After years of hashing out a truce for Downsview Park with the former board of directors, residents are fearful of what an abrupt change in direction imposed by the federal government means for the future of the park.
“We don’t understand what this means,” said Albert Krivickas, vice-president of the Downsview Lands Community Voice Association Inc. (DLCVA).
“We’re in limbo.”
Last Thursday, Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose announced management of the park, along with the Old Port of Montreal, is being handed to Canada Lands Company.
According to its website, Canada Lands “manages, redevelops and/or sells strategic Government of Canada properties across Canada that are no longer required for program purposes. The company’s core values are innovation, value, legacy; the company continually strives to create projects that reflect these values.”
Canada Lands is a self-financing Crown corporation that operates at arm’s length from the federal government.
Manon Lapensee, Canada Lands’ director of communications, said the organization is now conducting an internal operational review that is expected to be completed early in the new year.
“From there, we will develop a transition plan,” she said, adding Canada Lands has no idea yet what that will mean for the park’s future.
“We don’t have any plan. We don’t have any preconceived notions of what may transpire. We really don’t know.”
In the meantime, it is “business as usual” at the park, Lapensee said.
York Centre MP Mark Adler said he understands the community’s concerns, but said the new management model is simply an administrative decision to bring Downsview Park, the Old Port of Montreal and Canada Lands under one organization to create better accountability and efficiency,
“Change creates uncertainty but there’s no reason for that at this point. No decisions will be made without input from the community,” he said, adding he is organizing a community meeting in January.
“Nothing will move forward unless everyone around the table is satisfied.”
The new management model doesn’t necessarily mean significant changes to the park, Adler said.
“I can’t imagine there will be radical change in terms of what was envisioned under the previous governance model,” he said.
“I don’t think much will change, other than the names and faces of the new board.”
But Krivickas said he is “frustrated and exhausted” Canada Lands is taking over after years of negotiations with the park’s former board of directors.
Earlier this year, the federal government did not renew the board members’ terms or appoint new members, leaving watchers wondering if the federal government had a new direction for Downsview Park up its sleeve.
Canada Lands had been responsible for Downsview Park in the early 1990s before it was handed off to the Downsview Park board.
Krivickas said he found the Downsview Park board far more responsive to community concerns than Canada Lands.
DLCVA agreed, saying the association is anxious decisions about the park will now be imposed from Ottawa.
“The Downsview Lands Community Voice Association has had dozens of meetings with the Downsview Park executive and we have a good relationship with them. The executive always make an effort to reach out to our community and take our concerns and suggestions into consideration,” the association said in a statement.
“The board consisted of people who live in our area. Our concern is that decisions made by Canada Lands Co. are made in Ottawa, not for and by the community.”
The former board was focused primarily on building a national park even though it agreed development was necessary to make the park self-sufficient.
“We hope that a national park will remain the priority with Canada Lands Co. So much work has gone into this. It would be a shame to see it all go to waste,” the association said.
York Centre Councillor Maria Augimeri has long been furious that the original dream of a national park for Downsview Park turned into half the lands being developed.
If the government was unsatisfied with that, as handing the management of the park over to Canada Lands suggests, Augimeri is fearful what the future for the park may hold.
“Who knows what to think? Who knows what’s behind the prime minister’s intentions or Rona Ambrose’s intentions? Neither one has ever made their vision clear,” she said.
“I just think they don’t care.”
David Soknacki, Downsview Park’s former chair, said the government’s decision signals a change in the management structure of the park.
“It means that the governance has changed from our organization that had its mandate for creating an urban national park to an organization that has as its mandate the creation of...the management of real estate to maximize the return to the Government of Canada, which is a different perspective,” he said.
Soknacki said his board was proud of its accomplishments to create a national urban park that balanced the need for economic viability with environment and social responsibility.
He did not know what the new direction will mean for the park.
“I’m not going to interpret somebody else’s mandate,” he said.
“I think it’s fair to say we have an immense sense of accomplishment. We set the bar very high and look forward to seeing how they improve on what we have achieved.”