Ottawa has kept Wellington Street by Parliament Hill closed to vehicles since the 2022 Freedom Convoy. With Ottawa city council voting to reopen the road shortly, a deal could be in the works to negotiate its ownership over to the federal government.
The feds have since offered to buy the section of Wellington from the city of Ottawa to keep it permanently closed to vehicles, reported CTV News.
Public Works and Procurement Minister Helena Jaczek wrote Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe on April 4, requesting he set up an "interim care and control agreement" to keep the road closed.
"I have a mandate…to engage with you directly on transferring Wellington and Sparks Street into federal jurisdiction," she said. "This, of course, must be done in a manner that supports efficient City operations and provides the City fair compensation."
"The objective of this agreement would be to address the immediate security imperative by maintaining the current road closure while providing the City and the federal government time to establish a fair deal and launch planning activities," reads the letter.
"The transfer would be done "[to work] together to reimagine this space as Canada's preeminent civic forum for the residents of Ottawa and all Canadians."
Last week, city Officials said the road would reopen in late April or early May. However, Jaczek requested that that be postponed, citing security concerns. Yet Sutcliffe and co remained committed to reopening the street on schedule.
A parliamentary committee last December claimed Wellington should remain closed to vehicles for such a reason.
According to the POEC Inquiry, the feds said the Freedom Convoy impacted Ottawa residents, citing protestors shouting, honking, and the fumes of the convoy trucks.
Section 17(1) of the Emergencies Act determined Ottawa can exact "temporary special measures" when it believes a public order emergency exists on "reasonable grounds."
Under the Act, law enforcement had the legal capacity to establish exclusion zones around the convoy on Wellington and could boot people from the area without identifying them as protestors. It also permitted banks to freeze the bank accounts of convoy participants and supporters to "disincentivize protest."
"The standard of reasonable grounds to believe does not require certainty," reads the Inquiry. "There was credible and compelling evidence supporting both a subjective and objectively reasonable belief in the existence of a public order emergency."
According to Jaczek, "The 2022 illegal protests in Ottawa exposed vulnerabilities associated with Wellington…[and] highlighted several long-standing security and policing gaps. These issues…will only increase as additional parliamentary functions occupy space south of Wellington."
On April 14, Sutcliffe said his administration remains "open to discussing…the future of Wellington" but remained firm in reopening it "in the coming weeks."
"I understand the federal government's concerns about security and the parliamentary precinct, so I'm open to whatever conversations will come in the future and whatever ideas they have," he said. "I think it all comes down to what's in the best interests of the people of Ottawa."
Councillor Ariel Troster commented that Wellington's "knee-jerk closure" posed an "initial reaction" to the Freedom Convoy. Since then, she claimed the feds had done nothing to improve the road.
"In the year that this road has been closed, the feds have done nothing to either help beautify the street [save for a couple of planters] or enter into a serious negotiation to buy it," said Troster. "[It] has had serious negative traffic impacts on our downtown core."
While the councillor gave her support to pedestrianizing Wellington, she said the city needs to study ways to "minimize the traffic impacts," adding the city should not "surrender control" over Wellington until "we have concluded a comprehensive negotiation."
Councillor Tim Tierney, the city's transportation committee chair, said Wellington needs to reopen to accommodate more traffic as more public servants return to office work.
"It is our street. The city of Ottawa owns it. And if the feds want it, they can buy it," he said.
Amid ongoing negotiations, the federal public service commenced a strike on April 19 over pay hikes and return-to-work disputes with the Treasury Board.
The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) said their employees wanted a 22.5% pay raise over three years. "We cannot sign a blank cheque," said Treasury Board President Mona Fortier. "Many PSAC demands are completely unworkable."
Overall, the union is asking for a 13.5% wage hike over three years, with PSAC rejecting the Board's offer of a three-year raise compounded at 9.25%, triggering one of the largest public service strikes in history. Some 42,421 PSAC union members exercised their right to call for a strike.
Chris Aylward, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), spoke with the media Wednesday, stating, "We're not taking over the streets…shutting down airports or borders yet."
"We're not inconveniencing the public," he claimed. "We're here on Parliament Hill in Ottawa…the public doesn't care about us being here."
"We have strategic picket lines across the country. We haven't set up picket lines at airports or borders," continued Aylward. "The longer we're out here, the public [will] see more and more inconvenience. We don't want to do that. It's up to the government how long the strike lasts."