Street at heart of Ottawa convoy could get a big change — but there’s a hiccup

Click to play video: 'Freedom Convoy: Smaller, more subdued protest marks 1 year anniversary'
Freedom Convoy: Smaller, more subdued protest marks 1 year anniversary
WATCH ABOVE: Freedom Convoy: Smaller, more subdued protest marks 1 year anniversary – Jan 28, 2023

The federal government wants to keep the street in front of Parliament Hill closed and has offered to take it over from the City of Ottawa, but the city says it is not interested in a temporary handover.

In a letter to Mayor Mark Sutcliffe earlier this month, Procurement Minister Helena Jaczek says her government wants to reimagine the parliamentary precinct and keep Wellington Street closed to traffic.

“I have a mandate to engage with you directly on the transfer of Wellington Street and Sparks Street into federal jurisdiction with the view to maintaining the closure of Wellington Street to private vehicles,” Jaczek wrote on April 4.

Part of the street has been blocked off since early 2022, after thousands of “Freedom Convoy” protesters who were demonstrating against COVID-19 measures took over downtown streets for several weeks, blocking roads with big-rig trucks and blaring their horns for days on end.

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The government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act in response to the protests sparked a number of reviews at the municipal and federal levels, including a study by the House of Commons procedure committee and a public inquiry called the Public Order Emergency Commission.

The House committee recommended the government expand the parliamentary precinct for security reasons.

And the final report from Justice Paul Rouleau, who led the commission, said governments, police and the Parliamentary Protective Service, which provides security on the Hill, should continue discussions about changes to “the division of responsibilities for policing and security in the National Capital Region.”

Click to play video: 'Officers from across Canada assist Ottawa police to dismantle ‘Freedom Convoy’ blockades'
Officers from across Canada assist Ottawa police to dismantle ‘Freedom Convoy’ blockades

Jaczek’s letter says the federal government wants its jurisdiction to include Wellington Street and Sparks Street, a pedestrian corridor one block south, as a way to address security issues and to create a vibrant public space.

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“It is my desire to work collaboratively with you to realize this vision, which I believe provides great potential to revitalize downtown Ottawa as a destination befitting of a modern capital city,” Jaczek wrote.

The letter asks the city to sign an interim care and control deal, which would allow the federal government to pay for things such as bike lanes, seating, beautification and possibly a bistro in time for Canada Day.

In a written response on April 6, Sutcliffe reminded Jaczek of the city council’s decision back in February to reopen the “iconic” street, and said it would be “premature” to sign such a deal before the city has finished its internal review.

“City staff are actively working on implementing the actions emanating from this motion. Wellington Street will be opened with one traffic lane and bike lane in each direction,” he wrote.

The city is working on a long-term plan for the area, and it is expected that staff will present a traffic study report to council for consideration early in 2024.

Council also voted to continue discussions about a redefined parliamentary precinct, and directed staff to ensure that transportation plans and land valuation are included in talks with federal officials.

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In the meantime, Sutcliffe said staff will work with the federal government on ways to “animate” the section of Wellington Street that faces Parliament Hill for special events.

His letter did not address Sparks Street.

Neither Sutcliffe nor Jaczek were made available to answer questions on Friday.

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