The City, the act, and Lansdowne Park

Last month, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that as a matter of law under the present Ontario Municipal Act, the City’s June 2010 decision to move ahead on development of Lansdowne Park by the Ottawa Sports & Entertainment Group (OSEG) was OK, despite financial errors that would need to be corrected.

Earlier, the City had cancelled its own public design competition for the Park, to become a partner proponent with OSEG, without competition, of a development project that would turn control of most of the park over to private commercial development — predominantly high intensity retail, residential and entertainment, with a promise of return of CFL football as the draw.

In an op-ed following the Court ruling, the head of the Friends of Lansdowne detailed improvements needed in the deal:

1) clearer financial information and projections and Council accountability on costs to taxpayers;

2) definition and long term protection of the promised public benefits;

3) assured ongoing public voice in the governance of Lansdowne as a public asset.

This long story about a focused private push to take over an irreplaceable public asset in Canada’s capital will be one of the best-documented, fully elaborated, and professionally analyzed stories of its kind. All its dimensions  —  financial, design, public-private, citizenship and governance, and more — have been brought into play.

It isn’t over — one way or another.

It will go on on the ground. In something like the still-unfolding OSEG plans. Or in something more like the Lansdowne Park Conservancy (LPC) proposal, which has now become a clear realizable alternative vision. It demonstrates that with a different mix of benefits, the city can do more for public good regionally and locally, and support a wider base of regional and local commercial interests instead of a narrower set of financial interests in uptown Ottawa with associated international store chains.

It will go on in stories. Some will continue to be told as popular tales, in media and word of mouth. Some will be gathered and referred to as cautionary and positive examples in city governance, in professional planning and architecture and design. Some will add to civic activists’ kits for pragmatic stewardship of the public interest in municipalities anywhere. Some will become guidelines for both prudence and boldness in city vision and development. Some will become pointed reference material for mayors and municipalities about structuring private-public partnerships. Some will be grist for fuller and increasingly realistic academic understanding and teaching about urban issues.

The complementary roles of city staff and city council in the evolution of this initiative is a key but so far under-explored area.

Ottawa citizens are doing persistent, creative, and good-humoured work to replace the initial narrow commercial motive and vision with authentic multi-dimensional city planning and management. It’s inspiring. People are acting as individuals, and as groups with a full range of geographic and professional interests and responsibilities. Their attention is scoped at scales from neighbourhood, to regional city, to provincial.

The fundamental issue is ensuring the vitality of city taxpayers’ public interest, in a healthy competitive world. The Court’s decision moves it to a new level for all of us: provincial reform and updating of the Ontario Municipal Act.

Watch this space.

photo by ActiveSteve


  1. “the Lansdowne Park Conservancy (LPC) proposal, which has now become a clear realizable alternative vision.”
    I’d like to see that statement backed up?

  2. This opinion piece is more than a little difficult to compehend. So far the Lansdowne Park Conservancy (read John Martin) has only proven that it is capable of abusing the lega process (see the decision of the Divisional Court in that regard). How that means that it is now “clear” and “realizable” is somewhat baffling. As is the suggestion that a proposal that is, in essence, a local park, would serve a broader base of regional interests. My read of the story is that a narrow range of local interests used every weapon in their arsenal to scuttle a plan that they didn’t like, and in doing so forfeited their opportunity to contribute to the city-building process in a meaningful way. Whatever they are doing now, they are way late to the process.

    P.S. The LPC plan is not going to happen. Let go now. That way the loss will be less palpable when the courts kill it yet again.

  3. Not sure if I’m as optimistic as you are. I think this decision, what I understand of it anyways, affirms for the unaccountable developers, weak unimaginative politicians and feral administrators that public input and process is irrelevant.

    Though there was a lot of great and admirable effort made on the part of those fighting this fiasco all that good intention does not undo a fundamental error made by FOL about 2.5 years ago by not going political in time with the election cycle. Greenberg et al – who began this process with a few fantasies of aquariums and other back of the envelope nonsense – could have been derailed before his resolve hardened around the lucrative reality of high-end box stores and expensive condos if the fundamental problems with the process had been made the central issue of the last municipal election, a problem particular not just to Lansdowne but almost every other developer run undertaking in the city.

    I appreciate your kind words about John Martin’s efforts. Unfortunately, I often sensed a kind of hold up our nose unease with John in the FOL set. Wonderful if he can save the day, though that’s unlikely.

  4. The Court of Appeal of Ontario will be hearing the Leave application from the Lansdowne Park Conservancy (LPC) sometime in July.

    The LPC proposal is a public interest proposal that demonstrates a half a billion dollar advantage to the taxpayer for one simple reason, all the park revenue is returned to the site and the taxpayers, not private hands.

    In its previous hearing the court confirmed that the LPC is an alternative for the development of Lansdowne Park. Sole sourcing is not allowed if alternatives exist.

    Technical reasons prevented that from being fully explored, which is why it is being returned to the judiciary.

    The case will be presented to the court by Pailiare Roland Barristers lawyers Andrew Lokan and Michael Fenrick and with co-counsel Joseph Eliot Magnet.

    All commenced their careers clerking at the Supreme Court of Canada. They concur that the case raises serious issues of great public importance.

    The full announcement, including lawyer profiles, can be seen here:

  5. if the Ontario Municipal Act isn’t clear enough to prevent such a long string of abusive actions on the part of City Councillors ( many of whom probably never bothered to do the tough homework on the deal ) then THAT is what needs to be tweaked so it doesnt happen again.

    As it stands 4 judges have said that either the Act isnt specific enough, or …those 4 judges have erred in the same way …   which doesnt seem likely to me  .

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