City of Ottawa to review keeping Wellington Street closed, uploading to feds
Ottawa city council has approved a plan that could fundamentally change Wellington Street in front of Parliament.
Coun. Catherine McKeneny, whose Somerset ward includes Wellington Street, brought forward a motion Wednesday that includes several provisions for the future of the street, including the possibility of having it become federal jurisdiction and closing it to vehicular traffic.
In the short term, it proposes keeping a section of the street closed to cars for the remainder of the year.
The motion directs staff to report back to the Transportation Committee on the feasibility and cost of implementing a temporary closure of approximately 600 m of Wellington Street between Bank and Elgin streets until the end of 2022. The move would be made in consultation with the federal government, emergency services, and both OC Transpo and the Société de transport de l'Outaouais (STO).
"This has been an ongoing discussion for some time," McKenney told council. "This (motion) doesn't commit us to anything but it does ask staff to consider what a temporary closure would look like."
The plan would be subject to review at the first Transportation Committee meeting in the new Term of Council following the Oct. 24 municipal election.
Wellington Street remains closed to all but parliamentary workers at this time, though for how much longer is unclear following the revocation of the federal Emergencies Act Wednesday.
MAKING WELLINGTON A FEDERAL STREET
McKenney's motion also includes direction to begin discussion to possibly transfer Wellington Street into federal ownership.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson told reporters Wednesday that Wellington Street is municipal property that cuts through a federal district.
"It really is a dividing line between the parliamentary precinct and the Parliament buildings," he said. "On the other side of the street you have the PMO, the Wellington Building, the Victoria Building, and you've got the Senate chamber itself. It is a strange situation that I think should be looked at to rectify, because you've got federal jurisdiction on the right-hand side and on the left-hand side and in the middle is a municipal street."
Watson suggested uploading Wellington Street to the federal government could save the city some costs, such as on snow removal, though he expects local ploughs would be contracted to clear it. He also said it's possible the federal government may want to download a federal street onto the municipality in exchange.
The idea of making Wellington Street federal property has support, including from a former board member of the National Capital Commission (NCC).
"Let's convert this into a pedestrian mall where people can gather, where they can protest as need be, where they can be at the foot of Parliament Hill, walking, cycling," Bob Plamondon told CTV News Ottawa earlier this week. "Let's take something that’s really been horrific and really devastating for people of the city of Ottawa, and I think for the people of the country, and turn it into something that is far more positive that we can all get behind."
Putting an STO tram down Wellington Street is also a proposed plan in the expansion of Gatineau's transit service.
Running the tram along Wellington Street is one of two options the STO has proposed. The other is a tunnel under Sparks Street. While a survey in the summer of 2020 found a majority of residents in Ottawa and Gatineau preferred the tunnel option, the NCC said it was in favour of a street-level tram on Wellington.
Watson said he had no desire to see Wellington Street "turn into Fort Knox" and become inaccessible to Canadians, but he did believe the backdrop of Parliament was a "prize" for the protesters.
"The lesson we learned from the occupation by the truckers is that we are vulnerable as a city and a society to these kinds of attacks," Watson said. "We have to make sure on a go-forward basis that something like this doesn’t happen again."