After saying farewell to a career in the Foreign Service, Tobi Nussbaum practised diplomacy in city politics before being asked to run the show at the National Capital Commission.
In fact, Nussbaum, 50, was appointed CEO of the NCC less than two months after his re-election as councillor for Rideau-Rockcliffe. From his corner office overlooking the National War Memorial, Nussbaum can take in a panoramic view of Ottawa’s historic heart while pondering how to build a capital.
Judy Trinh talks to the NCC head about his vision for the capital
Judy Trinh: Wow — this view!
Tobi Nussbaum: Being on Confederation Boulevard is wonderful for a capital building organization like the NCC. So I’m very happy here, and it’s 300 metres closer to home.
JT: You bike daily to work. What’s your favourite NCC bike path?
TN: Rideau River Eastern Pathway.
JT: From your office, I see all the landmarks. I see the Château Laurier. I see Parliament Hill, the National Gallery. What do you think needs to be changed?
TN: This idea of creating spaces for people to enjoy the shorelines, to enjoy waterways, to have destinations for people to do that is, I think, a real opportunity for the NCC. How many places can I go to get a bite to eat and be alongside a shoreline or waterway in the capital?
JT: Let’s talk about the Château Laurier. Of the people I’ve spoken to, 99.9 per cent hate the expansion concept put out there by [hotel owner] Larco.
TN: There will be an important opportunity for the NCC to say, “How can we make sure this complements and not disrupts public land?” One element that will be explored is ensuring public access through the addition. If you wanted to go to Major’s Hill Park in inclement weather and you felt like walking through the hotel, can you walk back and forth? We don’t want Major’s Hill Park to be a private space.
JT: Now that Parliament Hill is under construction, would it be difficult to build a Prime Minister’s residence attached to it? It doesn’t look as though anyone will be moving into 24 Sussex anytime soon.
TN: Judy, maybe you should find some work at Public Services and Procurement Canada. That’s an interesting idea. It’s not our project. It’s not our land, and I haven’t heard the residence on Parliament Hill option come up. But what we are doing is making sure the government has all the advice it needs.
JT: What advice are you giving? The estimate for renovations is $34.5 million.
TN: I can’t talk about advice to cabinet.
JT: Have you visited 24 Sussex? What do you think?
JT: Great views?
TN: Great views! Well said. I’m going to borrow that. But back to Parliament Hill. There will be a period of time when visitors won’t be able to climb the Peace Tower. We’ve started to think about how we can offer alternative destinations. For example, there is an exciting project on the books for the NCC about rehabilitating Nepean Point and better connecting it to Major’s Hill Park.
JT: It’s a beautiful vantage point. I’ve always wondered why we don’t hold theatre-in-the-round there.
TN: Yes! Part of the plan includes an amphitheatre. Can you imagine a summer concert or Shakespeare in the Park? [Nepean Point] is one of the most beautiful places in the capital. We need to give people a reason to go there.
JT: Let’s talk about Lebreton Flats and the reset. You know affordable housing is a huge issue in Ottawa.
TN: I certainly saw an interest from those who attended the consultation in having us consider affordable housing options. We don’t want a community that only has studio apartments. We do have the capacity and the ability to establish objectives and goals within the procurement process for percentages of affordable housing. That’s something we can contemplate.
JT: What other priorities do you have?
TN: The NCC is nothing but the product of 450 incredible individuals. My job is to make sure that they want to come to work. I want to exceed the public service diversity minimums. I think it’s important as a federal Crown corporation that we’re reaching higher in terms of diversity and visible minorities to make sure we’re reflecting the Canadian population.