Anderson: Stop Coveting the Experimental Farm

Historic Photo circa 1900, Central Experimental Farm

Monday, February 29, 2016

Heritage Ottawa and the Coalition to Protect the Central Experimental Farm remain concerned that the Farm is still the principle target for a new site for the Ottawa Hospital. We can still achieve a win-win in which the Farm remains an intact, internationally significant research centre, and The Ottawa Hospital finds a suitable location for the Civic Campus.

OTTAWA CITIZEN, By Peter Anderson

On March 7, the Ottawa Hospital will finally hold an information session on the design of the future Civic Campus. This comes 470 days after then-minister John Baird announced the severance of 60 acres from the Central Experimental Farm for a new hospital.

While I welcome the hospital’s latter-day commitment to bringing the public to the table, it is clear that this is not a true public consultation. On its website, the hospital notes “the first engagement session … will be informational.” Justifying its delays until now, Hospital CEO Jack Kitts said it would have been inappropriate to hold information sessions or consultations before receiving approval from the Champlain Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) to expand onto the farm.

What did the LHIN say? On March 1, 2012 – more than four years before the first scheduled public information session – the LHIN’s CEO, Chantale LeClerc, wrote Kitts to approve the Ottawa Hospital’s efforts to obtain land at the Central Experimental Farm for a new Civic Campus. The letter was released under freedom of information legislation and shows LeClerc’s endorsement came with a key qualification: The Ottawa Hospital must hold “the required community engagement.” She continued, “it is the LHIN’s understanding that the Ottawa Hospital will facilitate further discussions with local, provincial and federal stakeholders to structure this community engagement.” LeClerc concluded by saying she looked “forward to working closely with (the hospital) on this community engagement process.”

The hospital’s mandate to pursue Experimental Farm lands came with an explicit and repeated expectation of community engagement, something it has spent years actively delaying. Worse, the public information session now scheduled is on the design, not location, of a new hospital. The Hospital’s public engagement consultants, PACE Consulting, made this clear during pre-consultation discussions with select stakeholders in January, telling them it had no mandate to discuss the land transfer. The details available about the March 7 information session reflect this limitation.

The LHIN’s 2012 endorsement of the hospital’s desire for Experimental Farm land came four years after Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada unequivocally rejected the idea. In January 2008, Michel Falardeau, director of Real Property and Building Operations at AgCan, stated a hospital on the farm was as appropriate as putting a hotel on Parliament Hill. The Ottawa Hospital’s site selection assessment was completed in 2007 and was not updated when it approached the NCC for the farm land in 2014.

As Heritage Ottawa’s Leslie Maitland has pointed out, if the Ottawa Hospital had engaged in public consultations during its 2007 site selection process, it would not be facing the criticism it is today and we, the people of Ottawa, would not be looking at a crumbling Civic Hospital with a murky way forward.

Despite Ottawa Centre MP Catherine McKenna’s clear statement that the Ottawa Hospital had to go back and do its homework before any federal land is put on the table, all four options currently being considered locate a future Civic Campus on federal land. Three of the four are on the Central Experimental Farm – a national historic site whose longterm management plan seeks to “sustain a cultural landscape of national historic significance through a reinvigorated and ongoing agricultural research program.”

Even more worrying is that two of the options being considered by the Ottawa Hospital are on the same 60 acres Baird gave them in 2014.

It has become clear that building a hospital anywhere on these 60 acres will destroy internationally significant agricultural research that has a bearing on climate change and food security, two important 21st century public health concerns.

It is also clear that the Ottawa Hospital, the National Capital Commission, and even Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s own negotiators failed to consult with or even inform scientists about the transfer. A single phonecall in 2007 would have avoided nearly a decade of delays and uncertainty.

It is time for the Ottawa Hospital to acknowledge its mistakes, return to the drawing board, and stop coveting the farm.

Peter Anderson is a PhD candidate in the Department of Geography and Planning, Queen’s University and member of the Coalition to Protect the Central Experimental Farm.