Monday, October 02, 2006

Harper goes white elephant hunting

We have a National Archives and National Library just down the street -- and they leak. The Liberals spent hundreds of millions on an archive storage building far, far away in Quebec when they could have built a new archives, library and disply area for historic pictures a few hundred yards away on the 500 vacant acres of Lebreton Flats. There's a photo gallery a block away at the Chateau Laurier that no one visits. But when Sheila Copps went hunting for a legacy, she decided to turn the old U.S. Embassy into a National Portait Gallery. The small building, just three stories, would have made a very small portrait gallery, but, well, no one would have really cared anyway. Plans were for a gallery showing pictures of ordinary folks and lefty heros like Greatest Canadian Tommy Douglas. The late NDP leader, a fine enough fellow but one passed over by the Canadian voters whenever they got the chance, was the only politician who featured prominantly on the wooden hoardings around the building. And there were supposed to be pics of immigrants, Natives, fugitive slaves, lottsa poor folk, bums riding the rods in the Depression, Japanese in internment camps, and the rest of the crowd of the formerly non-included. Anyway, the hoardings were pretty well-made, which means we had something to show for the $9 million pissed away so far:

Tories pull plug on portrait gallery
Government looking at other uses for former U.S. embassy

Tim Naumetz (Canwest)
The Conservative government, without confirming a decision publicly, is scrubbing plans for a national portrait gallery at the site of the former U.S. embassy on Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill and is considering other uses for the heritage building.

A senior Conservative confirmed the plan is dead following the publication last week of spending estimates in two departments that showed no further money designated for the gallery after this year.

But contract documents obtained through the Access to Information Act show the ill-fated project has already taken a sharp bite out of taxpayers' pockets because of unexpected delays, contract amendments and design changes under the former Liberal government.

The cost of three major contracts for the gallery mushroomed by more than 50 per cent to $5.7 million because of nearly three dozen amendments for additional work -- including a $30,000 study to project snowfall accumulation on nearby sidewalks and buildings -- after the project began in early 2003.

When former Canadian Heritage minister Sheila Copps announced the gallery project in January 2001, the estimated price tag was $22 million. By the time then-heritage minister Liza Frulla unveiled the design in March 2005, following an earlier suspension of work under the Liberal government of Paul Martin, the expected cost had grown to $44.6 million.

By last April, with the only visible work completed outside the building being a decorative wooden hoarding along the sidewalk that cost $30,000, the government had spent a total of $9 million on architectural plans, mockups, mortar inspection, interior demolition and portrait gallery staff in a new Library and Archives Canada bureau.

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