggart, they paid $16.9 million to buy 1,626 hectares from the Ontario government in January 2020 — and the city must "greenlight it" so the property can be "uplifted and developed" in order that the group may reap economic benefits.

    "Every single time that an urban expansion has happened in our city since 1976, council has had to pick winners and losers," said Watson.

    Councillors were drawn to the idea of a development led by the Algonquins of Ontario, he added, and it would have been a "harder sell" if any other developer put forward the same pitch. 

    Other councillors were drawn to the idea of creating a community from scratch — one that might have jobs and be more environmentally-friendly than suburbs of the past.

    "It's the right thing to do for Ottawa's future," said planning committee chair Jan Harder.

      Last spring, council approved adding 1,281 hectares of rural land for future suburban development, and Wednesday's vote was to approve the specific parcels. Tewin wasn't originally included in the lands that the city's professional planners were recommending be added to the urban boundary.

      Staff had scored the property poorly, as it's far from transit, while the city is planning to spend billions to extend the LRT to Kanata. There are questions about whether the soil conditions would allow for building a dense community, and how wetlands and protected natural areas could fit into the development. 

      City planners didn't dismiss the idea of Tewin outright, but recommended taking more time to analyze the proposal.

      But councillors at the committee level overrode staff, adding Tewin property into the urban area immediately. They even voted to take 175 hectares of land that had scored well in the South March area, and redirected it to Tewin.

      Coun. Catherine McKenney tried to get city staff the additional time it had recommended to study the long-term consequences of approving Tewin lands. Council vote down the motion. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

      "This is a decision that is going to change this city for generations to come," said Coun. Catherine McKenney, who moved a motion to give staff the study time it originally recommended.

      "We're saying, it doesn't matter. We're going to make the decision today … We're going to go forward today on what is absolutely not enough information for us to make a responsible decision."

      Fifteen council members, including the mayor, voted against giving staff more time. They were: Harder, Tim Tierney, Laura Dudas, George Darouze, Jean Cloutier, Jenna Sudds, Allan Hubley, Eli El-Chantiry, Glen Gower, Catherine Kitts, Scott Moffatt, Carol Anne Meehan, Matthew Luloff and Keith Egli.

      Coun. Rick Chiarelli missed the vote, but was at the meeting. 

      Quebec chiefs' demands

      First Nations leaders in Quebec had sent council four letters in the past week, demanding to be consulted on lands they say are unceded.

      While they held a video call with nine of the 24 council members on Monday, they had not heard from the mayor's office.

      "Totally wrong, totally wrong," said Elder Claudette Commanda upon hearing the decision. "How is he going to repair this now, what he's done to the Algonquin nation? Is he going to use this as a brownie point, a gold star on his reconciliation report card to say, 'Oh, we're really doing good because council voted in favour of the AOO and Taggart?'"

      The mayor's office said Watson was composing personal replies and would reach out directly to the chiefs.

      Councillors were divided on how, or whether, to see the project in terms of reconciliation.

      "I find it unfortunate the word 'reconciliation' was used to describe this project," said Luloff. "This is a sensitive and important word. I don't think it was used properly." 

      Coun. Diane Deans said she met with many Algonquin leaders in recent days and believes the city has damaged relations with them.

      "I think this is an embarrassment to our city," said Deans. "This is poor planning based on a false promise of reconciliation."

      ‘Reconciliation is not just about nice words’

      2 years ago
      Duration 0:54
      Elder Claudette Commanda, from Kitigan Zibi First Nation, says the Tewin development is not reconciliation because that process must take place between two nations, not between a municipal government and an organization or company.

      'Gold Belt' idea abandoned

      Council also decided not to move forward with the idea of a second Greenbelt called a "Gold Belt," which was first introduced in January.

      Defining a ring of farm fields, natural areas, and mineral deposits was supposed to prevent suburbs from encroaching on rural areas.

      "The name, and the map, has caused undue confusion," said Cumberland Coun. Kitts, who said land owners and farmers were emotional seeing their properties given a new label without consultation.

      All of council agreed to drop the term, after being assured that land designations would protect the properties.

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