Clive Doucet is a distinguished Canadian writer and city politician. He was elected for four consecutive terms to city council in Ottawa from 1997 to 2010 when he retired to run for Mayor.
As a city politician he was awarded the Gallon Prize as the 2005 Canadian eco-councillor of the year. He was defeated twice by Jim Watson in 2010 and 2018 when he ran for the Mayor’s chair. He presently lives in Grand Etang, Inverness Co., Nova Scotia.
Mr. Doucet has agreed to write a series of nine essays about his Ottawa municipal career which
Unpublished Media will begin publishing in January 2023.
Doug Ford’s folksy, buck a beer, open neck shirt, ‘we’re-all-just-folks-in-this-together’ approach to government isn’t working to rebrand his backdoor sale of greenbelt land as a ‘flawed process’. Nor does the decorative resignation of his Minister of Housing seem to be working. People are insisting something actually be done as in the land be returned to the public sector.
I don’t understand this. What is going on? In Ottawa, a simple resignation would be more than enough to send the jackals home and get on with business as usual. Ottawa’s Integrity Commissioner found an unacceptable conflict of interest between the Chair of the City’s Planning Committee and developers. She had one working in her office. She duly resigned, and nothing changed. Not a single decision of her Planning Committee was reviewed. It was business as usual.
It was business as usual when the Mayor protected local developers’ plans for the redevelopment of Tunney’s Pasture by shifting the hospital to public land at the National Experimental Farm. It was business as usual when a developer wanted to break the urban growth line in Cumberland (Tewin) and force the city to expand city water, sewer and social services.
It was business as usual when a Provincial Inquiry into the management of the city’s light rail project found the project riven with unacceptable secrecy and political interference. It was business as usual when the Mayor of the day forced the new Light Rail Project along the western parkway against the wishes of the National Capital Commission (NCC) because that’s where developers wanted it, not an urban route like Carling. It was business as usual when the city cancelled the competitive process for the redevelopment of Lansdowne Park and began subsidizing developers for a mall in the park.
So why can one back door deal for land in Toronto’s Greenbelt threaten the happy existence of Premier Doug Ford and his government? This never happens in Ottawa or almost never. Developers become rich by doing land deals at the public expense. It’s been this way for as long as Ottawa and Toronto have been cities.
In 1830/31 Captain John LeBreton purchased LeBreton Flats as developers always do on leveraged money (today it’s called plug in and play) from banks on the expectation that Colonel would be forced to buy his land for his Rideau Canal Project. This made perfect sense because the Lebreton Flats route was in the middle of the easiest and most direct canal connection between the Ottawa River from Dow’s Lake. But things came unstuck when Colonel By received LeBreton’s price for the Flats. He said ‘no’ to LeBreton’s blackmail and instead blasted his way through solid rock east, then north. At Parliament Hill using Thomas McKay a local contractor, they built a magnificent flight of locks down a narrow gap on the east side of Parliament Hill which have decorated Ottawa ever since.
Poor old John LeBreton’s land was now worth much less than he paid for it instead of becoming rich, he became bankrupt. There’s no law which says the public is obliged to make developers rich as people in Toronto have been telling Doug Ford’s government. Who knows? Maybe, the public outrage in Toronto that the backdoor Greenbelt decision has evoked will be enough to reverse the decision.
Could the same thing ever happen in Ottawa? I have always hoped it would because business as usual in Ottawa has never worked for the city’s benefit. Without it, we would have a park, not a mall and condos at Lansdowne Park, a hospital where it should be and a Light Rail system which served people where they lived, not where developers want them to live.
Clive Doucet was a city councillor in Ottawa from 1997 to 2010 and has written and spoken about undue developer influence at City Hall for a long time. His book “Urban Meltdown; Cities, Climate Change and Business as Usual’ was short listed for the Shaughnessy-Cohen Award for political writing. He presently lives in Cape Breton.