Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly said last week that she wants more consultations before making a decision on the Memorial to the Victims of Communism on Parliament Hill, and that was music to Ottawa architect Barry Padolsky’s ears.
The monument, whose main proponent is the non-profit group Tribute to Liberty, was a lightning rod for criticism under the last government since the first public support for the project was announced in 2012.
Padolsky was an early opponent, and he said he believes the review will result in a smaller, redesigned memorial located somewhere else in the city.
“Joly sent a signal that the new Liberal government wants to demonstrate a shared commitment to a fine capital,” he said.
The Liberal’s unexpected majority win dealt a blow to the project, which two Liberal Ottawa-area MPs has questioned. Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna said on the campaign trail that the memorial was in an unsuitable location, and MP Anita Vandenbeld said that the project needed to demonstrate more public support in order to be viable.
The original design called for a large, stepped concrete monument adorned with scenes of crimes committed by communist governments and would have been the second largest memorial in Ottawa behind the National War Memorial. The proposed memorial was to be located in a currently empty lot beside the Supreme Court of Canada that had been previously earmarked for a new judicial building.
Opponents were roundly critical of the bleak design, prominent placement and lack of connection to Canadian history of the memorial, as well as the perception that it had been forced on the National Capital Commission (NCC), which controls the parliamentary precinct in Ottawa, by the Harper government.
The Canadian Bar Association, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Beverley McLachlin, and the Globe and Mail editorial board all spoke out on the issue and called for the monument to be redesigned, moved or scrapped entirely.
Padolsky says he does not take a position on the design itself, but that his opposition was based on the cavalier way the previous government adopted the proposal without adequately consulting the municipal government or the residents of Ottawa.
He said the NCC has long had a reputation for secrecy and doesn’t do nearly enough to involve the public in its decisions.
“This is now the 21st century. Canadians expect to have their voices heard,” he said.
The Ottawa Citizen reported in August that NCC chair Russ Mills said the board had “no choice” but to approve the memorial despite its own concerns about the process.
Last Thursday, Joly said she would ask the NCC to come up with ideas on how to increase openness and transparency at the unelected body, which is responsible for development of the federal lands around Ottawa as well as some of the city’s national festivals.
Padolsky said that was a step in the right direction.
“The consultation with local government is crucial for the integrated approach to development in the capital,” he said. “This is a breakthrough to see the federal cabinet minister responsible for the National Capital Commission ask for stakeholder input on such a hot issue.”
The NCC referred questions about the memorial to the Canadian Heritage ministry, which did not respond to a request for comment.
Tribute to Liberty is headed by Ludwik Klimkowski. A Polish Canadian, he shares with the rest of the organization’s board a connection to the repressive Communists governments in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia.
When reached by phone on Friday, Klimkowski said he had already met with members of the department and was planning to sit down with Joly this week.
He declined to elaborate on how the initial meetings had gone.
“Out of respect for the minister and the process, I have no comment,” he said.