Rubin: Wacky NCC once mulled a plan to market Ottawa as a ‘wild’ city


No longer would the nation’s capital be seen as a boring, sleepy place full of public servants — not if our hip federal minders could prevail with this campaign.

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The National Capital Commission is always looking for new ways to promote and brand its efforts. But it outdid itself back in 2021, according to recently obtained NCC documents.

At the time, it hired MediaPlus, at a cost of just over $19,000, to make pilot video storyboards portraying Ottawa as “the wild capital” and “your wild capital.”

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Yes, really.

The consultants created a few short prototype storyboards
that feebly attempted to show Ottawa as “wild.”

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There were shots of the giant spider outside the National Gallery, the
downtown zipline from Ontario to Quebec at Zibi, some wildlife, goings-on such as Parliament Hill protests, and snippets of courtyards, monuments and bistros.

Somehow, all of this was meant to portray the capital and its NCC minders as “wild” — to counter the clips also inserted in the storyboard showing the time Prince Philip once called Ottawa “a backwater” and reminding us that the late columnist Allen Fotheringham said Ottawa was “the town that fun forgot.”

No longer would Ottawa be a boring, sleepy place full of public servants — not if the hip NCC could prevail with this campaign.

Mind you, when I recently viewed the short videos on this initiative, the NCC access-to-information officers had redacted the parts where some ordinary people had been approached and filmed. A clip featuring NCC board members was not cut. Fun comments and transparency just aren’t compatible.

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One caution expressed by the NCC officials viewing the first-draft
video was to not have the word “wild” next to images of Indigenous Peoples. Right. They also said the draft video needed “more soaring imagery” and maybe upbeat background music such as Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight, Everything is Alright.”

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The idea was to move away from the normal “NCC-centric brand promise” and give the NCC a “more user-centric and experimental focused brand promise.” It was meant “to resonate with (the) public’s emotions,” enhancing its dialogue with the public “to reflect a corporation (that) is not (to be) the expected unresponsive and bureaucratic crown corp.”

Somehow, the commission thought this could “distance the NCC from (being) the stereotypical government agency to better reflect a corporation that is in tune with its users and their needs, while keeping a tone that reflects both its values and brand promise.”

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This is not the first time the NCC has gone goofy.

It looked at bringing a zip-line and or gondoliers to Gatineau
Park as part of a fantasy park entertainment makeover, and also thought about Confederation Boulevard as a locale where the pavement could be painted red, while keeping tax payers in the black.

Normally, the NCC’s “wild side” is limited to drawing up esoteric design plans and dreaming up more monuments. Its more unforgiving wild side includes sometimes making its public lands available to private developers, at, say, LeBreton Flats, and over-charging in its rents.

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In this case, needless to say, the whole branding exercise flopped. As one
official put it, “Wild is not the word that comes to mind when thinking
of our Capital.” Exactly.

The NCC Board weighed in with more tact: “While the (NCC) Board appreciated the effort to be more modern and creative with our branding exercise, the wild capital theme did not resonate with members seeing it (and) was not expressively how the public viewed the capital, nor how they viewed the NCC.”

An understatement brought to you from our capital’s federal minders.

Ken Rubin follows the NCC alternate universe and is reachable at

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