Canada’s federal government released their 2021 budget yesterday, and it include $4 million for a controversial project located in the Ottawa area.
Chrystia Freeland, the first female federal finance minister, announced the budget, which was the first federal budget released since 19 March 2019.
Her predecessor, Bill Morneau had planned to released a budget on 30 March 2020, but that was postponed due to the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
One thing I found was an allocation of $4 million to Canadian Heritage “to support the completion of the Memorial to the Victims of Communism.”
According to the budget, the memorial “will recognize Canada as a place of refuge for people fleeing injustice and persecution and honour the millions who have suffered under communist regimes.”
The memorial isn’t without controversy.
It got its start as an idea with Jason Kenney, Alberta’s premier, who at the time was Canada’s secretary of state for multiculturalism. He was touring a private park in Toronto in 2007 when he encountered a monument dedicated to victims of Soviet oppression.
He was inspired to have a similar monument in Ottawa.
A year later, a group formed called the Open Book Group, intent on building such a monument, and Jason Kenney met with them. A couple of months after that meeting, they filed a formal submission for the project to the National Capital Commission.
That summer, Kenney’s staff organized a meeting in Toronto about a monument in Ottawa, said that they were organizing a group, and invited interested parties to submit resumés.
Open Book Group applied, despite having already submitted a project proposal months before, but they never heard back. Not only that, but around the same time as the government announcement, another group had formed for this project: Tribute to Liberty.
The NCC encouraged Open Book Group and Tribute to Liberty to collaborate on a joint proposal, which they submitted the following June. However, by that point, everyone with Open Book Group had been pushed out of the project, so it was functionally a Tribute to Liberty project.
Oh, also by this point, Kenney was now the minister of citizenship, immigration, and multiculturalism.
The founding chair of Tribute to Liberty was Philip Leong, one of Kenney’s friends, who had actually ran as a Canadian Alliance candidate in 2000. A later chair, Alide Forstmanis, had also run to be a conservative MP, but in the 2007 election. And another director of the organization, Wladyslaw Lizon, was elected as a conservative MP in 2011.
In September 2009, the NCC approved the general concept of something that commemorated victims of state violence, but their suggested changing the title so it wasn’t specific to communism, that it included honouring the victims of totalitarian states everywhere.
The two groups eventually compromised on the title of “A Monument to Victims of Totalitarian Communism”. That monument somehow evolved into a memorial and somehow lost the “totalitarian” modifier.
The land where it was to be constructed was originally slated for a new justice building. Despite already being reserved, the Conservative government under Stephen Harper reassigned the 5,374-square-metre site to the memorial, which will fill about a third of the space. All without any public consultation.
By comparison, the Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington, DC is a 3-metre-tall statue on a 214-square-metre piece of land.
In 2015, the cost of the project was projected to be $5-million. The Harper government committed $3 million to it, as well as the land, which itself was worth $1 million.
However, a federal election a short time later changed that promise.
The new government under the Trudeau Liberals—after Tribute to Liberty failed to attract the private investments they had promised—capped construction costs at $3 million, splitting the pricetag down the middle between the government and Tribute to Liberty. Plus, they moved the location of the memorial to the Garden of the Provinces and Territories, and started a new design process.
Construction never began until November 2019, a decade after it was originally approved (in concept). But then it saw several delays due to the pandemic.
There’s no indication in yesterday’s budget whether the government ended up already spending their $1.5 million share of the funding or whether that’s included in the new funding. Nor did it mention how much Tribute to Liberty has been able to raise.
However, one page in the budget did show that no money was spent last year on the project. Of all the budgets I check going back to 2014, this appears to be the only one with any information about the memorial.
Oh, and let’s just take a moment to remember that, technically, “communism” is a stateless, classless, egalitarian society. “Communist government” is an oxymoron. This is not a memorial to victims of communism, but a memorial to victims of authoritarianism.
Also, where’s the memorial to the victims of capitalism?