by Josh Lalonde

On February 10, Ottawa city council approved a controversial expansion of the urban boundary. The expansion would bring 445.35 hectares of land in the southeast of the city within the urban boundary, making way for a new suburb. A development called Tewin has been proposed for the site by the Algonquins of Ontario Organization (AOO) and developer Taggart Group.

Although city staff highlighted a number of problems with the site and recommended further study, city council voted to proceed with the expansion immediately. Mayor Jim Watson, who supported the expansion, cited “reconciliation” as a reason to expedite the process.  Yet a number of Algonquin communities in the Ottawa area have voiced their disapproval of the project and Watson’s justification for it. 

While the Indigenous issues connected with the development have been widely covered, the other side — the role of Taggart Group — has not. In particular, little attention has been devoted to the fact that individuals connected to Taggart Group collectively donated over $70,000 to various candidates during the last municipal elections — the most of any developer.

If donations from developers truly have no impact on councillors’ decisions, then why do developers keep making them?

“A generational opportunity”

The Tewin development is being proposed for an area in the southeast of Ottawa known in city documents as Leitrim East/Carlsbad West. It would be situated east of the existing neighbourhood of Findlay Creek and west of the Village of Carlsbad Springs, near the Amazon facility on Highway 417. The land is currently owned by the Algonquins of Ontario Organization, having been bought from the provincial government with financing from the Taggart Group.

The website for the proposed development calls it “a generational opportunity to create one of Canada’s most respectful and sustainable new communities.” It states that Tewin “has the potential to accommodate between 35,000 and 45,000 residents along with thousands of jobs.” The development, it says, will be “anchored in Algonquin values and wisdom” and will apply the One Planet Living framework to “ensure that Tewin is developed in a way that fosters social, environmental, and economic sustainability.” 

Unlike previous suburbs, Tewin is designed to be a “15-minute community” — that is, one in which residents can access work, school, necessities such as groceries, and leisure activities by foot, bike, or public transit, in no more than 15 minutes. Furthermore, it will have high-quality transit service “from day one,” and promises to do so without imposing “any additional costs on the Ottawa taxpayer.”

In short, Tewin is all things to all people. The catch, however, is that to make the development possible, the city must expand its urban boundaries to include the site.

Map of proposed location of Tewin development Credit: City of Ottawa

Urban boundary expansion

The city is in the process of approving a new Official Plan, which will govern the city’s growth over the next 25 years (to 2046). In connection with the Official Plan process, city council adopted a Residential Growth Management Strategy based on a “balanced scenario,” meaning that at least 51% of residential growth will be accommodated through intensification in existing built areas and the remainder through expansion into not-yet developed areas, which is called greenfield development. Under this scenario, city growth to 2046 will require 1,281 hectares of greenfield development.

With that target set, city staff examined possible areas for expansion and evaluated them based on a number of criteria, including the difficulty of integrating them into existing city drinking water and sewer networks, and their proximity to existing or planned rapid transit stations. Based on this evaluation, city staff identified 1,011 hectares of land that met the thresholds for all the scoring criteria (Category 1). This left another 270 hectares to be found from land that did not meet one or more of the thresholds. Staff evaluated the possibility of adding several small parcels of land adjacent to the Category 1 land (Category 2), and of adding one large parcel of land for a new community (Category 3).

The proposed Tewin development falls under Category 3 and scored poorly on nearly all criteria. In a document on potential Category 3 sites, city staff noted “a lack of existing or planned infrastructure including servicing and transit as well as amenities such as recreational facilities and retail.” They also pointed out that the sensitive marine clay soils in the area could present difficulties to construction of buildings of four or more storeys, making it harder to build a dense neighbourhood. Providing drinking water to Tewin would “require the very expensive and challenging construction” of new transmission lines. Wastewater servicing would require constructing a sewer at a depth of 10 metres, resulting “in costs significantly greater than other new community areas under consideration,” and the “construction of the storm drainage system would likely prove to be challenging because of the sensitive marine clays and lack of a sufficient outlet.” These challenges put the cost per hectare of servicing Tewin in the category “Very High.”

Likewise, under the transportation criteria, staff assessed that most of Tewin would be “located far from existing and planned higher-order transit,” and because of the community’s isolation, extending the Transitway or O-Train system to connect to the community would provide “little or no benefit to existing communities.”

Given these issues, city staff recommended further study, with a final recommendation to be submitted to council by the end of 2026. They noted that there was ample time for this study, as the city would not need to include the final 270 hectares until 2041.

It is worth noting that Taggart and the Algonquins of Ontario have contested a number of evaluations by city staff, citing reports they have commissioned from engineers and other experts. For example, the soil at the Tewin site was “not unlike those encountered within portions of other developments, that have been built or are under construction, within the City of Ottawa,” according to an opinion piece in the Ottawa Citizen by Lynn Clouthier and Wendy Jocko, respectively the Algonquin Negotiation Representative for Ottawa and Chief of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation.

City staff’s recommendations were considered at a Joint Planning Committee and Agricultural and Rural Affairs Committee meeting on January 25 and 26. The meeting was a contentious one: there were 40 delegations that spoke on the subject of urban boundary expansion (many of them consisting of landowners complaining that their lands had been unfairly excluded from consideration for urban expansion). Dozens of emails to the committee were also entered into the record. The joint committee ultimately accepted most of the recommendations, but removed 175.35 hectares from the Category 1 lands, increasing the total to be found elsewhere to 445.35 hectares. They also directed staff, on a motion by Councillor Tierney, to “focus on the creation of a new community on the Tewin lands,” so that all 445.35 hectares would be found there.

The Joint Committee’s report then went to city council as a whole at its February 10 meeting. A motion by Councillor Menard to table the report to allow more time for staff to study the options and for public consultation was defeated. Another motion by Councillor McKenney to restore the 175.35 hectares that had been removed from Category 1 by the Joint Committee was also defeated. Each recommendation in the report was put to a separate vote, and the amended recommendation relating to the Tewin lands was carried.

Developer donations

Under existing provincial and municipal laws, it is perfectly legal for developers who are seeking the approval of city council for their development projects to donate to the election campaigns of the very councillors who will decide whether or not to grant that approval. Following the Municipal Elections Modernization Act of 2016, corporations such as developers cannot directly make contributions to candidates. They can, however, contribute to third-party advertisers, who can then in turn run advertisements for or against candidates. Furthermore, nothing stops the executives of development companies or their family members from contributing directly to candidates as individuals. Individuals can donate up to $1,200 to a single candidate and up to $5,000 total.

These loopholes make it hard to determine just how much developers spend on campaign contributions and which candidates they are donating to. Horizon Ottawa, which describes itself as “a municipal-focused grassroots organization dedicated to creating a city that genuinely works for everyone” created a data-analysis project called “Follow the Money” dedicated to gathering that information.

They analyzed the reported contributions to candidates in the 2018 municipal election and 2019 by-election in Rideau-Rockcliffe Ward, and investigated each contributor to determine whether or not they were connected to a development company.

They found that “over 250 individuals connected to real-estate development companies donated over $500,000 to municipal candidates.” In particular, they noted that “29 people connected to Taggart Group contributed $71,950 to various municipal candidates.” The total for Taggart Group was the most of any developer in the database. 

More specifically, five of the nine Planning Committee members received contributions from people connected to Taggart Group, and so did four of the five Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee members.” These two committees are the ones whose mandate is most directly linked with developers’ business. It was a joint meeting of these two committees that selected the Tewin development as the focus for future expansion. 

Not only did people connected to Taggart Group donate $71,950 to candidates in the last elections, but Ted Phillips, Senior Vice-President of Development at Taggart Realty Management (a Taggart Group company) helped organize a fundraiser for Planning Committee Chair Jan Harder, to which 30 executives from Ottawa development companies were invited. Nor is organizing fundraisers for candidates new for Taggart. Phillips also co-organized a fundraiser for Mayor Jim Watson in the 2014 election that raised $52,600.

While it is impossible using this data to prove causation — that contributions from developers made a councillor vote a certain way — it is possible to look at correlations. It is noteworthy, for instance, that Councillor Tierney, whose motion directed staff to focus on Tewin, received $26,200 — 80% of his total contributions — from people linked to developers, including $4,400 from Taggart. By contrast, Councillor Menard, who moved to table the report, received no donations from developers. More generally, all six of the councillors who received no donations from developers voted against the recommendation directing staff to focus on Tewin, whereas of the nine councillors who received over $10,000 in donations from developers, only one voted against it.

The following table shows how each councillor and the mayor voted on the recommendation to focus on Tewin, together with the total amount each of them received from people connected to developers. (Councillor Kitts, who won her seat in a 2020 by-election, is not included in the Follow the Money database. Several people with connections to developers donated to her campaign, as reported in the Ottawa Citizen, but the total amount is unknown.)




$ Received from Developers

Tim Tierney

Beacon Hill-Cyrville



Jan Harder




Laura Dudas




George Darouze




Jean Cloutier

Alta Vista



Jenna Sudds

Kanata North



Allan Hubley

Kanata South



Eli El-Chantiry

West Carleton-March



Glen Gower




Catherine Kitts




Scott Moffatt




Carol Anne Meehan

Gloucester South-Nepean



Rick Chiarelli




Matthew Luloff




Keith Egli




Jim Watson

Ottawa Mayor



Jeff Leiper




Thersa Kavanagh




Matthieu Fleury




Catherine McKenney




Rawlson King




Shawn Menard




Riley Brockington




Diane Deans




Illustrations: Crystal Yung

Why did council decide to approve the expansion rather than studying it more, despite all the problems city staff raised? “Were the councillors who voted ‘yea’ motivated only by a desire for reconciliation? And if donations from developers truly have no impact on councillors’ decisions, as the councillors who take them claim, then why do developers keep making them?

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