‘Ottawa’ Egan: Five Story Lines that will Have us Talking in 2017
News is a verb, but also an episode. Here are five plot-lines developing for 2017 in the serial we call city life:
1) The Public Good on Parade.
Like a crash victim finally unwrapping bandages in a bad soap opera, the city will reveal a fresh face. Some $110 million later, the National Arts Centre will open its new glass entrance on July 1 — “the lantern” — giving it, finally, a beautiful, welcoming window on Elgin Street. The bunker era will end.
The National War Memorial, our marquee monument, is cleaned up and ready. Across Confederation Square, Old Union Station, to house the Senate in 2018, will look more vital, with an addition on the Rideau Centre side, giving an underused 1912 building a modern purpose. The National Holocaust Monument, meanwhile, will be finished across the street from the Canadian War Museum. It will be solemn, haunting.
Queen Street will start to look like a street again. Main Street will finally be fully open. One of the LRT stations, at Lyon, will open for a freaky underground light show. Transit news, train sightings, will be everywhere as the public polishes its sweet new ride, awaits our new car smell.
The Museum of Science and Technology will relaunch in November, after three years of closure. (Only in Ottawa can redoing a kitchen, as in Crazy, cost $80 million, we jest.) Lansdowne, with the Grey Cup and the NHL outdoor game, will look like the smartest thing we ever did.
This is all our new public realm. It will be good.
2) LeBreton Flats.
I was in a highrise overlooking the Flats over the holidays and, from the 14th floor, the eastern end of our raggedy orphan is starting to look respectable, filled in. If only to be high enough to see the future.
LeBreton, after 60 years, finally has a decent shot at becoming a great place to be. NHL hockey arena, main library branch, LRT station, the other doodads, all turning on this: 2017 is the make-or-break year for the negotiations with RendezVous LeBreton, featuring Senators owner Eugene Melnyk.
The update in November from the National Capital Commission spoke of “cautious optimism,” hardly an enthusiastic endorsement. Melnyk did not become a multimillionaire by taking orders from government types with binders. It is to wonder if he has enough patience to navigate the seven circles of hell we call public-sector diligence, not to mention working with so many partners.
Watch this one. Expect some wobble. Avoid Doomsday Thoughts, which involve the team being sold, the whole plan collapsing.
3) Fentanyl, highs and lows.
Who could be optimistic the crisis with this synthetic opioid is over? Overdoses of opioids alone, or combined with alcohol, killed 38 people in Ottawa in 2015 and 685 in Ontario, and fentanyl led the pack. And every week, seemingly, we hear of new and more frightening forms of the drug. Our 2016 numbers, if B.C. is any indicator, will be much worse.
There is no easy way out of this one.
4) Safe injection site.
This should happen or come close. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, always good at knowing where the wind blows, is reshaping his message on the issue. Once a strong opponent, he is now saying he will set his personal objection aside and let the local application run its course. Both he and police Chief Charles Bordeleau can point to the supportive advice from the city’s own public health department and say, Heh, they’re the experts; if they’re OK, we’re OK.
Add to which that Rob Boyd, a leading advocate, has a solid reputation in the addictions community and is as level-headed as they come, an important trait on an issue that can be polarizing. And, really, our site will be smallish, incorporated into an existing health facility and operate under the radar. It’s not the big deal it once seemed, maybe because there’s no longer a federal bully around the campfire telling scary stories.
5) The NCC gets a new boss.
Russell Mills, 72, is slated to finish his second term as chair on April 1, ending a 10-year run. The former newspaper publisher has helped to transform the Crown corporation into a much more open body, with public board meetings that now resemble a municipal council — a couple of mayors tossed in for good measure. In his post-print days, he’s put together an admirable record of public service. The town owes him.
Whom do the federal Liberals like as a replacement? Begin speculating. One imagines a younger, possibly female face, with a more activist attitude, spreading positive Canadian vibes everywhere, in two languages. Because it’s how the JTs roll.
Happy New Year.