Skip to main content

artist rendering of the proposed "Mother Canada" memorial in Cape Breton. Credit: Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation.

Stephen Harper was passionate about Canadian history. But his government also understood how it could be used to serve political ends.

With the change in government, it is time to reassess two prospective historical monuments that the Harper government promoted with a zeal that overrode proper public scrutiny.

The first is the controversial Memorial to the Victims of Communism, planned for a prime piece of Ottawa's parliamentary real estate near the Supreme Court of Canada – a site long designated for a new Federal Court building.

The privately backed memorial raises many yellow flags, from its daunting scale and discouraging message (corpses figured largely in the original design) to its questionable location and dependence on taxpayer funding. The biggest complaint from opponents was the partisanship of the process that discouraged broad public consultation. The memorial was seen as a pet project of Conservative ministers who, in seeking the support of groups linked to the monument's anti-Communist message, fast-tracked its development with a fervour that shut down opposition.

The National Capital Commission did well to soften the harsh design of the project, but its wisest move was to postpone any decisions until after the federal election. The incoming Liberal government now has the opportunity to give the memorial the critical attention it deserves. At the very least, it should be moved to a more suitable location, away from such a prime site in the heart of the capital.

The same critical gaze should be turned on the outsized Mother Canada statue, a privately promoted expression of monumentality proposed for an evocative coastline site in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Like its counterpart in Ottawa, this gigantic tribute to Canada's war dead, whose style and scale would do Stalin proud, has proved to be a disheartening exercise in disunity – largely because the overseers of Parks Canada severely limited public input into the highly flawed proposal's design and purpose.

While the eight-storey monolith enjoys local support from those who hope it will create jobs and draw tourists, it remains an ugly and unfitting memorial. History needs to honoured by something better than a monumental mistake.