Friday, November 09, 2007

Selective memory: A portrait

This whole saga surrounding the proposed national portrait gallery has probably flown under the radar of most people, save the portrait gallery fan community and their numbers are fairly small, as fervent as they may be.

Most people though likely haven’t been paying attention, which may be why the Harper Cons thought they could get away with this (though why the media let them try I dunno):

Portrait gallery on hold

Tim Naumetz, CanWest News Service

Published: Friday, November 09, 2007

OTTAWA - The federal government will announce today it has scrapped a six-year-old Liberal plan to build a Canadian portrait gallery in the former U.S. embassy and will instead spend $23-million on the project at another location.

Heritage Minister Josee Verner and Public Works Minister Michael Fortier scheduled a news conference for today where they are expected to announce a new proposal that could include use of private-sector space for the gallery.

The end of the plan to put the gallery in the former embassy would cap a turbulent history that began soon after it was announced by the Chretien government in January, 2001.

The controversy centred primarily on skyrocketing costs, from an original construction budget of $22-million to an overall cost of $44.6-million by last year.

Gee, those dastardly, money-wasting Liberals, no? Not quite. Because I have been paying attention (more because of my interest in pork barreling then my love of portraits, though I do like a good portrait as much as the next guy), and so I recall this story, even if CanWest doesn’t, from nearly one year ago:

National Portrait Gallery: 'It's pork barrel politics'

Documents and leaks to an Ottawa MP point to the gallery being built in Calgary, home to the Prime Minister's riding, and partly funded by EnCana

VAL ROSS

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

Although an Ottawa home for the proposed National Portrait Gallery is already under way -- more than $9-million worth of work has been done on a magnificent Beaux Arts building on Wellington Street -- an Ottawa MP says the gallery will go to Calgary.

NDP MP Paul Dewar had made an access-to-information request for documents related to the portrait gallery. All but two sentences in the 42 pages he obtained were blacked out, but Dewar says they, and subsequent government leaks, indicate that gallery will be built in the city of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's home riding, partly funded by energy giant EnCana. "It's pork barrel politics," Dewar told The Globe and Mail. "And no one is denying it."

And CanWest themselves covered it at the time too:

Calgary location for national portrait gallery expected

Paul Gessell , CanWest News Service; Ottawa Citizen

Published: Wednesday, December 06, 2006

OTTAWA - A deal between the federal government and energy giant EnCana to locate the Portrait Gallery of Canada to Calgary is expected to be announced within a few weeks.

New Democratic Party MP Paul Dewar said Tuesday he had been tipped in an anonymous e-mail that the gallery would be located in a new development by EnCana in downtown Calgary and largely financed by the company.

Both the government and EnCana have refused to confirm or deny the partnership, but Heritage Minister Bev Oda confirmed she has been shopping outside of Ottawa for a new portrait gallery home and EnCana has said it will be making an announcement ''within a few weeks'' concerning the occupants of 100,000 square feet of ''cultural space'' within its new building. That building is set to open in 2010 or 2011…

Some six months after the supposedly imminent announcement however, the deal was off:

Portrait gallery not moving to Calgary: MP

Tom Babin, CanWest News Service

Published: Friday, June 29, 2007

The future of the peripatetic Portrait Gallery of Canada appears uncertain again as controversial plans to house the federal gallery in a Calgary office tower have apparently been dropped.

Jim Prentice, the Minister of Indian Affairs and an MP for Calgary, confirmed the government will not locate the proposed gallery in a 58-storey office project being built by EnCana Corp., the oil and gas giant. EnCana put in a bid to house the gallery last year.

So, it will be interesting to see where the gallery ends up after all. If the Conservatives do indeed actually make an announcement this time. Pretty sure it won’t be in the originally intended and renovated location in Ottawa though. Stephen Harper has other plans for the former U.S. embassy, along with a few more million of our taxpayer dollars in reno fees:

… it’s odd Harper would want to take a space that was intended for a public portrait gallery and convert it into a multi-million dollar, private, receiving-hall for Pres…Prime Minister Harper to welcome foreign dignitaries…

So, if we’re going to talk about controversy and skyrocketing costs, that's fair, but let’s not forget the facts like that this should have all been settled a year or more ago, that the delay was an attempt by the PM to put the gallery in his own riding, and that the PM also wants to add to the tab by paying to renovate the already renovated building that was intended to house the gallery by turning it into his own private receiving hall so he can pretend he’s the president.

Would seem like some relevant context to some...

UPDATE: As I wrote this post, Conservative Heritage Minister (yes, they have one) Josee Verner announced a nine-city competition/rfp process to decide who gets to host the gallery. In the running will be Halifax, Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa-Gatineau, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.

"Our government has set forth the notion that national cultural institutions do not necessarily have to be located in the national capital," said Heritage Minister Josée Verner at a news conference Friday announcing what she called "a bold and innovative step."

Or they might be. Or they might be located in Calgary. Or they might not be. What a mess that has been made of this whole thing. First they give the finger to Ottawa, and the money already spent to prepare the site there, so say it’s going to Calgary. And then they give the finger to Calgary, saying maybe you’ll get it, maybe Ottawa will, maybe Halifax will (my advice: don’t get too excited until the paintings are on the wall, Halogonians).

If it does indeed come to Ottawa (again, breath should not be held Ottawans) it won’t be in the embassy site. What about the money already spent preparing that site? Everyone’s favoutite unelected, unaccountable, appointed Senator, Michael Fortier, addresses that:

…Fortier said about half of that would have been spent on the project even if work hadn't begun on the site in Ottawa.

And half wouldn’t have been. But hey, it will help defray the costs of Stephen Harper’s regal receiving hall, so there is a silver lining after all.

Anyway, instead of opening in 2007, the Conservative ‘management’ of the gallery issue has delayed the opening until at least 2011 or 2012, according to Fortier, if then. Nice work guys.

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1 comment:

900 ft Jesus said...

nice refresher Jeff. It's easy for people to forget how the two issues (greeting hall and gallery) are connected..