The mayor of Ottawa is hoping plans for a large grey monument to the victims of communism near the Supreme Court of Canada will be reconsidered now that a new federal minister is in charge of the national capital region.
Monday's cabinet shuffle saw Nepean-Carleton MP Pierre Poilievre promoted as employment minister and also minister responsible for the National Capital Commission, effectively making him the senior political minister for the Ottawa-Gatineau region.
The NCC is a federal body that funds programs and parks in the national capital, occasionally leading to conflict with municipal governments.
In an interview, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said he hopes to work well with Mr. Poilievre on issues like light rail and measures to clean up the Ottawa River. But he also weighed in on the controversial plan to erect a large monument to the victims of communism in a prominent location on Wellington Street southwest of the Supreme Court of Canada.
"Personally, I think it's going to overshadow and be quite a blight on the precinct of the Supreme Court," said Mr. Watson. "The Supreme Court building and its front lawn and its surroundings are very attractive and they're a tourist attraction but they're also a functional justice building and when I've seen the drawings, I think the monument is completely out of character and size for that location."
Mr. Watson said the announcement of the monument is one of several examples in which the federal government has made major local decisions without consulting with the city.
"I don't know if the horses are out of the barnyard on that one, but it's one of a number of issues that I think we need to better communicate so we're not caught off guard by the decisions," he said.
The monument has been heavily promoted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney, who retains that title even though Monday's cabinet shuffle saw him move from Employment and Social Development to Minister of National Defence.
In a speech last year, Mr. Harper said the monument is needed to ensure the mistakes of the past are not repeated.
"Whatever it calls itself – Nazism, Marxist-Leninism, today, terrorism – they all have one thing in common: the destruction, the end, of human liberty," he said. "My fear is this: as we move further into the 21st century, Canadians, especially new generations, will forget or will not be taught the lessons hard learned and the victories hard earned over the last 100 years... That's why Canada needs this monument."
Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin has written to Public Works expressing concern with the project.
A copy of the letter, obtained by the Ottawa Citizen, said the memorial "could send the wrong message within the judicial precinct, unintentionally conveying a sense of bleakness and brutalism that is inconsistent with a space dedicated to the administration of justice."
As the new minister responsible for the NCC, one of Mr. Poilievre's most pressing files will be the future of Ottawa's light rail program. Construction is already under way for phase one of the project, which includes digging a tunnel underneath downtown Ottawa. The first phase was paid for with federal, provincial and municipal money. Ontario has said it will contribute to the city's plans to expand the line in a second phase, but the federal government has been noncommittal.
The NCC has been sparring with the City of Ottawa over the location of the expanded transit line.
Mr. Baird, who was then the minister responsible for the NCC, agreed to a 100-day truce with the Ottawa Mayor in order to give time for federal and municipal officials to work out an agreement behind the scenes. That truce expires on March 6. Mr. Watson said he expects that timeline can be maintained even with the cabinet shuffle.
Mr. Poilievre was not available for an interview, but issued a statement thanking the Prime Minister "and the Canadian people" for the opportunity to serve.
"It is an honour," he said. "The new role will allow me to advance our low-tax plan for families. Lower taxes create jobs and help families get ahead."