Welcome to the Ottawa of the future – the City of Big Ideas.
All 17 of them.
Board the giant ferris wheel back of the Centre Block and, from the top of your ride, watch tourists zip-lining from Parliament Hill to the Museum of History across the river.
Visit the all-night street markets. Take a tour of the Museum of Political History. Here you can view the niqab that tilted the 2015 federal election, watch the attack ads that doomed Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, see the Inuit sculpture that Jean Chrétien wielded against that intruder, walk into Mila Mulroney’s shoe closet, catch the football that Robert Stanfield dropped and see Nigel Wright’s framed $90,172 cheque that he handed over to Senator Mike Duffy.
These are just a few of the early suggestions in the National Capital Commission’s campaign to come up with 17 incredible ideas for 2017, the country’s sesquicentennial year.
The NCC wants to look another 50 years ahead, all the way to the bicentennial celebrations of 2067, and it would like to see the nation’s capital transformed as dramatically as it was during and after the 1967 centennial, when Ottawa and Hull (now Gatineau) went on a museum, art gallery and theatre binge.
Canadians are being asked to send in their ideas, either by e-mail or else under the Twitter hashtag #Capital2067.
If the NCC is known by most Canadians for anything, it is for the care and repair of the official residences, chief among them that fixer-upper known as 24 Sussex Dr.
It would be less known for its unfortunate connection to the placement of the Memorial to the Victims of Communism cheek-by-jowl with the Supreme Court building – but that silly idea seems mercifully dead, lacking only an official announcement that will surely be cheered as widely in NCC offices as in the country at large.
This is, however, a massive Crown corporation. The NCC oversees 1,600 properties, including six official residences. It owns two inter-provincial bridges and 40 other bridges within its 473-square-kilometre base. It has the experimental farm, the Rideau Canal skating rink, Gatineau Park, the Green Belt and leases land to six golf courses. Its 400 employees operate under an overall budget of $105-million a year – $69-million of which is taxpayers’ money approved by Parliament.
So it should be of some considerable interest to Canadians.
Curious as to exactly what Canadians outside of the national capital area thought of this powerful entity, the NCC commissioned Environics to conduct a survey this year. The full results will shortly be available on the commission’s website – http://www.ncc-ccn.gc.ca – but, generally speaking, there was far more good news than bad, though few knew exactly what the NCC does.
The polling of more than 2,000 Canadians by telephone found that fully two-thirds of Canadians have positive feelings toward the national region and six in 10 Canadians see it as an important national symbol.
“We found we were better known and better liked than we expected,” says CEO Mark Kristmanson.
The farther West one goes, the more likelihood of negative feelings, 7 per cent of British Columbians dismissing Ottawa as “too cold.” Others found it impossible to separate the office that owns the buildings from the politicians who live and work in them.
“Ottawa,” in fact, is as much a minor Canadian swear word as it is a minor North American city.
“It’s a word usually followed by something like ‘raises taxes’ or ‘cuts spending,’” says NCC chairman Russ Mills, a former publisher of the Ottawa Citizen.
Still, there were surprises in the survey. Allan Fotheringham may have tagged Ottawa as “Ennui-on-the-Rideau” and “The Town Fun Forgot,” but when respondents were asked for a single word to describe the National Capital Region, “welcoming” was closely followed by “dynamic” and “inspiring.” (Mind you, the only other choices were “relevant to me” and “reflects the entire country” – Mr. Fotheringham’s choices noticeably absent.)
Nine out of 10 Canadians, from coast to coast, agree that it’s important for the nation’s capital to have “a distinct and internationally recognized identity.” And that brings us back to the quest for 17 Big Ideas.
The ones that have come in so far range from the practical – places for the homeless to go to the toilet – to the ridiculous.
Mr. Kristmanson believes there is a public appetite for “a new élan” that would make the region more cosmopolitan and more appealing. He’d like to see the poor, abused Ottawa River designated “Canada’s National River,” cleaned up and restored so that the magnificent Chaudière Falls once again become an important tourist attraction.
While nothing has been decided, the commission is also keen on a magnificent illumination project for Parliament Hill. There have long been plans to turn Victoria Island into an aboriginal culture centre. And there is sympathy for redoing the National War Memorial square. The memorial will be 100 years old in 2039, and recent crowds have grown to a point where thousands are unable to see the Remembrance Day ceremony properly. The NCC envisions a square that could hold 25,000 and offer excellent sight lines.
Then there is the long-delayed, highly controversial redevelopment of LeBreton Flats, that unused tract of industrial lands across from the War Museum. On Tuesday, details will be released on the four proposals for the massive redevelopment, including a plan that would involve the Ottawa Senators moving their rink downtown from the Western suburbs.
“There’s no big, magical ‘ideas’ room,” says Mr. Kristmanson. Yet one big idea, from outside, has found willing ears at NCC headquarters. That idea is to turn Laurier Avenue into a “Prime Ministers’ Row,” which supporters are calling “Canada’s first street museum.”
This “museum” would be multimedia, in part a virtual museum, in part live events that would involve programs, conferences, speaker series and public art.
“In essence,” the supporters of Prime Ministers’ Row say, “an area once home to Canada’s political leaders will now become a space for every Canadian to discuss, debate and shape Canada’s public policy.”
It’s a wonderful, if potentially expensive idea, but also one that we feel obliged to point out already exists.
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