Portrait of a capital; The Harper government’s refusal to support a national portrait gallery in Ottawa
Portrait of a capital; The Harper government’s refusal to support a national portrait gallery in Ottawa shows it doesn’t see how great this city is—and how much greater it should be I don’t think that Stephen Harper and I share the same view when we look at the portrait of Ottawa.
I see a place where extraordinary historical figures, leaders and artists have come to work and to contribute to our economy and quality of life. In what other Canadian city do prime ministers and cabinet ministers, students and teachers, ambassadors and community activists live side by side?
I see a place of natural beauty bounded by historic and majestic waterways—in many ways, a river city, just like London with the Thames or Paris with the Seine. But perhaps, more than other capitals, Ottawa’s physical attributes make it a natural location built for outdoor life and sport, whether it is professional hockey or amateur soccer, cycling along the parkway, weekend skiing, or skating and boating along the Rideau Canal.
But our deep rivers and canal are not our only claim to fame. There is massive intellectual depth here, too. This is a city devoted to education, home to two of Canada’s great universities and home to some wonderful training institutions. It is not surprising that the Ottawa area has one of the largest numbers of people with graduate degrees in the country, and many of them are entrepreneurs, who give us our “high-tech” edge.
I see a city that is an intersection for cross-cultural discourse and exchange—a truly international place with a bilingual character. We are the home of the Ottawa accord on landmines. We are home to the diplomatic corps, which along with a diverse population, provides the impetus for an understanding of the world beyond our borders. In addition, our many respected national centres are devoted to shaping Canada’s role in the world.
We house important institutions that contribute to peace, development and understanding in the world. The Canadian International Development Agency, the International Development Research Centre, and of course the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, are institutions recognized and respected throughout the world.
I see a city which rings with echoes of historical debate; a place where stories and national legends lurk around the corners of our House of Commons. This is a city in which great figures on the world stage have visited and shared their thoughts with Canadians.
And yet in spite of our strong national cloak, which settles over us all with great excitement on July 1, the day we celebrate Canada’s birthday on Parliament Hill, this is a city bursting with vibrant local community neighbourhoods, full of artistry, creativity and fantastic volunteers. A city that knows we need to take care of those of our neighbours and friends who sometimes struggle through hard times.
Apparently, Mr. Harper doesn’t see any of this. Apparently, he doesn’t know that tourists flock here from all over the world to gaze in awe at our magnificent Parliamentary Library. Apparently, he has never walked along the side of the rushing river at the bottom of Parliament Hill, either to visit the hushed stillness of the Supreme Court of Canada or to wander quietly through the magnificence that is our national art gallery. Apparently, he doesn’t understand our nation’s capital is a city filled with treasures and heritage. A city made for the Portrait Gallery of Canada.
Because if he did, the clock on the Peace Tower would not be ticking down to midnight on May 16—the hour and the date when proposals are sealed for the new portrait gallery.
By declaring that Ottawa is no longer the natural and national “home” for our cultural institutions the Harper government has already changed the face of Ottawa. The decision to sell the portrait gallery to the highest bidder is symptomatic of the Harper government’s refusal to assist Ottawa.
A treasured national institution could go elsewhere for a price. What does that say to tourists who come to visit the national capital? To the students who come here by the thousands every year to examine their heritage and understand their government? It says the Harper government thinks Ottawa is second class. Ottawa just doesn’t seem to be on the federal government’s map for investment, whether in transportation infrastructure or cultural institutions.
There is so much that can be done to make Ottawa even better. There is no question that we have some challenges. There is visible and invisible poverty that is unacceptable in a great city. Furthermore, while crime statistics have generally decreased in Ottawa, there are genuine neighbourhood concerns. The recent W5 report about drug trafficking within this city’s core has given us all a wake-up call.
We know we need to find “best practices” for the governance of our city. We need more boulevards, protected green spaces, a greater sense of the architectural heritage of the city, affordable housing and a renewed look for Lansdowne Park. We need strong institutions in both the academic and government worlds to appreciate science and undertake better research and development. We need opportunities to create new jobs in clean and sustainable industries and opportunities for increased tourist traffic so that our small-business owners can realize their own potential.
All of this is possible. But first, we need to protect our capital. Write to Mr. Harper and tell him that Ottawa should be home to the portrait gallery. Ask him to attend the noon rally at the NCC Infocentre tomorrow, organized by Ottawa-Centre MP Paul Dewar.
Let’s do our very best to remind Stephen Harper that Ottawa is a portrait itself. Canada’s portrait.
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