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Had you asked me just over a year ago, before I started my current job, how many bridges the NCC owned, I would have estimated: between interprovincial bridges, the parkways and pathways, spans in Gatineau Park, Greenbelt stream crossings, I might have guessed 50.

A year later, I know the answer. The NCC owns 145 bridges — along with more than 1,000 buildings on 1,700 properties that make up 11 percent of the National Capital Region and include some of its most ecologically valuable areas.

A year of learning

Learning about the vast scope of the NCC’s assets, and its work, has been one of the most interesting parts of the job. I’ve gained a new appreciation for the variety and complexity of the geography of Gatineau Park; the latest techniques in heritage conservation; how to make waterfront pathways more resilient faced with extreme weather; issues involved in protecting the 20 species at risk that live in the Mer Bleue Bog. The list goes on.

The fact that the planning, conservation and stewardship of these assets are done with an annual capital budget of less than $24 million is a testament to the efficiency, professionalism and creative problem-solving skills of the NCC’s dedicated staff of just over 400 people.

Yet, even with all this ingenuity to draw upon, the NCC still has to grapple every day with what has become its greatest corporate risk: the significant funding gap that prevents it from maintaining this asset base in the condition that Canadians expect. While we work with the Government of Canada on addressing our financial challenges, we continue to press ahead with an ambitious agenda in three distinct areas.

An ambitious agenda

Improve access to the Capital's magnificent waterways

Remic Rapids Park Bistro, summer 2019
Remic Rapids Park Bistro, summer 2019

First, in continuing our efforts to build an even better capital, we need to face and embrace the Capital’s magnificent waterways, and provide opportunities for everyone to enjoy them. 

Take leadership in the area of sustainability

Second, we are taking leadership in the area of sustainability and meeting the challenge of climate change.

The NCC is one of only two Crown corporations to sign on to the Federal Sustainable Development Act, to contribute to meeting the federal government’s sustainability goals. And we recently adopted our own bold, sustainable development strategy which commits us to building a greener, more environmentally sensitive capital, through a series of actions in areas such as:

  • energy and water efficiency
  • green building construction
  • the promotion of active transportation
  • and more robust protection of our natural areas.

Be a more open and transparent partner

NCC Employees taking part in Bike to Work Month
NCC Employees taking part in Bike to Work Month

Third, we are working to be a more open and transparent partner in the nation’s capital, focused on corporate excellence.

This year, we will be inaugurating a new event offering a day of guided tours and interaction throughout the Capital to enable residents and visitors to learn more about us. Our commitment to public consultation and broadening our channels of communication continues. Internally, we are focused on staff engagement and leveraging our in-house talent — efforts that were acknowledged last week when the NCC was recognized as a top employer in the nation’s capital.

An inspiring mandate

When I started this job a year ago, one thing I did know was that the assets the NCC owns and maintains are among Canada’s most important cultural and heritage sites. They include public symbols, commemorations and democratic institutions that are among our country’s most iconic images.

As Canadians glide along the Rideau Canal Skateway, snap selfies with the Rideau Hall ceremonial guard, or ponder the thousands of years of Indigenous presence on the shorelines below Parliament Hill, they are not only enjoying the assets of the National Capital Commission, but also reflecting on our collective history and aspirations for the future as a nation.

The staff and board of the NCC are committed to ensuring that the Capital we hand to the next generation is even more dynamic, sustainable, beautiful and inspiring than the one we inherited from our Capital-building forebears.

This post originally appeared in the Ottawa Citizen.

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