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Appeals court face-off!

March 15th,2024 | Municipal News, News

Chelsea is continuing its fight to recover $1.4 million from the National Capital Commission, which the municipality says it has been owed for years. 

Chelsea squared off against the NCC during a hearing at the Federal Court of Appeal in Ottawa on March 5. After three hours of arguments from both sides, the presiding judges asked for lawyers representing both Chelsea and the NCC to return to court at a later date with further evidence. 

According to Chelsea’s director-general, Sheena Ngalle Miano, the judges may not render a decision for up to another six months. 

The municipality of Chelsea has argued for the last six years that the NCC is paying less than its fair share of payments in lieu of tax or PILT. 

The dispute began in 2018 when the MRC des Collines said that the price of Gatineau Park properties in Chelsea totalled $144 million, but the NCC put the total at $64 million. 

The NCC, which operates Gatineau Park, has contested the valuation of its properties every year since then and has sometimes paid only a fraction of what Chelsea says it is due. 

During the court appearance on March 5, Chelsea’s lawyers argued that there was precedent for the court to uphold the appeal, pointing out that the Supreme Court of Canada had ruled in favour of the city of Halifax in a similar dispute with the Canadian government in 2012. 

Lawyers for the NCC argued that the valuation of Gatineau Park properties has been inaccurate and based on the price of development lands not comparable conservation lands. 

In one memorable moment, an NCC lawyer, defending the importance of the NCC’s conservation efforts, quoted the lyrics of Joni Mitchell, telling the judges, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone?” 

A timeline of the dispute

In February 2021, a federal committee ruled in favour of Chelsea and recommended that the NCC pay the municipality $590,000 plus interest. Later that year, the NCC rejected the recommendation and ended up back in court. 

In January 2023, a federal court sided with the NCC, determining that the corporation was justified in calculating its payments in lieu of tax (PILT) to Chelsea for its Gatineau Park properties. 

Chelsea Mayor Pierre Guénard said in a statement at the time that the “ruling has serious consequences and is blatantly unfair for Chelsea taxpayers, who will have to bear the tax burden.” 

The following month, Chelsea council passed a resolution to carry on the fight and appeal the decision. At that point, Chelsea had already spent $333,000 in legal fees.

Since 2018, the NCC has paid a decreasing percentage of the PILT that Chelsea claims it is due: In 2019, the NCC paid 84 per cent of what it was billed by the municipality, whereas in 2020, this amount dropped to 75 per cent, then 57 per cent in 2021 and 51 per cent in 2022. 

In 2023, Chelsea expected the NCC to pay $1.7 million, but it received less than 45 per cent of that amount: around $720,000, leaving the municipality with a $900,000 shortfall. 

When recently asked by the Low Down to comment on the dispute, Mayor Guénard declined because the case is still before the courts. 

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At the Low Down, we are passionate about delivering quality local news to Gatineau Hills residents. But passion alone cannot pay the bills.

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