Second City, Second Metro: The National Capital Commission’s Bulldozer and the Community Planning Association’s Big Idea

The National Capital Branch of the Community Planning Association of Canada had long been concerned with planning in the national capital region. Source: Ottawa Journal, September 28, 1960, 25.

Fifteen years into the Plan for the National Capital (1950)1Better known as the Greber Plan. and many of its discontents had come to be appreciated. It was, after all, one thing of the federal government to develop such a plan, but quite another for the collection of municipalities in the National Capital Region (NCR) to go along with it.

Administrative boundaries within the National Capital Region in 1948. Image: Plan for the National Capital, 1950.

Although the plan may have had local support at the outset (at least when it was convenient), it quickly became clear to municipal officials across the region that the federal government’s carrots and sticks were large ones and the voices of local municipal agencies and individuals alike were often too easily ignored.

To that end, in their submission, the members of the National Capital Region Branch of the Community Planning Association of Canada proposed that planning become the responsibility of any potential regional municipality. They argued that this would not only create a large enough planning authority to act as a counterbalance to federal power, but it would also restore a sense of democratic legitimacy to the plans implemented in the region.2Also see “Ottawa Suffers From Too Many Planners,” Ottawa Journal, February 8, 1965, 7; “Indifference of Taxpayers Hinders Local Planning,” Ottawa Journal, February 9, 1965, 7.

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  The area under consideration is a major part of the National Capital Region, in which both local citizens and the people of Canada as a whole have vital interests.

  The citizens of the Ottawa region are impatient with the lack of cooperation and achievement in urban planning. The solution, however, does not lie in giving up local democratic control to a Federal District Commission, but rather in bringing the entire system under a normal simple representative system of government.

  When the plan for the National Capital was published by the Federal Government in 1950, it was hoped that the local municipalities would adopt and implement it through the joint Ottawa Planning Area Board. But the Federal Government's needs and ambitions in planning outpaced the municipalities' abilities for accomplishment and over the years the National Capital Commission was given the power to get things done through expropriation, while the planning function of the National Capital Commission ceased to be representative of the municipalities in the region. Since many projects planned by the National are expensive, local citizens may be reluctant to reclaim the planning function as a local responsibility. Yet the combination of legislative, administrative and judicial functions in the National Capital Commission is autocratic.

  To overcome these problems, two suggestions are made, for "The Ideal: A Regional Municipality", and "A Modified Ideal: An Ontario Regional Municipality". The ideal solution would require the cooperation of the governments of Ontario, Quebec and Canada in creating and jointly administering a Charter for a regional municipality

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which might take on certain functions now performed by Federal authorities. Boroughs within this municipality could continue to administer matters of not regional importance.

  The modified ideal of a regional municipality in Ontario should:

(a) be large enough to permit sound regional planning for the entire Ottawa metropolitan area, and be given this responsibility;
(b) be composed of representatives either directly elected by local citizens or appointed by the elected officials of existing local municipalities, with a small minority of appointed Federal and Provincial representatives;
(c) retain existing local municipalities, although their powers may be restricted to matters of only local concern.



  Mr. Stephen Dale, Chairman, Sterling Ferguson, past Chairman and Major T.S. Chutter, Secretary, were present to make the submission. IT was noted that the Branch has 203 members, the majority residing in Ottawa or the suburbs but a sprinkling coming from as far as Almonte, Arnprior, Orleans, Gatineau and Aylmer; all received copies of the Brief and none have raised any objections. An annual publication of the Branch has reported planning activities in the National Capital area for the last six years.

  In clarification of the Brief, it was explained that the phrase "normal, simple representative system of government" was intended to mean government by elected representatives. This would include either direct election to a regional council, or election to local councils which would in turn send representatives to the regional council. The main concern expressed by the delegation is to achieve responsible, unified, effective planning control over a region large enough to prevent the plans being frustrated by happenings outside. It was recognized that regional planning implies a regional

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government for effectiveness. If the National Capital Commission were still necessary, it would cooperate much more readily with a unified regional planning authority than with the present multiplicity of local agencies. The regional authority should be clearly responsible for planning as opposed to the present divided jurisdiction where no one knows who plans the Capital, and any plans of the National Capital Commission should conform to and implement the regional plan. The hope was expressed that bringing planning under democratic control in this way will emphasize its role as the application of forethought and coordination to all municipal activities, whereas it is now associated by the public only with expensive National Capital Commission projects.

  Although reluctant to spell out the division of functions between existing municipalities and the proposed regional government, the delegation made it clear that a continued and flexible role should exist for local municipalities; to preserve this role, however, the threat of imposition of a federal district will have to be staved off by the creation of a regional government capable of dealing effectively with area-wide problems. And because of the federal interest in the Capital, it was recognized that this regional government should provide and avenue for expression of the national interest by having a minority of Federal government representatives on it. 

  The vacuum in planning and development control beyond the greenbelt was cited as an area-wide problem which is not being met. Even if the study of this area recently initiated by Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation with the support of the National Capital Commission suggests the form of development should take, municipal machinery to implement proposals does not exist; and the planning ought to be done by responsible municipal government, not by Federal agencies.

  The possibility of devising some kind of "development

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corporation" to coordinate public and private interests in large-scale satellite developments, relieving rural townships of this role, was suggested by the Commissioner and in discussion was favourably received by the members of the Branch.

  The hearing ended with the delegation expressing the hope that "ideal" proposal recommended in the brief might receive serious consideration by higher authorities, even though it is beyond the terms of reference of the Review.




1 Better known as the Greber Plan.
2 Also see “Ottawa Suffers From Too Many Planners,” Ottawa Journal, February 8, 1965, 7; “Indifference of Taxpayers Hinders Local Planning,” Ottawa Journal, February 9, 1965, 7.