Ottawa’s LRT and the failure of joined-up government

By Alan Freeman, IPolitics, January 3, 2020

Ottawa finally has a mass transit system. The city’s $2.1-billion LRT (light-rail transit) opened in the fall and is still suffering what can be called extended teething problems.

The incompetence demonstrated in building the system could be the subject of a whole other column but not today. I’m assuming that these difficulties will eventually be worked out, adding tens of millions of dollars to the already-inflated cost, but the city will ultimately benefit.

(...)“What this means for the residents of the City of Ottawa is a better transit system and an improved environment. It means more choice and it helps get people out of their cars and into public transit,” Baird said at the time. If only.

The kink in this vision and the massive failure of joined-up government sits across the street from Rideau Centre, where that huge federal office complex, the Major-General G.R. Pearkes Building, will soon be 60 per cent empty. By the end of 2020, there will be only 1,675 employees left in a building with a capacity for 4,500, according to the Ottawa Citizen.

That’s because the federal government, just months after announcing cash for the LRT, decided to spend $208-million to buy the suburban campus of the defunct high-tech firm, Nortel. It happened to be in Baird’s riding.

In its infinite wisdom, the government then decided to move the headquarters of the Department of National Defence out of the city centre and to the Nortel campus, a throwback to the 1970s and 1980s when corporate America fled dying city centres for the pristine burbs. Like regional shopping malls, suburban corporate campuses are now seen as obsolete, but not in Ottawa.

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