Second City, Second Metro: John H. McDonald Calls For a Separate National Capital Region

McDonald called for a National Capital Region to be pried from the hands of those in Quebec City and in Toronto. Image: By DPenner1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, 

I’m sure that, if you’ve been following along with these entries from the Jones Commission that I’ve been transcribing, you’ve likely found that they’ve been, in the main, stunningly repetitive in what they have stated. If so, you’re hardly the only one. Reporters charged with following the testimonies offered up at the Commission noticed too, and were perhaps a little bored with the assignment.

So, on March 30th, when Ottawa-based lawyer John H. McDonald showed up to advocate for a National Capital Region that encompassed Hull and was extracted from provincial jurisdiction, the Citizen took notice.1Bob Rupert. “Jones Commission: Large federal district outlined by city lawyer,” Ottawa Citizen, March 31, 1965, 5. It was not the first time that McDonald advocated for the change,2John H. McDonald. “City development,” Ottawa Citizen, October 3, 1963, 6. but it was probably the first time he was able to outline his vision in front of an audience that could do something about it. 

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     The Review's terms of reference confine it to only one segment of the Ottawa-Hull region; this, while useful, is but a stop-gap measure. Considering the involvement of the Provinces of Ontario and Quebec as well as the Government of Canada, a similar study should be undertaken for the Hull region and co-ordinated with the Ottawa Report for an overall National Capital Plan. These views are based on training and experience in the law of Quebec and Ontario, in Constitutional and International Law, and on long residence in Ottawa and environs. 

     The creation of a truly National Capital would give maximum opportunity to persons of all origins and to develop and participate in each other's cultures and promote a maximum of efficiency in local government.

     The British North America Act provides that Ottawa shall be Canada's capital, but the National Capital idea embraces territory essentially within provincial jurisdictions. There is nothing in the British North America Act, however, to prevent the Government of Canada from ensuring that there is a properly administered seat of government in Ottawa.

     Continuation of the present municipalities on both sides of the Ottawa River is not conducive to a truly National Capital. One solution would be Federal Government expropriation of all properties in the area, leasing back those not required for its own use, but this is thought to be too drastic. 

     The most practical solution would be the formation of a new jurisdiction embracing all Ontario and Quebec municipalities in the present area of National Capital Commission authority, or an enlarged area. This jurisdiction would be responsible to Parliament 

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through the Secretary of State or President of the Privy Council, who would ensure that the House of Commons given annual consideration to the area's budget.

     The new "Ottawa" administration might consist of:
a) a Mayor or Administration Chairman elected for a 5-year period and responsible to the designated Cabinet Minister;

b) 3 Commissioners representing the whole National Capital area, elected for 6-year terms with one elected every two years;

c) 3 "liaison" Commissioners appointed respectively by the two Provincial authorities and the Federal Government, the latter appointee to be a senior civil servant with Deputy Minister status;

d) an appointed City Manager, such as in Westmount, Quebec, responsible for day to day workings of all Civic Departments.

     Approval of long term plans would be given by the Administration and eventually by Parliament, with financing derived from annual local taxes, with concurrence of the elected Commissioners; other revenue would be supplied by the Federal Government. 

     The Courts of the new Ottawa should be bilingual and under the Exchequer Court of Canada. Civil Courts in the Ontario portion of the Capital would be governed by common law and Ontario basic law until modified; Civil law would apply to the Quebec portion of the Capital. Police and Criminal Law, governed by a Magistrate's Court would be unified into one jurisdiction as the plan develops. Appeals would continue to be heard at the Exchequer Court and the Supreme Court of Canada.

     The present school systems of both sides of the river would eventually be under a single school commission formed to provide for both English and French schools at all levels along the lines contemplated by the Parent Commission in Quebec. French should be taught in all English speaking schools ad vice versa so

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that a completely bilingual system may evolve. 

     Satisfactory representation of the area in Parliament might be achieved with two Senators, one from each side of the river. Membership in the House of Commons would be determined under the present Federal redistribution legislation. The area could send three or four members to the House of Commons who together with the Senators might form a Committee of the House, chaired by the designated Cabinet Minister to consider the Capital's annual budget. 

     No constitutional amendment to Section 91 of the British North America Act would be required to create such a National Capital. This section already permits the Federal Government to alter provincial boundaries with the consent of the provincial legislature involved and to provide and administer an area not included in a Province. The two provinces should not object to the secession of a few square miles of territory for a truly National Bilingual and Bicultural Capital, with an efficient municipal organization. 

     By proper utilization of all National Capital resources including the National Library and Museum, Centre for the Performing Arts, etc., the whole of Canada (and the world) can be shown a vibrant will to make the French and English facts work together. It is in the interests of Ontario, Quebec and the Federal Government to carve this truly National Capital out of the two contiguous provinces. It is suggested that these ideas, though outside the Review's terms of reference, be submitted for consideration to the Minister and Ontario Government for discussion with the Governments of Canada and Quebec.


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     Mr. McDonald noted at the outset that this Brief is also part and parcel of submissions he is making to three other bodies; the Quebec Legislature's Committee on the Constitution, the Royal Commission of Bilingualism and Biculturalism, and the Government of Ontario Advisory Committee on Confederation.

     In discussion of the proposed form of government for the suggested new territory of Ottawa, Mr. McDonald stated that property taxation would still be necessary (to prevent outsiders rushing in to get tax-free property), but that over the years a balance would be worked out between the amount contributed by such local taxation (limited to some maximum level), and the amount contributed from the Federal purse, which would meet the remaining revenue requirements. Provincial revenues from and grants to the area would of course be eliminated. 

     The territorial government would also be responsible for such things as implementing the forthcoming area transportation plan setting up an area public transportation system, and standardizing  fire hydrants throughout the territory. 

     The Commissioner noted that he would have to reserve judgment on the degree to which Mr. McDonald's submission falls withing the terms of reference of the Review, but promised that it will in any event be passed on to the Minister of Municipal Affairs.



1 Bob Rupert. “Jones Commission: Large federal district outlined by city lawyer,” Ottawa Citizen, March 31, 1965, 5.
2 John H. McDonald. “City development,” Ottawa Citizen, October 3, 1963, 6.