Canada’s capital is about to rechart its future. This fall, the National Capital Commission
(NCC) — the steward of federal lands and buildings in the National Capital Region, which
includes Ottawa, Gatineau and 11 other municipalities in eastern Ontario and western
Quebec — is consulting Canadians across the country about the future of Canada’s capital.
The Royal Canadian Geographical Society is collaborating with the NCC on this ambitious
public consultation, called Horizon 2067 (in anticipation of Canada’s bicentennial), and all
Canadians are being invited to offer their opinions about how Canada’s capital should look
in years to come. To get this conversation started, we’ve asked four writers who live in the
capital for personal essays offering their own ideas on directions the capital is or could be
taking. We hope they inspire you to join the conversation and let your voice be heard.
For a prominent international profile, Ottawa could host more multilateral conferences, summits and cultural events. Photo: apixel/iStockphoto
Taking a closer look at local artists in the Capital Region By Sarah Brown
How cultural diversity and bilingualism became mainstream By Daniel Poliquin Read more »
Green space and wild places
What the Capital Region needs to shine By Moira Farr Read more »
As the National Capital Commission embarks on a program to chart the future of Canada’s Capital Region, chief executive officer Marie
Lemay sits down for a conversation with Canadian Geographic. Read more »
Share your vision
Be part of the planning for the future of Canada’s capital. The National Capital Commission is collecting ideas on the future of the capital. Share your ideas!
By my reckoning, there are five preconditions that
define and often determine the nature of diplomacy
and international politics in a given place.
First, it functions as a world city, a geopolitical
crossroads, a cultural nexus or a node of globalization.
(Examples include London, New York and Tokyo.) Second,
it serves as an imperial centre (Beijing, Washington,
New Delhi). Third, it is the headquarters for international
organizations (Geneva, Rome, Nairobi). Fourth, it is a
regional capital (Mexico City, São Paulo, Cape Town). And
fifth, it is a creative place for the generation of new international-
policy ideas and initiatives (Oslo, Brasilia, Canberra).
According to these criteria, Canada’s national capital
comes up short. Very short. What would it take to turn
around the role of diplomacy in Ottawa-Gatineau?
The capital’s strength lies in its stunning setting, accessible
hinterland and overall quality of life. Being a decent place
to live — good schools and services, green spaces, low crime
rates — is certainly good for diplomatic families. But that
does not mean it is good for diplomacy, which is all about
building relationships based on confidence, trust and respect.
Some settings facilitate such connections. Others, less so.
Situated on the northern fringe of the settled part of
North America, Canada’s capital is not the node of any
global network. It remains a frontier town with few direct
flights to anywhere outside the continent. Easy to live in
but inviting to leave, it is the antithesis of a world city.
Canada is a globalization nation, dynamic and diverse, but
its capital is cold and conservative. Unlike cosmopolitan
and multicultural Toronto, Euro-chic Montréal, busy
Calgary or hip, laid-back Vancouver, Ottawa-Gatineau is
bland and largely untransformed by globalization. Its
central business district, home to the majority of the
capital’s chancelleries, should have been designed as a hub
for interaction. Instead, it is, with few exceptions, a soulless,
aesthetic wasteland of brick and concrete. In zoning,
transit and architecture, imagination has failed; the downtown
is a planning disaster.
It might be considered by some, such as Canada’s First
Peoples, to represent the nation’s imperial centre, but the
capital’s power does not extend beyond the country’s borders
— in fact, Canada’s international influence has been diminishing
for more than 60 years.
What’s your vision for the capital’s future?
You can be part of the planning for the future of Canada’s capital. The National Capital Commission, the
federal planning agency for the National Capital Region, is staging a series of conversations across the country as
part of its Horizon 2067 planning initiative to collect ideas on the future of the capital. Share your ideas by
Ottawa-Gatineau is also not the centre of any kind of
regional grouping and plays host to barely a handful of
international organization branch offices (for example,
the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on
Agriculture). International intergovernmental agencies are
not headquartered here, and that situation is unlikely to
change any time soon.
All said, however, Canada’s capital did not necessarily
have to slip from the mainstream to the margins of internationalism.
Ottawa was an active diplomatic capital when the Government of Canada was busy launching
international initiatives (such as the Anti-Personnel Mine
Ban Convention, the North American Free Trade
Agreement, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that
Deplete the Ozone Layer and the Air Quality Agreement);
organizing international meetings (United Nations
Conference on Environment and Development); lobbying
for the creation of new institutions (International
Criminal Court) and advancing innovative doctrines
(Responsibility to Protect and the Human Security
Agenda). Yet more than a decade has passed since Canada
has exercised any leadership in the world, and our recent
failure to win a seat on the UN Security Council provides
convincing and, indeed, depressing testament to the extent
of our reduced stature and reputation.
What can be done to improve the performance and raise
the visibility of diplomacy in the capital? Reshaping and
reconstructing the city’s diplomatic spaces is a long-term project,
but policy changes can be put into effect much sooner.
With the splendid new Ottawa Convention Centre and
ample hotel capacity, Canada could play host to more
multilateral conferences, summits and cultural events.
Reinvesting in diplomacy and development, keeping the
same Minister of Foreign Affairs in place for a decent interval
and allowing public servants to communicate more
with the media and the public would permit Foreign
Affairs and International Trade Canada and the Canadian
Agency to engage their best
minds in renewing our international-
Withdrawing from the Global
War on Terror could create an
environment more conducive to
a post post-9/11 de-securitization
of the city’s embassies and
High Commissions. Many of
these daunting fortresses with
a forbidding street-front presence,
such as the American, Russian and Iranian missions, discourage public diplomacy,
openness and partnerships.
Building long overdue museums (of history, technology
and portraiture), an opera house, a new national archives and
library would renew and enlarge the capital’s intellectual and
cultural infrastructure. This would enrich the texture and
character of the urban place and add to the sophistication
and depth of civic possibility.
At the confluence of three great rivers, Ottawa-Gatineau
could again be the place for peaceful contemplation and
forward international thinking that it once was. Today, the
city faces real challenges as a venue for international relations,
and the question must be put: why make the least
of our potential?
The restoration of the capital as a diplomatic space would
require a return to enlightened international-policy activism,
progressive global leadership and a government committed
to dialogue, negotiation and compromise in international
relations as an alternative to the use of armed force. Absent
that significant change in course, the city’s diplomatic possibility
will remain unexplored.
Daryl Copeland is an author, an analyst, an educator and
a former diplomat whose book Guerrilla Diplomacy:
Rethinking International Relations was published by Lynne
Rienner Publishers in 2009. For more information, visitwww.guerrilladiplomacy.com.
I recommend that the overall Ottawa River from the north end of Lake Temiskaming to Montreal be registered as a National Historic Site. This River is really the original pioneer pathway to the development of Northwestern Quebec and Northeastern Ontario, plus provided access to the Mattawa River to open a route directly to Western Ontario to eventually open ALL of western Canada.Even prior to that period, this River was was initially explored my Lasalle, Groseilliers, Radisson , etc. in the 1600,s , as well as fur traders , loggers , miners , and eventually farmers to the great Clay Belts of temiskaming and Cochrane Districts of today. This lack of National Historic Site designation for the Ottawa River and its head waters of Lake Temiskaming is a sad error by our Country historians, and should be corrected PRIOR to the bi-centennial of 2067 as being planned now by the NCC.
Rather than looking inward towards Ottawa/Gatineau. I think the NCC and Parks Canada should team up to bring a real taste of the best that our capital has to offer directly to Canadians across this great country.
Over the next 15 to 20 years, I would love to see 2-3 federal parks established in each region of the country.
These parks would be located in major urban centres and would feature: - a museum that displays rotating exhibits from Canada's national institutions for the arts, humanities and sciences - a public square where Canadians can gather to collectively watch and celebrate truly national sporting and cultural events (think Canadians vying for Olympic gold or pan-Canadian Canada Day concerts) and, - a green space of at least 10 hectares criss-crossed with cycling, hiking and skiing trails.
These parks would offer fully bilingual experiences and each would be a bit different, showcasing the contributions of each region to the great endeavour that is Canada.
How can the NCC be worried about 2067 when Ottawa continues to annually dump raw sewage into the Ottawa River. Let's get this priority dealt with before fussing about any other physical attribute.