Digging will begin this summer in preparation for the construction of a monument to victims of communism after the National Capital Commission board voted to start work on the controversial project.
The vote to decontaminate the site next to the Supreme Court of Canada passed 6-3 with the majority overruling NCC board chair Russell Mills.
"I voted against it primarily because I think it's premature to start the decontamination before we have an actual approved design," Mr. Mills told reporters later.
The motion passed thanks in part to three new board members who were appointed to cabinet just ahead of the meeting, prompting criticism that the Conservative government stacked the Crown corporation with supporters in order to get its way. Two other new board members announced this week won't start until July 1.
The project has attracted controversy in part because the government wants it built on a highly visible site that Parliament had previously approved for a new Federal Court building.
Critics have also challenged the size and look of the monument, arguing that it was larger than the National War Memorial further down Wellington Street and that the focus on communist states did not fit with Canadian history.
The NCC announced revised plans Thursday that do not address concerns over the location, but do attempt to address objections as to the look of the monument.
The original plan took up 60 per cent of a prominent square on Ottawa's Wellington Street, immediately southwest of the Supreme Court of Canada.
The latest plans show a monument that would only take up 37 per cent of the space. Officials said the plans are not yet final and could be further reduced to 33 per cent. The maximum height has been reduced from 14 metres to 8 metres.
The focus of the memorial has shifted to the theme of Canada as a land of refuge, recognizing the story of immigrants who came to Canada in order to escape from communist regimes.
A special meeting of the NCC board will take place later this summer to vote on final plans. The plans revealed Thursday are still $400,000 above the project's $5.5-million budget. The costs of decontaminating the site are in addition to the project's budget.
Officials noted that some work has been done to examine whether the monument could be located in an alternative space just west of the current location. However, NCC CEO Mark Kristmanson reminded the board that the government wants the monument on the existing site.
The space is currently a grassy square bordered by trees and parking spaces.
Board member Norman Hotson, a Vancouver-based architect, also voted against the decontamination. He said the work will "scar" the land at a time when there is still a possibility that the monument will not be built on that site.
The federal NDP and Liberals have both said they support the monument but not the location.
During a joint news conference with Mr. Mills, Dr. Kristmanson rejected suggestions that the government has stacked the NCC board in order to get its way.
"We're in an election season and many things are being said that defy reality," he said, noting that he and Mr. Mills urged the minister responsible for the NCC, Pierre Poilievre, to update the board appointments earlier this year because some terms had expired.
"There's no stacking of the board. As you can see from the discussion, it's a lively discussion with many points of view and when the chair and the CEO don't vote the same way on a motion, it shows we have a healthy organization," he said.
Dr. Kristmanson said the debate over the monument has been positive but he cautioned that it should not go too far.
"There is also a point where the debate around these things starts being pushed for other agendas and other reasons," he said. "There is a risk of starting to re-victimize the victims who were affected in the first place. And there are millions of Canadians who were touched by this story."
NDP Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar said the government is acting in an undemocratic way by ignoring the significant opposition to the project.
"We're talking about a monument to honour those who were victimized from totalitarian dictatorships and we have a government that is using their role and their power in a way that you would see [used] by governments that really don't care what people think. The irony is pretty rich," he said. "I think this monument, if it goes ahead, will be seen as a monument to irony because of the way it was done."