The new Liberal government has replaced a photograph of the Queen that greeted visitors to the global affairs building with two historic paintings by Quebec artist Alfred Pellan – four-and-a-half years after the previous Conservative government replaced the same Pellan paintings with the Queen's picture.
In a move that emphasizes of the Liberals' return to power after 10 years of sitting on opposition benches, and also the departure of Stephen Harper's Conservatives who leaned heavily toward monarchist symbolism, the colorful artworks by the modern master are once again gracing the lobby of the Lester B. Pearson Building in Ottawa.
"Global Affairs Canada is committed to showcasing Canada, our art and our culture in all of our facilities, whether at home here in Canada or abroad in our embassies, High Commissions and consulates," John Babcock, a department spokesperson, said in a statement released Monday. "These brightly-coloured paintings entitled 'Canada West Canada East,' depict some of the best of Canada and are an excellent way to welcome Canadians and guests to Global Affairs Canada."
John Baird, a former foreign affairs minister in the Conservative government, had them removed and replaced by the Queen's photograph just before a June 2011 visit by Prince William and his wife Catherine. The portrait of the Queen was taken in 2002 during her Golden Jubilee visit to Canada.
Some staff of the department, which was then called Foreign Affairs and International Trade, griped to reporters at the time about the removal of signature pieces of Canadian art.
Mr. Pellan, after whom the Montreal electoral riding of Alfred Pellan was named, is consider a master who brought modernity to art in Canada. Reesa Greenberg, an art historian and adjunct professor at Carleton University in Ottawa who has studied his work and his life, said Mr. Pellan is a very important artist historically who trained in Paris and then returned to Montreal to teach.
"I think it's really quite wonderful and quite appropriate" that the paintings have been returned, said Prof. Greenberg, because the paintings were some of the first examples of Canada using art as cultural diplomacy. They depict life on both sides of the country and were commissioned in 1944 to hang in the Canadian consulate in Brazil.
Prof. Greenberg said she did not understand why the Pellan paintings and the Queen's photograph could not be displayed together.
Robert Finch, the dominion chairman of the Monarchist League of Canada, made the same point.
"Naturally, we're disappointed in the decision to remove the Queen's portrait from the Pearson building lobby. In my view, there is more than enough room to display all three portraits: The Queen and the Alfred Pellan paintings. This is probably what should've happened four years ago, and it's what should happen today," said Mr. Finch.
"The timing is bad because it makes it look as though the new government wants to downplay the monarchy," he said, "and I don't think they want to do that at all."
The incoming Liberal government has been warmly received by bureaucrats, including those at Global Affairs, who turned out by the hundreds last week to cheer the arrival of Global Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion, Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In a startling break from the normally non-partisan stance taken by federal employees, they loudly applauded Mr. Dion as he spoke to the media and then crowded around Mr. Trudeau to shake his hand.
Mr. Trudeau sent a letter to diplomats abroad after his swearing-in to say a new era in international engagement had begun and they had critical roles to play.
"You are experienced, skilled professionals, and some of Canada's best assets internationally," he wrote. "Under my leadership, you will have a government that believes in you and will support you in your work around the world." Under the Conservatives, speeches and meetings of the members of the foreign service had to be vetted by Ottawa.