A 2,000-kilogram bronze statue of Queen Elizabeth II, left in storage for nearly six years, is finally destined for the front lawn of Ontario’s Legislature, with installation work to begin this spring. But the bill, originally meant to be covered by private donors, will now cost taxpayers up to $1.5-million.
The decision to go ahead has been made over the objections of the legislature’s lone First Nations MPP, the NDP’s Sol Mamakwa, who says the government should instead be prioritizing the search for unmarked graves at the residential schools that Indigenous children were forced to attend.
The Speaker of the Legislature, PC MPP Ted Arnott, had put the nearly decade-old statue project on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic, amid concerns about the toppling of statues elsewhere and fears the depiction of the monarch could become a target for protesters. The statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in front of Queen’s Park remains encased in a wooden box after being splashed with pink paint by Black Lives Matter activists in 2020, its ultimate fate still undecided.
Now, six months after the Queen’s death, the legislature’s board of internal economy, which consists of the Speaker, PC Government House Leader Paul Calandra and the NDP Opposition House Leader John Vanthof, has decided the long-delayed installation of the statue of Canada’s longest-serving head of state should proceed, Mr. Calandra told The Globe and Mail.
A groundbreaking ceremony could be held this spring, he said, and Mr. Calandra hopes King Charles III could unveil the statue himself on his first visit to Canada, which some speculate could be later this year after his coronation ceremony in May.
The statue and its pedestal will rise nearly seven metres in the air near the legislature’s new visitors entrance, to the west of its main doors – opposite the grounds’ imposing bronze of Queen Victoria, her great-great-grandmother.
Originally approved under Ontario’s previous Liberal government about eight years ago, the Elizabeth statue and its installation were supposed to have been paid for entirely by private donors. But after years of delay and uncertainty, former RBC Dominion Securities chairman Anthony (Tony) Fell, who had pledged the lion’s share of a price previously pegged at $800,000, said last year he was no longer involved.
New talks between Ontario officials and the artist, Ruth Abernethy – who had regained possession of the statue and had been left unpaid for years – concluded in recent weeks. The province has agreed to pick up the entire tab, which includes installation and a large three-metre-high granite plinth for its base.
The decision means the artwork, which depicts Elizabeth seated on the intricate Canadian throne she would use in the Senate, will be freed from the Etobicoke foundry where it has sat for years. It was originally supposed to have been ready for the 150th anniversary of Confederation, in 2017.
Ms. Abernethy declined to comment for this story, but said in an e-mail she was “looking forward to the completion of the tribute” to the Queen.
Mr. Mamakwa, the MPP for the Northern Ontario riding of Kiiwetinoong and a member of the remote Kingfisher Lake First Nation, said the residential schools issue, and not a new statue, should be the province’s focus.
“In Ontario, we’re still trying to find our children … at a time when you want to put up a statue, one of the colonial statues? That how I feel about it. It’s just not right,” he said in a brief interview with The Globe and Mail.
He was one of several NDP MPPs who declined to ceremonially retake their oaths to new monarch King Charles III last September. Mr. Mamakwa said he did speak briefly to Mr. Vanthof before the decision, but would not elaborate on what was said. Mr. Mamakwa did say he urged Mr. Vanthof to propose ways that the legislature could do more to consult Indigenous people about its monuments and memorials. (The building itself is about to undergo a decade-long restoration that could cost $1-billion.)
NDP spokesperson Erica Wallis said in an e-mailed statement that Mr. Vanthof declined to comment because the board of internal economy’s decision was still confidential. The statement also said the NDP caucus had “directed MPP Vanthof to ensure the concerns from Indigenous communities were heard.”
Mr. Calandra, the PC House Leader and a passionate monarchist, said it was important to go ahead as the decision had already been made under a previous government, with the statue already cast and the artist left unpaid for years. He defended the notion of using taxpayer dollars to cover the artwork’s cost, saying it was needed to speed up the delay-plagued project.
“This was something obviously important to us, to be able to honour Her Majesty. We thought, let’s just move quickly. It’s going to be on our grounds. Let us own it, let us take responsibility,” Mr. Calandra said.
He said the province should celebrate the stability that has come with Canada’s constitutional monarchy. He also credited the Queen with moving toward reconciliation with Indigenous people.
“The monarchy is extraordinarily important to Canada. If you want to talk about reconciliation, she started us down the path of reconciliation,” Mr. Calandra said.
The monarchists who launched the Elizabeth statue project nearly a decade ago and raised about $65,000 for the preliminary design work through a group called the Canadian Royal Heritage Trust were relieved with the news the bronze would finally be installed.
Michael Smith, a trustee of the CRHT who secured the original government approvals years ago, said he hoped the new statue would help educate Ontarians about the value of the monarchy, an institution he says has become increasingly invisible.
“Unveiling a spectacular monument to our late Queen is a way to raise that visibility, and for generations to come,” he said.