Only the National Capital Commission now stands between the implantation of a memorial to the victims of communism on the main ceremonial street of Ottawa and its realization.
The NCC, however, is composed largely of appointees of the Harper government. They have rolled over before; they might do so again, since the government is utterly determined for political reasons to get this monument built. Biting the hand that appointed them would take rare courage.
The NCC is obliged at least to listen to its design committee, chaired by Larry Beasley of Vancouver, once that city's brilliant chief planner. It is hard to imagine the design committee recommending either the memorial as contemplated, or the site. After all, the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada and the Ontario Association of Architects have objected to the site being used in this fashion.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin has expressed her concerns in writing, since the prime site would sit kitty-corner to her court's building and was originally intended for a new Federal Court building. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson has objected. So have local Liberal and NDP MPs and many independent architects and planners. Seventeen past presidents of the Canadian Bar Association have also objected.
In the face of this lineup of distinguished people and institutions, the commission would have to swallow hard to approve the design. Its hands are partly tied, however, since a previous NCC board acquiesced in the change of land use for a memorial, which is what a private group proposed and is now executing with increasingly large sums of public money to supplement its own private fundraising.
Let's cut to the chase. This monument will happen, unless the government is defeated in the fall election. And even then, shovels might strike the ground before the vote, making its cancellation difficult.
The Prime Minister wants it done, period. Even if the NCC recommends against the memorial, the cabinet can overrule the NCC. And it will, despite howls from people who a) don't like the government, b) don't like the memorial, or c) both. The howls will be from the "elites" – architects, planners, media, judges and municipal officials.
Praise will come from the intended political targets of the memorial: individuals and descendants of those who fled communist regimes, especially in Eastern Europe. Poles, Ukrainians, Czechs, Hungarians and people with lineage to the Baltic states are the target groups.
The Conservatives have worked very hard to attract these voters by other means, and the memorial represents a further tangible demonstration of the party's efforts. That the memorial has nothing central to say about Canadian history, per se, but rather of diaspora histories is irrelevant. There is political targeting going on, which could be seen in the extensive publicity given to the various announcements of the memorial's creation.
The more this government is attacked for something, the stronger its determination to proceed. We are seeing this now with the anti-terrorism legislation, Bill C-51, and we saw the same reaction last year when just about everyone in civic society, including the Chief Electoral Officer, opposed portions of suggested unilateral changes to the Fair Elections Act.
The minister who supervised that act and then stonewalled for so long was Pierre Poilievre, who, by virtue of former minister John Baird's resignation, is now the leading minister for Ottawa. Predictably, he has brushed off opposition to the memorial, saying his constituents prefer it to another downtown office building.