Sense and Reason Prevails on Victims of Communism Monument

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Although probably ranked outside the Top 50 list of the Liberal government’s main priorities, there was good news for those who are not fans of gaudy, pushy, and high-political new monuments in the Capital area. Minister for Heritage Mélanie Joly told the press yesterday that the budget for the Memorial to the Victims of Communism had been cut, and that it would not be constructed on land immediately next to the Supreme Court of Canada building.

“The process was too divisive, too political, and didn’t generate the right consensus that ought to be generated when it comes to a monument,” Joly said in her statement as reported by the Globe. “It’s an important monument and ought to be celebrated. It ought to be commemorated. But at the same time, the process has to be an open, transparent and inclusive one and that’s exactly why we’re doing this right now.”

The federal budget for the project will be cut from $3 million to just $1.5 million. Those funds will be matched by the group Tribute to Liberty who are steering the project. The monument will also now by built at the Garden of the Provinces and Territories, a site further west from the much more controversial selection as next door neighbour to the Supreme Court, which is presently a green space that was slated for the new Federal Court building. That building was rumoured to be named after former Prime Minister (and Justice Minister) Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Coincidence?

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin were amongst the numerous individuals and groups who were against the size and placement of the memorial in its previous form. Watson met with Tribute to Liberty in October and said that he told the Board in no uncertain terms that this was not going to happen the way they wanted. “I told them in very blunt terms that this project should be put on hold,” Watson told the Ottawa Citizen. “We should have a proper consultation with the broader public, not just inside government, and seek greater consensus on where the monument should be placed.”

The chair of Tribute to Liberty, Ludwik Klimkowski, took yesterday’s news in stride. “The fact that we need this unified, common place for all of us should elevate this memorial beyond any political discourse and I am really, really happy that Madam Joly is so open and so transparent that we were able to talk at length as to what needs to be accomplished,” he said. “Tribute to Liberty has endorsed [the government’s] idea.”

Not that they had much choice, but the news was certainly better for them than expected. A report from Global News earlier this month suggested that all federal funding for the memorial was going to be cut. Although the report was easily and readily dismissed, the long standing ties between Tribute to Liberty and the Conservative Party, the ramshackle way the project was being developed, and the fact that it was a pet project for Jason Kenney while we was Minister of Multiculturalism made it seem quite likely that the Liberals might pull the plug.

While some might hail this a Solomon-like decision on the part of the government, not everyone is happy. In an open letter to Joly, Miguel Figueroa, leader of the Communist Party of Canada wrote, “We note your announcement yesterday to refer the proposal back to the National Capital Commission (NCC) for further consideration. In our view however, the current project is far too politically tainted to serve any socially useful purpose in a balanced and historically accurate manner. For this reason, we feel that this particular project should be rejected on principle.”

But the Capital Commission won’t be breaking ground on the monument anytime soon. It now has to go back to through the referral process to find a designer to work within the new space and budget. Over $370,000 have already been spent on the design, which would have been 14 metres in places, and made it taller than the National War Memorial.

In other controversial monument news, there’s no word on the fate of the so-called “Mother Canada” memorial, a 24-metre tall statue in Cape Breton Highlands National Park that was called  “disrespectful and unsavoury” by such fringe groups as The Vimy Foundation. A forum on the project that was to be held in July was cancelled after key players refused to show up. With objections to “Mother Canada,” which is actually called Never Forgotten National Memorial, somehow even more controversial than the Victims of Communism memorial, what might its final fate be?

“We will be making a decision shortly,” said Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, under whose portfolio (being the minister responsible for Parks Canada) the final decision rests. “There’s a diversity of views. There are certainly people that are concerned about the location in a national park and we’ve had many letters written in that regard. So we’re just reviewing it now. There is a process under way. … I think we just need to look very carefully when we make decisions about memorials to ensure that there is public support for them.”

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