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Top Trudeau adviser Telford targeted in ex-Israel ambassador’s lawsuit

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One week after losing his right-hand man Gerald Butts, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s top political aide — chief of staff Katie Telford — faces allegations she intentionally inflicted mental suffering on an ex-ambassador.

The allegation is contained in a lawsuit filed by Vivian Bercovici, a former Canadian ambassador to Israel, who was appointed by the previous Conservative government of Stephen Harper and subsequently fired by the Trudeau Liberals.

Bercovici alleges she was terminated without being properly compensated for pension benefits, and that the government abused and harassed her.

On Monday, her lawyer will petition the Ontario Court of Justice to amend the lawsuit to have Telford and four senior officials of Global Affairs Canada added as defendants.

The allegations have not been proven in court, and the Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.

The Justice Department says in a reply filed in court last month that Bercovici’s “bold allegations” should be dismissed.

Bercovici has been a source of controversy since Harper appointed her as his envoy to Israel in 2014. She was not a career diplomat — which is not unusual for high-profile ambassadorial appointments — but she faced internal opposition within the foreign ministry for being too pro-Israel. Bercovici is Jewish and a self-described supporter of Israel.

The Harper Conservatives faced frequent criticism that they were too pro-Israel in their Middle East stance, and vigorously rejected the long-held notion in Canadian diplomacy that Ottawa should see itself as an “honest broker” in the conflict between the Jewish state and the Palestinians.

‘Unwelcomed’ by bureaucracy

Bercovici’s lawsuit alleges she was unwelcomed by the bureaucracy from the moment she was appointed. She was “not only unsupported in her role, but the individual named Defendants as well as countless others within the Public Service, intentionally and maliciously waged a campaign of abuse” against her.

After the Liberals fired her in mid-2016 — as they were entitled to do — Bercovici alleges the government withheld almost $32,000 in pension benefits. She is suing for that amount, as well as millions of dollars in punitive and moral damages.

Bercovici’s lawsuit alleges that she reached out to Telford repeatedly through emails and phone calls to deal with her pension issue, but was ignored each time.

In her lawsuit, she is seeking $250,000 in damages from Telford for the “intentional affliction of mental suffering.”

Telford, 4 officials named as defendants

The motion to add Telford and four senior Global Affairs Canada officials as defendants was filed in December and is to be argued in a Toronto court on Monday.

On Jan. 9, the Justice Department filed its reply with the court, arguing that there was no merit to adding five new defendants to the lawsuit.

“The Plaintiff’s claims against the proposed individuals is frivolous and discloses no reasonable cause of action,” says the factum filed by the Justice Department.

“The allegations made by the Plaintiff do not rise to the level of ‘flagrant and outrageous’ conduct. The Plaintiff has failed to plead any material facts to support her allegations of being ‘sidelined,’ ‘threatened,’ ‘undermined’ or suffering ‘personal attacks.’ The Plaintiff makes bold allegations that are devoid of any particulars.”

The long-simmering legal drama is unfolding as the Prime Minister’s Office grapples with the resignation of Butts, who served as Trudeau’s principal secretary and most trusted adviser.

Butts denied any impropriety, but said he was becoming a distraction to the government amid allegations that unnamed officials in the Prime Minister’s Office put undue pressure on the former attorney general in a case involving engineering firm SNC-Lavalin.

Architects of Trudeau victory

Butts and Telford were the architects of Trudeau’s rise to the Liberal party leadership and his subsequent 2015 election victory.

Natalie MacDonald, Bercovici’s lawyer, suggested the current controversy enveloping the Prime Minister’s Office has resonance for her client.

“We have pleaded that Katie Telford, a central figure in the PMO, purposely ignored repeated requests for immediate assistance and intervention with respect to the government’s unconscionable withholding of Ms. Bercovici’s pension monies,” MacDonald told The Canadian Press.

“Our client was given no choice but to sue. Given what has come to light in Ottawa in recent weeks, we now question to what extent did the PMO direct the Attorney General to withhold Ms. Bercovici’s pension monies.”

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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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