Wednesday, June 20, 2012

On preserving the past.

The Conservative Party of Canada talks a really good game about a lot of things. The economy, for example. We've all heard how they are masters of the economy, creating jobs, opening up opportunities, developing new sectors, and so on. It's not working out so great, but they don't really seem to care. After all, for them and their base -- and, for that matter, the idiot media -- it's all about the narrative. It's all about the story. As long as you tell the right story, then reality and all its messy attendants -- suffering, misery, death -- can be airily dismissed.

Speaking of stories, the Conservatives under Il Duce Harper proclaim themselves the guardians and protectors of our great Canadian history. They want us to be proud of being Canadian, to see how glorious our past has been, how great our future can be.

Except, there's certain parts of our history they don't seem to be very big fans of. For example (and I'm working from memory here, so some details may be a tish hazy): last night, watching the news, saw something from, I believe, Brandon, MB about a new memorial wall for WWII pilots. Which is fine. I'm not objecting to this. And the feds ponied up some money for it. Again, still fine.

But I was also watching the news from Winnipeg, only to see that the Louis Riel House has had its federal funding cut. You remember Riel, right? Metis dude, rebelled against the federal government back in the 19th century, helped found Manitoba, ended up getting executed for treason. Anyway, he has a house -- technically, it's the house where he lay in state after being hanged -- in Winnipeg which you could go and see, and have a guided tour. The feds pulled the funding for the tour, which means that you could now only go and look at the outside of the house and look around the grounds.

Isn't that interesting? Money for a monument to pilots, no money for tours about a (disputed) Father of Confederation.

(This one has a somewhat happy ending, as the Metis Foundation has stepped up to fundraise like nuts to keep the house open to the public. But, really, it's part of our history -- why do they have to keep it open to the public?)

Another example. Everybody and their sibling has been flipping out over the Conservatives' austerity budget. And there's lots to hate there. But here's a cut that doesn't make any sense: lighthouses. Not just regular ol' lighthouses which ships navigate by; historic lighthouses, which serve as a physical connection to our maritime history. But, the federal government has decided that it no longer has any money to pay for upkeep, and wants to ditch them. That's over 500 lighthouses.

There is a process to apply to Parks Canada to get them designated as national heritage sites, which would fold them into the Parks Canada budget. (Which is also being cut, in case you hadn't noticed. Reduced hours and reduced staff at national parks this summer, folks. Happy camping!) Parks expects about half of the lighthouses designated for closure to get their applications in on time; there is no indication yet as to how many might get approved. I'm guessing not many, given that Parks doesn't have enough money to handle what it's already trying to run.

The lighthouses scheduled for closure and sale include the well-known Peggy's Cove lighthouse. Fortunately, the government of Nova Scotia is trying to buy that one from the feds. Unfortunately, the feds are refusing to restore it to a decent condition before selling it. The paint is peeling badly, and restoring that would require stripping the paint back to concrete and starting over, which could cost about $500K. The NS government is saying, reasonably enough, that since the paint degraded when the feds were in control, it's their problem to fix. The feds are saying, effectively, that they'll cheerfully let the lighthouse rot before they spend a dime on it.

Isn't that interesting? There's money for military history, lots of money, apparently; and lots of government attention, too. (Heritage Minister James Moore was in TO at Fort York for the bicentennial of the War of 1812.) But there's no money for maritime history. Unless there's warships or submarines involved or something, I suppose.

The Conservatives say that they want to preserve our history and make sure we remember our glorious past. That's what you'd expect conservatives to say. But what they're actually doing is quite radical -- they are rewriting our past, obliterating elements they don't like, overemphasizing the elements they do.

And since this government is clearly not willing to listen to anybody but sycophants and ideologues, the best bet for all concerned is to start leaning on the provinces and the cities and towns. If the Government of Canada isn't concerned with Canada's past, then there's no other way that I can see to preserve it.

(On an unrelated note: Ottawa, you lucky bastards. I watched Rogers' Talk Ottawa last night, and they had an actual, serious, informed debate about building light rail lines and public transit generally. You lucky, lucky bastards. Not sure it makes up for having to live in Ottawa, though. I kid... mostly.)

No comments: