New federal infrastructure minister and Ottawa Centre member of Parliament Catherine McKenna expressed support for the revamped master concept plan for LeBreton Flats released this week, joining the chorus of officials who say the new vision is more achievable.
“The old [plan], it fell apart. It’s great to have a really big plan, but it’s much better to actually have a very solid plan that’s positive, that is going to happen and we’re committed to making it happen.”
The National Capital Commission (NCC), the federal Crown corporation responsible for managing federally-owned lands and buildings in the national capital region, released its draft master concept plan for LeBreton Flats — a 24-hectare plot of land just west of Parliament Hill that’s remained virtually empty for decades — on Thursday.
The commission has been working towards redeveloping the old working class neighbourhood into a vibrant, mixed-use community, but its last attempt fell apart earlier this year.
LeBreton Flats falls in McKenna’s riding, and as infrastructure minister, it’s likely she will end up being involved in the project in some capacity — along with the minister of public works and procurement, who now oversees the NCC.
The NCC’s new vision for LeBreton Flats is no longer anchored by an NHL hockey arena, as it was in the former plan, which looked at moving the Ottawa Senators from Kanata to downtown. However, the new draft plan proposes setting aside a specific parcel of land for an arena or events centre.
Asked whether the federal government would consider funding that arena, McKenna ruled out spending public money on that type of project.
“But look, I think that when it comes to LeBreton, I think we’re all very excited,” she said.
“We were talking about this. What the NCC has presented is a master plan with really exciting features like an aqueduct with a lot of green space; I think it’s 40 per cent green space. I agree with the mayor — 25 per cent should be affordable housing and leave a space for [an] arena. But we don’t know what’s going to happen.
“We unfortunately wasted a lot of time, sadly, on the previous efforts to get an arena. There’s been no demonstration, a serious demonstration about an arena,” she continued.
“But, I should just be very clear, that is not something we have infrastructure dollars [for]. The focus is on public transit, affordable housing and green infrastructure.”
Watson has also said he won’t spend city dollars on an arena at LeBreton Flats.
“I don’t think there’s a desire to see tax dollars go into an arena,” he repeated on Friday.
McKenna and Fortier’s meeting with Ottawa’s mayor came two days after the two local MPs were both named to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet.
McKenna, who was re-elected as MP for Ottawa Centre on Oct. 21, is Canada’s new minister of infrastructure and communities, after serving as environment minister for four years. Fortier was appointed minister of middle-class prosperity — a new portfolio — and associate minister of finance.
Feds ‘open’ to funding Stage 3 of Ottawa’s LRT network, McKenna says
Before having a brief closed-door meeting, Watson, McKenna and Fortier held a quick photo opportunity where the three expressed confidence they will have a positive working relationship during the Liberals’ next term in office.
The mayor said he believes “it’s going to be a great, great couple of years.”
“I’d had a very, very positive relationship with both Mona and Catherine over the last number of years,” he said. “A lot of positive things took place on living, from Invest Ottawa, Flora Footbridge, to the Ottawa Art Gallery, to LRT phase one and two.”
While the City of Ottawa hasn’t yet gone to the federal government with a proposal for funding for Stage 3 of its light-rail expansion, that day will inevitably come because the municipality can’t go it alone financially.
Asked if the federal government is committed to funding Stage 3 LRT — which could go out to Kanata or Barrhaven, or both simultaneously — McKenna said the federal government needs to see “a project proposal that has to be supported by the province.”
“We’re certainly open,” she said. “[This] is one of the areas that we are focused on funding, is transit.”
The Ottawa Centre MP said she’s excited about her new portfolio, listing off areas where files under her purview will overlap with local concerns in the national capital, as well as environmental and climate change concerns.
Building more affordable housing and green infrastructure, updating sewage storage tunnels and “building more resilient communities” are all on her radar, she said.
“We’ve had floods that have impacted people’s lives, their livelihoods,” she said. “They’re supposed to be once in 100 years, happening every few years.
“So I’m going to definitely be digging my hands into this.”
Fortier, for her part, is a familiar but still relatively new face in the House of Commons. The Ottawa-Vanier MP was the first woman to win the Liberal stronghold after the death of former MP Mauril Bélanger prompted a byelection in 2017.
The role appointed to her as minister of middle-class prosperity is new and its function not yet determined, but Fortier touched on what her mandate might involve on Friday with reporters.
“I will have the task of working with [the finance minister] but also my colleagues like Minister McKenna to make sure that we have the middle class lens when we take decisions,” she said, “and make sure we take into account that we have regional differences across the country [that] we have to put together and respond to those needs, either urban or rural.”
— With files with Amanda Connolly