Opinion- The time is now for a Community Benefits Agreement for LeBreton Flats

Martin Adelaar

The COVID pandemic has been a roller coaster ride with too many tragic outcomes. It’s tough under the circumstances to think about the bigger picture. But let’s, for a moment, think about the notion of “building back better”.

Simply put, building back better is a concept that says we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to implement policies and programs that fundamentally begin to address myriad socio-economic and environmental problems. It’s a concept that says a return to “normal” isn’t good enough because normal wasn’t working for a whole lot of people.

Community advocates in LeBreton Flats are seeking support from Old Ottawa East residents in their efforts to lobby the National Capital Commission (NCC) to sign a Community Benefits Agreement governing development of the lands. Photo Supplied

Community advocates in LeBreton Flats are seeking support from Old Ottawa East residents in their efforts to lobby the National Capital Commission (NCC) to sign a Community Benefits Agreement governing development of the lands. Photo Supplied

As a former long-time resident of Old Ottawa East, I had the privilege of working with smart, dedicated fellow residents on the Old Ottawa East Community Design Plan. But looking back I feel we came up short. Critical pieces of the puzzle, such as affordable housing, have not been realized. Maybe we can make it work in the case of the LeBreton Flats development.

Amazingly, the LeBreton Flats development provides us with an opportunity to build back better right in our back yard. LeBreton Flats was once a thriving working class community. In 1962, the federal government evicted over 3000 residents from their homes and transferred ownership of the site to the National Capital Commission (NCC). Sixty years later, most of the land remains vacant and this historic injustice is largely forgotten. Now the NCC is poised to redevelop the property.

The LeBreton Flats Community Benefits Coalition believes that LeBreton can be a showcase of community building to realize a more inclusive, diverse and equitable community right in the heart of the city. The Coalition comprises 28 organizations involved in affordable housing, healthcare, education, labour, services to our indigenous citizens, social procurement, childcare and other sectors. We’ve advocated to the National Capital Commission (NCC) for a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) to achieve a wide range of socioeconomic and sustainability outcomes during the lifetime of the project.

A CBA is a legally enforceable agreement involving communities, developers, and government,intended to achieve a broad range of socioeconomic outcomes from large infrastructure and building projects.

Evidence across North America and internationally shows that this progressive, modern mechanism ensures accountability; enables community driven, collaborative processes and outcomes; and generates net economic benefits (i.e., each dollar spent on the development is further stretched). The federal government is already innovating with a CBA for the Windsor-Detroit Gordie Howe Bridge project. CBAs in Toronto are enabling under-represented groups to get apprenticeships and jobs; support for locally owned businesses and social enterprises; local procurement and $5 million for a new child-care centre. A CBA is being negotiated in the Ottawa Herongate community.

Slowly the pieces of the puzzle are coming together. The NCC intends to utilize social procurement in its tendering process and has established a Public Advisory Group to advise the LeBreton process on desired outcomes and accountability. Ottawa City Council recently passed a motion that, among other things, instructs the head of planning to prioritize community benefits the City would require from the development and also requests the Mayor to advise the NCC to consider outcomes that may be best covered by a CBA. This is important because the City has jurisdiction on review of the NCC’s proposed revisions to the Secondary Plans governing the LeBreton site.

But we’re not quite there yet. The NCC has so far ruled out a CBA for LeBreton based on a flawed and outdated analysis. Their position is that a Master Concept Plan for the development will be an acceptable platform for accountability. There seems to be no evidence that such plans have the teeth to enforce community outcomes. No CBA means no accountability. It’s dinner without the main course.

I’m urging all of you in Old Ottawa East to support the Coalition’s CBA goal for LeBreton Flats by signing our online petition and supporting our campaign (cbaforlebreton.ca).

I’m hoping this appeal will resonate with OOE residents as you know well the challenges posed by how various developments play out in a community.

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