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‘Pay heed’ to words of top bureacrat on SNC-Lavalin affair, Trudeau says

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canadians should “pay heed” to the country’s top civil servant, who testified Thursday there was no inappropriate pressure put on Jody Wilson-Raybould to override a decision to prosecute SNC-Lavalin.

Taking questions from reporters after an event in St. John’s today, Trudeau called Privy Council Office clerk Michael Wernick an “extraordinary public servant” who has served Canada with “integrity and brilliance.”

Wernick told the justice committee probing the SNC-Lavalin affair that he warned Wilson-Raybould, justice minister at the time, there would be economic “consequences” to prosecuting SNC-Lavalin, including big job losses. But he maintained there was never any undue pressure from himself, Trudeau or officials with the Prime Minister’s Office.

Asked why Wernick and PMO officials kept pressing Wilson-Raybould on what was at stake after the decision had been made to proceed with prosecution, Trudeau said the government has a fundamental responsibility to preserve jobs and promote economic growth while respecting the rule of law and an independent judiciary.

“That is something this government has always done,” he said. “I would recommend that people pay close heed to the words of the clerk of the Privy Council. His service to this country over decades in the public service leaves him well-positioned to understand what institutions are grounded in, and make sure that we’re doing the right things as a government.”

The Public Prosecution Service advised SNC-Lavalin on Sept. 4, 2018, it would negotiate with the company on a Deferred Prosecution Agreement, which would have applied alternative penalties in order to avoid criminal proceedings against the Quebec-based global engineering firm for bribery and fraud charges related to contracts in Libya.

Wernick said he called the then justice minister and attorney general on Dec. 19, 2018, to discuss various issues — including the option of a remediation agreement.

During that call, Wernick said he spoke of the implications of prosecuting the company for employees, suppliers and communities. He said he told Wilson-Raybould that the prime minister and “a lot of her colleagues” were anxious about what they were hearing and reading in business media — articles warning that the company could close down or move if criminal proceedings went ahead.

Pressured to ‘get it right’

“I am quite sure the minister felt pressured to get it right, and part of my conversation with her on Dec. 19 was conveying context that there were a lot of people worried about what would happen … the consequences not for her, the consequences for the workers, and the communities and the suppliers,” he told MPs on Thursday.

Wernick said he did not cross any line in his exchanges with Wilson-Raybould, insisting the conversations were “lawful and appropriate.”

The justice committee is examining the growing controversy touched off by a Feb. 7 Globe and Mail report that Trudeau’s aides attempted to press Wilson-Raybould, while attorney general, to intervene in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, and that exasperation with her lack of co-operation was one reason for shuffling her out of the Justice portfolio.

Former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould is expected to testify at the Commons justice committee next week. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Wilson-Raybould has remained silent on the issue, citing solicitor-client privilege. This week, she told the House of Commons that privilege is not hers to waive, and she hopes she is able to speak her “truth.”

Opposition Conservatives and NDP have been demanding the prime minister waive privilege so Wilson-Raybould can speak freely when she appears before the committee, expected next week.

Wernick said Thursday he doesn’t believe she is bound by solicitor-client privilege, but Trudeau repeated again, on Friday, that there are serious implications at play.

“This is something we do have to take very seriously because it’s a fundamental part of our justice system and indeed in this case there are two ongoing court cases,” he said.

Wilson-Raybould’s successor, Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti, is reviewing the matter, but has offered no timeline of when he could provide advice to the prime minister on privilege.

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Virtual farmer’s market comes to Ottawa

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Ottawa first-ever virtual farmer’s market has begun delivering food from local farms straight to people’s homes.

Farm to Hand is making it easier for people who cannot access their local farmer’s markets to find local, fresh organic food by bringing ordered food right to their doors. 

“The difference between us and the farmers market is really just the convenience and the on-demandness,” Sean Mallia, the co-founder of the business, told CBC Radio’s In Town and Out.

“[Often times a] person wants to make the purchase but they don’t have the time on Saturdays to go to the farmers market. Everyone wants to eat local … so when it’s easy for them to do it, it just happens.” In Town and Out No time to drive to the farmer’s market but really want to eat local?

Connecting farmers with people 

The online platform allows farmers to list all their own products, and buyers can have the goods delivered. 

“What we really are trying to do is build that connection between farmer and consumer,” Mallia said. “When people fill up a cart … they’re not just filling a cart full of food, they’re filling a cart full of farmers and farms and their stories.”

Mallia said the aim is to connect people to the “vibrant food ecosystem” around them, and to local support farmers.

The virtual market is currently limited to the Ottawa area as a pilot project, but Mallia, 21, said the company is looking to expand.

“[We chose Ottawa because] Ottawa really cares. Ottawa really thinks about local [food] and thinks about sustainability,” he said. “It just made sense to come out of Ottawa.”

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Denley: Stonebridge and Mattamy show compromise is possible over development in Ottawa

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In Ottawa, development proposals too often end up in acrimony and trips to the provincial planning tribunal. That’s why it’s so refreshing to see Mattamy Homes and residents of the south Nepean suburb of Stonebridge work together to resolve a dispute in a way that’s likely to lead to a victory for both sides.

A little over a year ago, Mattamy created an uproar in the golf course community when it announced a plan to build 158 new homes on golf course lands and alter the Stonebridge course to make it shorter and less attractive to golfers. To residents, it looked like the first step in a plan to turn most, or all, of the course into housing.

It’s easy to see why residents were upset. When people pay a premium for a lot backing onto a golf course, there is certainly an implication that the lot will continue to back onto a golf course, but without a legally binding guarantee, it’s no sure thing.

Mattamy’s situation was understandable, too. This is a tough time to be in the golf course business in Ottawa. There are too many courses and not enough golfers so it’s no surprise that golf course owners would find the idea of turning a course into a housing development to be attractive, doubly so when the golf course is owned by a development company.

This is a tough time to be in the golf course business in Ottawa. There are too many courses and not enough golfers so it’s no surprise that golf course owners would find the idea of turning a course into a housing development to be attractive.

In the face of the local opposition, Mattamy withdrew its development application. When things cooled down, the company, the neighbours and the city started to work together on finding a solution that would satisfy everyone.

With the city-sponsored help of veteran planning consultant Jack Stirling, they came up with an unusual idea that will still let Mattamy develop its desired number of homes, in exchange for a promise to operate the course for at least 10 years and redesign it so that it remains attractive to golfers.

At the end of the 10 years, Mattamy can sell the course to the community for $6 million. To raise the money, the community working group is proposing a special levy to be paid by Stonebridge homeowners starting in 2021. The amount will range from $175 a year to $475 a year, depending on property values.

If the deal is approved by a majority of homeowners, Mattamy gets its development and a way out of the money-losing golf business. Homeowners get certainty about no future development. They can choose to keep the course going or retain the 198 acres as green space. It’s not a cheap solution, but it keeps their community as it is and preserves property values.

If a majority of homeowners backs the deal, both the levy and redevelopment will still need to be approved by the city, something scheduled for late this fall.

Stonebridge Community Association president Jay McLean was part of the working group that prepared the proposal and he’s pleased with the outcome. The community’s number one goal was preserving green space, and the deal will accomplish that, he says. Mattamy division president Kevin O’Shea says the deal “gives the community the certainty they are looking for.”

As useful as this deal could be for Stonebridge residents, it doesn’t provide a template to resolve a somewhat similar dispute in Kanata North, where the owner of the Kanata Lakes golf course wants to work with a group of local developers to replace the course with housing. In Kanata, a longstanding legal agreement saying the community has to have 40 per cent open space strengthens residents’ situation. In Stonebridge, there was no legal impediment to developing the whole course.

Golf course communities have become an anachronism in a city intent on intensifying within the urban boundary. Redeveloping those lands for housing is in sync with the city’s planning goals, but it’s not politically saleable to homeowners who thought they had a deal. If it goes ahead, the Stonebridge plan shows there is a reasonable middle ground.

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City eyes five big themes for Ottawa’s new official plan

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As Ottawa maps out its future for the next 25-plus years, city staff propose focusing on five major areas, including the places we live and the ways we move around the capital.

A staff report to the city’s planning committee lays out five themes for future public consultations, before city council finalizes the plan.

1. Growth Management: City staff say Ottawa should focus on building up, rather than out. Staff also suggest the city provide direction on the type of new housing developments, rather than focusing on the number of units in a development, to encourage a wider variety of housing types.

2. Mobility: Staff say the city should encourage active transportation — like walking and cycling — and transit use by better co-ordinating land use and transportation planning. The report also encourages designing streets to better accomodate pedestrians and cyclists, as well as improving connections to the O-Train and Transitway.

3.  Urban and Community Design: Because Ottawa is a major city and the nation’s capital, staff say the design of our city’s buildings and skyline should be a higher calibre to reflect that status. Staff also suggest the city provide high-level direction for better designed parks and public spaces.

4. Climate, Energy and Public Health: Staff say residents’ health must be foundational to the city’s new official plan, with policies contributing to creating more inclusive, walkable, and sustainable communities.

5. Economic Development: Because much of Ottawa’s employment is knowledge-based, the city suggests those employment spaces could be better integrated into neighbourhoods and along main streets and transit nodes, instead of being isolated in business parks. City staff also suggest the city encourage more business incubation and identify opportunities to increase local food production.

The city’s new official plan will map out the city’s growth to 2046. The five themes and the plan’s high-level policy direction will go before the city’s planning committee, next week.

Public consultation and fine-tuning is expected to happen before city council approves the final version of the new official plan in 2021.

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