To Justify Land #2
Lebreton and Chaudière from Parliament Hill, 1889. Collections Canada, PA-008351.
by Lital Khaikin
2 — A gathering place where the remarkable occurs
For the price of temporary, contractual benefits for private companies, the Asinabka islands are being transformed into another capitalist “Mecca”, from the congregational and spiritual centre they had been prior to their colonization and the establishment of the Canadian state. This absorption is realized through the capitalist impulse towards reducing land to an exploitable resource, and the generation of larger profit margins under the guise of providing sustainable energy. By appearing as though they are prioritizing environmental sustainability, developers and their partners in the municipal governments of Ottawa and Gatineau are only concerned with the land they occupy as a mode of transaction for their most profitable terms.
Private land developers take a predatory approach to acquiring land by using their own subsidiary companies or partnering with big capital investors to exploit site deficiencies, or otherwise craft a representation of entrepreneurial benevolence. Toronto-based Windmill Development Corporation and its subsidiary Quantum Murrary LLP, an environmental clean-up company, present an agenda of ecological restoration, sustainable living, and a reconciliatory social enterprise:
“Everything that we do is conceived, designed and constructed to protect and enhance the local community and its ecosystems. We harness innovations in land use, water, air, energy, design, waste management and smart building technologies to create healthy, high-performance green buildings and communities.” [Windmill Development Corporation, Who We Are].
Pollution in the soil of the Asinabka islands accumulated over the years of Ottawa-Gatineau’s industrial period, between the 1800s and the final year of Domtar Corporation’s operations on the site, in 2006. Following the abandonment of the site by the paper company, an estimated 87,300 cubic metres of land are identified as brownsoil. The pollution by Domtar was permitted and sustained through apathy at all levels of government towards holding the paper company liable for the cleanup, following the abandonment of the site. William Commanda’s vision for transforming the islands with a park and cultural centre was ultimately dismissed by the City of Ottawa: “With the exception of one Elders’ Gathering, and funds provided by Heritage Canada to the National Capital Commission to articulate the vision in a draft memorandum and advance the development of the architectural plans in 2004, this work has been entirely unfunded. … To reawaken indigenous ideology to advance healing at three fundamental levels: Healing individual and collective relationships with Mother Earth; Healing, strengthening and unifying Indigenous Peoples; and, Healing relationships with all others.” [A Report on the Vision for the Asinabka National Indigenous Centre, Feb. 14, 2010].
The jeopardy held by Windmill over both the development plans for Asinabka and the islands’ clean-up allowed a manipulation of pre-existing lax corporate accountability for the acquisition of the land. Jeff Westeinde, founding partner of Windmill Development, is also founding partner and served as CEO of Quantum Murray LLP – an amalgamation of environmental clean-up and emergency response services that, in March 2016, was assumed under the ownership of Canadian billionaire and “activist” investor Wes Hall.
The developers tout passive energy provision, carbon neutrality, and grey water systems, flaunting “the principles of New Urbanism, smart growth, green building and sustainable community design” [Ecotrust, 2008]. All these elements, on their own, certainly contribute to applications of sustainable building practices. But condominium developments touting a few trilingual signs, boutiques stocked with recyclable plastics, and recycled water systems for the toilets of the federal employees to whom this development has been strategically marketed, do not make a sustainable community. By assuming the costs and the operations of environmental clean-up through Quantum Environmental Group, the Westeindes’ Zibi project captures the profits of private land-zoning and acquisition. It does this with little critical recourse towards the ecological impacts of the condominium and retail complex they propose – let alone the parallel hydro expansion project – in the middle of the Ottawa River. “The company redeveloping the old Domtar lands on the Ottawa River could be eligible for a big tax break from the city to help pay for soil cleanup.” [Ottawa Sun, May 2014].
Among Windmill’s other useful affiliate companies are construction and building contractors Ledcor: “We work in concert with a broad team of other green industry professionals under the banner of Ledcor Renew to perform deep green sustainability retrofits on institutional properties and corporate portfolios” [Ledcor] – a portfolio that includes EnCana, Enbridge, Shell, Suncor Energy, the “renewable energy” projects of hydro-electric dams in Fitzimmons Creek (Whistler, BC), Ashlu Creek (Squamish, BC), and wind and solar farms owned respectively by oil company Suncor and gold mining company Barrick Gold. “Ledcor continues to work with their longtime client Shell on their Albian Sands Expansion which began in 2006.” Notably, Windmill Development Group’s board of directors includes Peter Busby, the managing director of architecture firm Perkins+Will, commissioned for the Zibi project.
“Windmill also wholly owns a sustainable development consulting company, Buildgreen Consulting, that is currently consulting on a diversity of projects across North America including venues for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games, 2014 Halifax Commonwealth Games Bid and a complete sustainable resort village in Loreto Bay, Mexico.”
For the Dockside Green development, Windmill Development Corporation was lauded by the Clinton Climate Initiative [Windmill Developments, July 2013]. In 2004, Windmill partnered with a Vancouver investment group to outbid Westbank Projects Corp. in proposing a condominium development along the Victoria harbour. Prior to its rezoning, the Victoria site was also a 15-acre brownfield site. The next year, the developers quickly pushed to sell the units, only to find that in 2009, its creditors announced a pause on the project due to the “global financial crisis”. Seven years later, after Windmill sold most of its stake in the project to Victoria real estate company Three-Point Properties, the development broke ground again, on its so-called “affordable housing project” Madrona, where the entry-price for rental of a 244-293 square foot studio is just under $700 per month, priced, according to the Madrona website, for a median income of around $30,000 a year, “serving the people they are intended for” [Madrona]. “Residents, commercial tenants and neighbouring residents, businesses, organizations and First Nations are acknowledged, celebrated and welcomed”. The development was intended to operate on biomass energy, yet remained reliant on natural gas until 80% of the development could be completed [CBC News, Jan. 25, 2017].
Windmill’s “greening” of the Olympic Village further obscures participation in the eviction and demolition of Vancouver’s single-room occupancy units (SROs), and the pathetic buildings that constitute the barely “affordable” housing in the downtown district around the Olympic development. A “green legacy” seems to only include condominium developments for the wealthy. When the Olympic Village project had to be bailed out by the Vancouver City Council, blame was again placed, as with Dockside Green, on the “world financial crisis”. The development was later sold to Canadian investor Francesco Aquilini’s Aquilini Development. “The City’s response to the financial mess was to cut over 620 units of social housing from the project. After the dust settled, 252 units of affordable housing remained. Only half of those were actually affordable for low-income people, the rest of the “affordable units” rent for approximately $1,600 for a 600 to 650 square foot one-bedroom, and $1,900 for a two-bedroom apartment” [Pivot Legal]. The Olympic Village development included a “purpose-built” affordable housing project that would house a quota of “50 per cent street homeless, 30 per cent “at risk of homelessness” and 20 per cent from other sources” [Globe and Mail, Sep. 2013]. Surrounding residents complained about the drug use, medical issues present within these “at-risk” communities, stuffed into a building alongside their condos. The solutions involved disingenuously extending affordable housing outside of the increasingly gentrified Downtown East Side, and offering more security cameras for the concerned condo-residents.
In Loreto Bay, the benefits of a completely sustainable resort village can be enjoyed by the wealthy who can afford to purchase properties listed for nearly half a million USD. Loreto Bay is an “authentic Mexican” resort in Mexico’s Baja California Sur. The $3 billion project was funded by Citigroup Property Investors [Forbes, Feb. 2013], developed in partnership between Mexico’s Fondo Nacional de Fomento al Turismo, and Canada’s Trust for Sustainable Development [Terrain, Winter/Spring 2008], and overseen by the Loreto Bay Company. The American-Canadian investment opportunity went bankrupt in 2009, when the Loreto Bay resort was noted for failing to attract further investment, and not selling enough of the properties.
“environ 75 % du projet soit dédié à l’habitation, soit de 1200 à 1800 logements; environ 10 % du projet soit dédié à des espaces commerciaux; environ 15 % du projet soit dédié à des espaces à bureaux et des services” (around 75% of the project is residential, comprised of 1200 to 1800 residences; around 10% of the project is dedicated to commercial spaces; around 15% of the project is dedicated to offices and services) [Ville de Gatineau, Projet Zibi – Développement du quartier de la chute des Chaudières.]
The terms of environmental sustainability remain as a kind of lingering justification for the development of the coastline – or “waterfront” in appealing real estate lingo. To what extent is it really sustainable to develop 6,000 new residences over 3200 acres of the Mexican coastline? What are the operable terms of sustainability that determine more value in the construction of biomass-powered condominiums over biomass-powered social housing to replace Vancouver’s demolished SROs? What is implied by award-winning sustainability when a “world class” development is only another platform for consumer culture targeted towards the wealthy class? Windmill’s LEED Platinum standards do nothing to measure the the capitalistic nature of the development.
“Jonathan Westeinde, BA’92, is promoting a new type of capitalism – one that puts equal importance on the environment and making profits.” [Western University Alumni, 2013].
“Unpatented Land”, via freethefalls
“Zibi is new business”.
Architectural theorists and directors of dpr-barcelona, Ethel Baraona Pohl and César Reyes Nájera write on the stratification and segregation enabled through urban ‘enclaves’. Formed as microcosms within cities, these enclaves exert some geopolitical influence upon the encompassing city, while being united by more or less homogenous economic and cultural characteristics. Pohl and Nájera identify the amplification of the social stratification and systems of power that are further enabled by the presence of such enclaves. While they refer more specifically to gated communities, there is a kind of ‘invisible gate’ that can determine the demographics and the relationships even within spaces that appear to be “open” or “public”. Citing Peter Marcuse and Setha M. Low on the exacerbation of existing ‘social cleavages’, Pohl and Nájera write:
“These urban islands are not only an architectural manifestation of power frequently built in countries with high rates of violence where class segregation is a norm —they’re usually staffed by private security guards, creating home to high-value properties—but they are also based in a set of rules or protocols that generate living patterns. Peter Marcuse defines the gated community in the U.S. as an enclave that is a “voluntarily developed spatial concentration of a group for purposes of promoting the welfare of its members” and according to Setha M. Low, “middle-class and upper-middle-class gated communities are creating new forms of exclusion and residential segregation, exacerbating social cleavages that already exist.” [“A Tale of two cities: The archipelago and the enclave”, Ethel Baraona Pohl, César Reyes Nájera.]
Ottawa’s exclusionary spaces are seen particularly in the east end’s increasingly gentrified Vanier, farther east towards Overbrook and the Belfast industrial slum, south towards the subsidized housing projects of Walkley and South Keys, and in the western neighbourhoods of Lincoln Fields and Bayshore. Near the Booth Street bridge that will link the Zibi development with downtown Ottawa, the Lebreton Flats had once been mixed-use residential land, until expropriation in the 70s and redevelopment into condos by 2008. The Zibi development must be considered within a history of expropriation, demolition of working class residential neighbourhoods, normalized gentrification, and the development of loose exclusionary zones that push people living at or below the poverty line farther from the centre of Ottawa. In this case, the development continues a polarizing but parallel legacy of displacement, first of Indigenous communities, and second of the Francophone communities of Gatineau’s Vieux-Hull neighbourhood – both strategically realized as part of the Canadian federalist project.
The joint participation of Ottawa and Gatineau municipal governments in the Zibi development draws attention to the recent legacy of expropriation and monopolistic business practices that have bloated the development of Ottawa’s government district and transformed Québec’s historically working-class settlement of Hull into an extension of Parliament Hill. From the 50s through the 70s, the Canadian state faced a significant threat of destabilization from the nationalist project of a sovereign Québec. The sovereigntist movement, while fraught with colonial nationalism, included independent factions seeking to establish a socialist Québec, in reaction to the policies of privatization and increasing dependence on the United States. Between 1969 and 1974, under Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s Liberal federal government, the National Capital Commission (established in the years following the Second World War), began the razing of Hull. Trudeau’s commission for the construction of the Place-du-Portage federal office complex in 1969 was represented as connecting the federal workforce between Ontario and Québec, to integrate a bilingual workforce, and ultimately, to integrate Québec into the ROC (Rest of Canada). The Liberals contracted the expropriation and demolition of 13 acres of residential buildings and small brick-and-mortar shops to construct the mammoth Brutalist complexes of Terrasse Chaudière and Place de Portage. In this gesture of inclusivity, 1500 houses were demolished and 6000 people were evicted and displaced from Vieux-Hull.
(Bibliothèque et archives nationales du Québec, 07H_P134SS2D1P130)
“En quelques mois, les ouvriers se retrouvent sans maison et sans emploi. Les emplois de fonctionnaires qu’on leur promet seront en fait accaparés par une population venue de partout au pays, puisque la majorité des habitants du quartier sont sous-scolarisés. Bien sûr, une poignée de spéculateurs, des vautours familiers des officines du Parti libéral, flairent la bonne affaire et s’engraissent sur le dos des ouvriers.” [A bâbord!, Hull, champs de bataille, été 2011] (In a few months, the workers found themselves without housing and without work. The civil service employment they were promised was monopolized by a population coming from elsewhere around the country, as the majority of the neighbourhood’s residents were under-educated. Of course, a handful of speculators, the vulturous officials of the Liberal Party, sensed the great opportunity that was made available off the backs of the workers.)
More recent developments in Gatineau have continued the trend of the 70s redevelopment, with proposals for condominiums in the small city’s museum quarter, where some of the last remaining heritage houses remain from before the Vieux-Hull demolitions. Such developments consist largely of the fetishized condo-towers that are intended to manufacture an appearance of a “world class” metropolitan centre, such as Brigil’s $400 million hotel-condo called Place-des-Peuples: “The neighbourhood’s city councillor, Denise Laferrière, has suggested the development would put Gatineau on the map” [CBC News, Jun. 15, 2015] … “Frederic Lewis, Brigil general manager, said the proposed plan would bring the city $8 million in tax revenue per year…We have to create density and that’s what we’re doing” [Ottawa Citizen, Nov. 13, 2015], or the VIU condominiums which promise residents “75% reduction on municipal taxes guaranteed by the Ville de Gatineau for 7 years” [Le VIU].
So it is that in January 2016, the Gatineau city council unanimously approved the construction of the condominiums on the Ottawa River. The Zibi development not only appeals directly to the most economically privileged in the Ottawa-Gatineau region – lease rates starting at $183,900 for a 478-square-foot studio to $752,900 for a three bedroom – but the so-called remedies it promises to the Algonquin community in its bargain for the land are only short term.
“On a broader scale, increased activity means more jobs for our community and an inevitable rise in the value of Zibi’s condos and townhomes. A recent study has shown that urban properties within 5km of a stadium and within 500m of a light rail are proven to increase in price by approximately 40%*. The increase is most dramatic in urban settings, particularly if combined with urban amenities and public space.” [Zibi Blog, What the Lebreton Flats Redevelopment means to Zibi, Feb. 1, 2016].
The Zibi condominium development is only a progressive extension of the gentrification that occurred in Vieux-Hull, as residents living at or below the state-identified poverty level, and small businesses that cannot afford to maintain their rent, are pushed further out of Gatineau. The buildings no longer have to be razed in grand gestures of expulsion. The pubs, restaurants and depanneurs that dot the winding streets off Eddy, are closing – falling to the increasingly Anglophone and middle-class gentrification that seeks out well-paying jobs in Ottawa, and cheap rent over the Québec border. The small, working-class town of Hull, amalgamated into Gatineau in 2002, served as a source of cheap labour for Ottawa, providing an industrial and manufacturing workforce eager for employment. It has continued to play into the shifts of displacement from Ottawa, as rent over the Québec border remains considerably lower than that in Ottawa.
The working class of industrialist Québec was integrated into the state project of Canada – the inclusion of a French workforce of “civil servants” in the federalist project – as an act of securing the legitimacy of a unified Canadian state. The federalist vision is dependent on a pacification that is bought by the inclusion of the working class and the poor in the further development of the state, via employment that provides them with marginal benefits that are otherwise not afforded or systemically denied. When there was resistance from Algonquin communities to the development of yet another inaccessible and consumerist project constructed on a sacred site, Windmill seized the opportunity to integrate a “progressive” employment policy that would allow underemployed Algonquin workers a chance to participate in the construction of a “world-class sustainable waterfront community”. In order to employ a quota of Indigenous workers, Windmill and the Gatineau municipal governments have created a special administrative zone to bypass regulations on the certifications, practices and working conditions set in place by the Commission de la construction du Québec (CCQ). “For tradespeople and construction workers from Kitigan Zibi, it has been almost impossible to work off reserve because of complex Québec construction regulations. Windmill is negotiating to have parts of its site declared a special administrative zone. That would allow Algonquin tradespeople to work there. Historically, many people from Kitigan Zibi have gone to the United States to work in construction because they were unable to find work near home..” [Zibi Press Release, Jun. 30, 2015]. There would be no need for this benevolent creation of a special administrative zone by Windmill and the Gatineau municipal government for the employment of Algonquin workers, if these barriers weren’t already entrenched within systemic practices of discrimination, and absence of required training, certification and employment resources.
“Don’t follow history. Make it.” (Zibi website)
The condominium development by Windmill Development Corporation has leveraged the idea of Reconciliation with First Nations as an opportunity to appease protest to their project by offering construction contracts to select Algonquin partners. A contract through Windmill Development was offered to a Timiskaming and Pikwàkanagàn Algonquin-owned company, Decontie Construction, despite resistance from within the Algonquin communities. The contract was presented as the quickest way to attain training and certification for underemployed Algonquin workers. This was followed by a $4.5 million construction contract between Hydro Québec and Decontie Construction.
“This is the culmination of a two-year initiative by Decontie and developers Windmill Development and Dream Unlimited to overcome systemic labour barriers, build capacity and hire First Nation workers for Zibi.” [Zibi Press Release, Apr. 27, 2017]
“Through the criticisms, and whatnot, that have come our way, we have not wavered because we believe that the project is a good one. It will be good for us and it will be good for our neighbours here in the capital,” said Pikwàkanagàn councillor Dan Kohoko, who was in Gatineau on behalf of chief Kirby Whiteduck.” [CBC News, Apr. 27, 2017].
The government of Canada claims that Reconciliation is to “renew a nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples”, which includes settling land-claims and contemporary treaties, “based on recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership”.
The “green development” project purports a commitment to a “renewed relationship with indigenous peoples – one that is based on recognition, rights respect, co-operation and partnership” [Ottawa Liberal MP Catherine McKenna, Jul. 18, 2016]. The developers craft a glorious sentiment on their intention “to change the status quo and to support First Nations’ right to self-determination”, so long as that self-determination gratefully accepts a paycheck for building condominiums on a sacred site. This self-determination must also acknowledge and serve a vision for the nation’s capital that is controlled by developers, realtors, investors, and politicians. The realtors say, “this significant and transformative redevelopment of our nation’s capital that also serves as a model for partnering with First Nations communities.” The rhetoric is based on ‘job creation’, where industries of resource extraction write Faustian agreements with people who are left with little or no choice but to accept the contracts, because there are simply no other opportunities for employment. The Ottawa and Gatineau governments, and the Toronto developers, imposed a quota of Indigenous labour and cultural emblems onto the construction of a capitalist project that, at its sterile heart, excludes the very people whom it loudly seeks to dig its foundations, pour its concrete, and set its piles.
“Reconciliation is difficult at the best of times, and a lot of it has to do with the core beliefs of some of the different communities. When you look at First Nations communities across the country, you find a lot of similarities but there are differences, too. There is not a homogenous approach. Some communities, mainly in the west, decided to go down the route where they signed treaties and gave up aboriginal title to much of their historic land but in returns received large swaths of land and economic compensation for what they gave up.” [Westeinde interviewed by Dough Fischer for Canadian Geographic, Apr. 6, 2016].
The project of Reconciliation, also quickly adopted into the credos and hiring policies of brand-conscious companies, is inseparable from the project of Canada’s unified federalism, which provokes the participation of would-be autonomous communities into projects that are syphoned into exploitative neoliberal interests and policies. Critique of the Zibi development can easily become reduced to a simplistic argument over the redistribution of land ownership on the basis of ethnographic identity. But this returns to the problem of so-called “ownership” of the land: who gets to decide the terms by which land is claimed, who gets to decide what is built on it, and who gets to live on it? The conflict around how to develop a sacred land incites larger questions around the ideological terms that define the entitlement of ownership towards the land (otherwise represented as “stewardship”). It is not enough to simply change the terms of ownership; it is necessary to change the proprietary terms of relating to the land, which determine the fundamental logics of capitalism, and enable the continued violence of a reactionary submissiveness that chooses a temporary substitution over systemic change.
Any given quota of construction contracts provided by Windmill to its select Algonquin partners may provide short term monetary profit, bandage the lack of resources and training for their most cooperative collaborators, and may precipitate minimal benefits into select communities, but what happens when the condominiums and shops are built? How would this development, in the long term, mitigate the social inequities that originate within the same capitalist system that perpetuates and relies upon economic inequality? Incorporating Algonquin language and symbols into the development’s plazas, transit stations and the name itself: how can this be taken seriously as a gesture of respect and collaboration when they are used to numb the burn of another profitable “great opportunity”? In other terms, this is called appropriation, and the offer of construction contracts to people who are systemically displaced, silenced, and under-privileged is called exploitation.
The acceptance of monetary appeasement for participation in the “inclusive state” is a double-edged blade that both exploits the precarity of dignity for the working classes, and reduces the conditions of survival to an intolerable marasme of compromise. There is a silence that lingers over the logics of the Zibi development that deflects any challenge to the legitimacy of its capitalist ideals of “prosperity” and “benefits”, land-ownership, and the Canadian nationalist project that is empowered by privatization and exclusive developments. Corporate and state actors co-opt claims and concerns for the land into terms of nationalist territoriality and ownership. The legitimacy of private developments’ claims to land ownership is measured only along federally approved criteria, and are only permitted according to the state’s terms. The socioeconomic divide that is evident in the continued displacement of visibly marginalized communities within the national capital region can only be exaggerated by co-operation with the neoliberal state; the “actors” must “choose revolution or greater integration with capitalist America” (Vallières).
About the Author:
Lital Khaikin has published in 3:AM Magazine, Afterimage, Black Sun Lit, The Brooklyn Rail, continent. journal, Deluge, and e·ratio, among others. A book, Outplace, was published with Solar Luxuriance in May 2017.
This is the second part of a series of essays for Berfrois, read To Justify Land #1.