Mayor Watson Asked to Undo Mysterious Transfer of Lees Avenue Campus from Capital Ward to Rideau-Vanier Ward

JOHN DANCE

City Council has approved the transfer of the University of Ottawa’s Lees Avenue campus from Capital Ward to Rideau-Vanier Ward, but the Old Ottawa East Community Association (OOECA) has requested that the change be reversed.

OOECA says the move to remove the Lees campus from Capital Ward was poorly consulted on, nor does it meet any of the criteria that would justify the transfer to Rideau-Vanier.

The new approved ward boundaries cut uOttawa’s Lees campus out of Capital Ward. Map Courtesy of  City Of Ottawa

The new approved ward boundaries cut uOttawa’s Lees campus out of Capital Ward. Map Courtesy of City Of Ottawa

The University of Ottawa was not involved in this ward boundary change,” the University’s media relations informed The Mainstreeter. Rideau-Vanier Councillor Mathieu Fleury commented, “I did speak about the boundaries of the University to the consultants, but as you know, their conclusions were driven by multiple consultations including with my colleagues and other residents.” However, neither Councillor Fleury nor the City of Ottawa consultants spoke about the boundary change with the University or with either of the community associations of OOE and Sandy Hill.

“The fundamental criterion for making ward boundary changes is to ‘achieve voter parity’ but the transfer of the Lees campus will be detrimental to voter parity because Rideau-Vanier is forecast to grow faster than Capital and it’s already more populous,” OOECA president Bob Gordon says. the campus will be detrimental to voter parity because Rideau-Vanier is forecast to grow faster than Capital and it’s already more populous,” OOECA president Bob Gordon says.

At the January OOECA meeting, board members unanimously voted to request that Mayor Jim Watson reverse Council’s decision to transfer the Lees campus before the related by-law was scheduled to be proclaimed on January 27, 2021.

Beate Bowron, the City’s consultant responsible for the boundary change recommendations that went to City Council in December, says, “The shifting of the ward boundary to the River does not affect voter parity, since there will be no residents in the affected area during the project timeframe.”

But Bowron’s contention ignores the planned intense development on the Lees campus which will be accomplished by building on the sports field site, replacing the existing buildings with much taller ones, and building over the parking lots.

The second criterion for effective representation resulting from ward changes is “respecting natural/physical boundaries” City staff say. In this regard, the report for City Council said, “#417 is not a big boundary; use the River instead.” But in his letter to Mayor Watson, Gordon deemed this reasoning “ludicrous.”

“The river doesn’t become the new boundary – the LRT line does,” wrote Gordon. “In absolutely no way is the LRT line as significant a physical boundary as is Highway 417.”

“A third major criterion of effective representation [for determining ward boundaries] refers to communities of interest,” Bowron said in a written response to The Mainstreeter. “[T]he information we were given is that the Gee-Gees sports field south of Highway 417 is directly associated with sports facilities to the north in the current Rideau-Vanier Ward.”

In response, Gordon wrote: “The actual dominant community of interest is Capital Ward’s Old Ottawa East that has included the Lees campus area for more than a century.”

“The poorly-conceived Lees campus ward transfer fails to satisfy the three criteria required for a boundary change. Indeed, the transfer violates what ward boundary changes are supposed to achieve. The request for the transfer was from an unknown party and is strongly opposed by the Old Ottawa East Community Association,” concluded Gordon.

In reviewing the City’s documentation, The Mainstreeter learned that the “Recommendations Report” spoke of transferring just the “Gee-Gees sports field.” Councillors were misled by this wording because, as the report’s map shows, the boundary change is for the entire Lees Avenue campus of the University of Ottawa.

Capital Ward Councillor Shawn Menard was one of six councillors who voted against the ward boundary changes approved by City Council in December. In line with his views, OOECA passed a motion at its February board meeting to file an appeal on the boundary transfer to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal.

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