Rarely do governments come to their senses in time to make an efficacious difference in the lives of the people they represent. But when they do, it’s occasion for commemoration.
So it was last week when agents of the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau announced that a planned war memorial for Cape Breton Highlands National Park – the brainchild of a private consortium that had received fulsome, moral support from the former Conservative government under Stephen Harper – would not proceed.
The so-called ‘Mother Canada’ monument would have been a 24-metre-tall testament to the dogged determination of a Toronto businessman who, having seen the graves of the nation’s war dead in Europe, thought it would be a swell idea to erect a statue in honour of them along one of the prettiest and ecologically significant coastlines in the country.
Writing in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald last year, columnist Ralph Surette fairly foamed at the mouth about the proposal and the evident support it received from the federal government at the time.
“For those who still don’t fully understand the game, the ‘Mother Canada’ controversy should provide some enlightenment,” he wrote. “The discovery that Parks Canada has furnished $100,000 to the project – after swearing that the statue in Cape Breton Highlands Park was a purely private project – blows the lid off the scheme. The political engineering comes from the Prime Minister’s Office.
“This is Stephen Harper building yet another monument to himself. It’s not just the money. The fact that the rules governing national parks have been casually trashed to accommodate the project has the PMO’s fingerprints all over it. No use hollering at Parks Canada bureaucrats. Like everyone else in government, they’ve been reduced to yo-yos of the PMO, detached from their guiding principles.”
Not anymore, it seems. Parks Canada officials, now presumably untethered from their partisan leashes, have correctly adjudged that Canada requires another war memorial of this monstrous sort like it needs a hole in its head. After all, what possible benefit to memory and national pride does a stone giant facing Europe – which can be seen properly only by denizens of international fishing trawlers – actually provide?
For their part, government reps are explaining their decision in more diplomatic and circumspect terms. According to a report in the Globe and Mail this week, “Daniel Watson, the chief executive officer of Parks Canada, said that the agency reviewed the war memorial proposed for the Cape Breton park and concluded there were too many problems preventing its completion by July 1, 2017, the date of its planned unveiling, including the availability of funds to the private foundation backing the project.”
Specifically, Mr. Watson stipulated, “As a result, the project will not be moving forward on Parks Canada land.”
It may, however, move forward in another guise on private land. More’s the pity. Still, that’s not a matter for public policy to settle.
In truth, the most irksome feature about this project was never its grandness or aesthetic effrontery; it was the very notion that land held in trust by the Government of Canada on behalf of the people of Canada – all people of Canada – could be so easily and cavalierly betrothed to private interests who may, or may not, have an ideological bone to pick with our common heritage.
Good Lord! What would be next?
Carving the faces of Canada’s first prime ministers, Mount Rushmore-like, into New Brunswick’s world-famous flowerpot rocks? Erecting the ‘Tomb of the Unknown Corporate Donor’ to boot?
Governments don’t do many things right. But when they do, it’s time to commemorate.