The Harper Government is currently backing two huge “memorial” projects: First, the “Never Forgotten” National Memorial, more commonly called the Statue of “Mother Canada”, planned for construction in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. A friend of mine said she’d like to hear my opinion on this, so here it is: What a fucking waste.
Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely agree that we should be memorializing Canada’s war dead, I just don’t understand why we need an incredibly ugly, Statue of Liberty-sized sculpture coring out the centre of a ecologically sensitive national park. I’m not the only Canadian who feels this way, either: the Globe and Mail issued an editorial this week condemning the plan as “offensively tasteless”, a “brutal megalith” of the style “best left to Stalinist tyrants, theme-park entrepreneurs and insecure municipalities hoping to waylay bored drive-by tourists.” The kindest thing the editorial states about the plan is that it’s “hugely redundant” owing to the fact that there are already hundreds of memorials to Canada’s war dead across the country… not least of which is the very centre and symbol of Parliament Hill, the Peace Tower.
Other complaints about the planned monument include the destruction of a protected natural site in order to raise this monstrosity, and the (minimum) thirty million dollar price tag to build it.
Not being a veteran myself, one could argue that I’m just commenting from the peanut gallery, but considering the disgraceful failures of Veterans Affairs Canada, I’m personally of the opinion that a more fitting memorial to Canada’s war dead might be spending more on the support of surviving veterans… or if the Tories are really that dead-set against helping actual living people, I suppose they could just put the money into maintaining veteran’s gravestones.
The second ugly-ass monument that the Harper Government is trying to build is right in downtown Ottawa near the Supreme Court building. The “Tribute to Liberty” Memorial to the Victims of Communism project has been wracked with controversy, accusations of procedural wrongdoing and governmental interference, as well as the now-familiar Harper Government ambiguities about final cost.
Worst of all is the blatantly ideological motivation of the project: never mind that there’s a new Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, or for that matter the Canadian War Museum literally down the street (which I can personally attest is a profound and powerful site), the right-wing, neo-conservative Harper Government is grimly determined to have their pro-Conservative legacy parked on prime real estate fronting on Wellington Street. Ironically (and with rather morbid symbolism) the space where the memorial will be placed was originally intended for an expansion of either the Supreme Court or the National Library — despite their critical importance to Canadian governance, neither institution is held in much regard by Stephen Harper or his cronies.
To be clear: I have no love for the 20th century’s various versions of “Communism”. My father and grandparents suffered under Soviet rule before fleeing Hungary in the aftermath of the Hungarian Revolution. While I personally identify as a leftist, but I have no illusions, no illusions at all, about the viability or desirability of Marxist-Leninist or Maoist Communism — they were not (and are not) “socialist” regimes, but the worst kind of totalitarianism tarted up with a lot of red stars and hypocritical slogans about “comradeship.” I believe strongly in the need for a (small-s) socialist approach to government, the need for workers’ unity, and for a moderate amount of state interference in the free market; I am emphatically opposed to any regime which rejects and abuses basic human rights, civil rights, or the rule of law for the convenience of the ruling class — all of which the supposedly “classless” Soviet Socialist Republics routinely did.
As a quick aside, I’ve always found modern self-professed Communists a little perplexing: If there’s one thing the twentieth century has demonstrated, it’s that the ends never justify the means; rather, the means shape the ends. Nowhere is this clearer than in the Soviet system: however idealistic the bolshevik revolution might have in the beginning, it put Josef Stalin in power within five years. The Revolution in Russia failed, as it would later fail in China, Cuba, Korea and almost every other nation where a “Socialist Republic” was installed. (And in any case, wherever a nominally Communist state still exists, such as China or Vietnam, they have had to embrace capitalist – and to a limited extent democratic – principles to bolster their economies and survive.) “Pure” Marxism just isn’t a viable political ideology… modern Communists have always seemed to me akin to Flat-Earthers, clinging to an obviously disproved ideology out of sheer obtuseness.
But for all my dislike of Soviet-style “Communism” I really, really don’t want to see this ugly monument built. The Toronto Star, earlier this year, published an editorial by no less a personage than Hungarian-Canadian doctor, speaker and author Gabor Maté denouncing the “cynical” Victims of Communism memorial as an “esthetic monstrosity” and “a tribute to moral obtuseness.” He was, in my opinion, understating the case.
For all the government’s pious declarations of “memorializing the fallen”, these two monuments have no real value except to serve as Stephen Harper’s neo-conservative ideological legacy. Each represents, in its own way, a facet of the hypocrisy of the Harper Government: “Mother Canada” is an aesthetically hideous, ecologically insensitive and completely redundant waste of taxpayer money which could be far better spent on actually helping veterans; the “Victims of Communism” is a brutalist concrete structure cynically imposed via government interference and overspending for the mere edification of the ruling party’s ideology.
We should not be celebrating such hypocrisy, much less carving it into everlasting stone.