Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Nepotistic Boondoogle

The idea perhaps originated in the PMO after last election. Being a minority government who knew when King Stephen might get kicked from office. So lets find a legacy project for Steve. And viola what should appear on the horizon but the National Portrait Gallery. And as I pointed out here suddenly it was being moved out of Ottawa, lock, stock, and special atmospheric preservation equipment, to the Calgary riding of the PM.

Until last week when the whole idea was shelved, cause Calgary no longer looked like a shoe in for best P3 deal.

In a scathing editorial in the National Post entitled Portrait of Incompetence it is all made painfully clear. The P3 bid opened up to other cities was a mere fient, the fix was in for Calgary, until Edmonton put in two bids both lower than the Calgary costs.

The thoroughly depressing history of the project has been covered exhaustively -- but here is a capsule summary. Sheila Copps' original 2001 brainwave for a permanent centre at the old U. S. embassy in Ottawa ran headlong into cost overruns, belt-tightening in the national capital district and a new Liberal regime that was none too keen on building an expensive legacy for its leading critic. Paul Martin's government vacillated, and when it was ousted by the Conservatives, they seized upon the opportunity, first engaging in backdoor negotiations to find room for the gallery in downtown Calgary, and then opening the whole thing up to private-public bids from major cities across the country.
Edmonton threw a spanner in the works by coming up with not one but two bids that would have been extremely easy on the public purse; this led to the deadline being quietly extended so that Calgary could improve the terms of its proposed deal. Meanwhile, Ottawa's partisans put on a full-court press, arguing chauvinistically that the right place for a national gallery could not possibly be anywhere but the national capital. These master logicians told an ostensibly pretty story about the Portrait Gallery serving as a locus of educational tours of the capital, but failed ever to mention the real truth -- that in downtown Ottawa the building would probably remain a poor cousin to Parliament Hill, the National Gallery, the Museum of Civilization and other competing sites. The nation's capital Ottawa may be, but not many schools can afford to send children on the week-long field trips that the city perhaps deserves.

And speaking of Shelia Copps she has her own take on this mini-boondoogle.

The decision of Stephen Harper's Conservative government to cancel the National Portrait Gallery was a smart move to get out of a poorly conceived plan to build the museum as a public-private partnership, says former Liberal heritage minister Sheila Copps.
"I think that was a bit of a way of getting themselves out of a pickle that they'd created," Copps said Saturday. Heritage Minister James Moore announced on Friday that the gallery would be cancelled.
Moore said none of the proposals submitted by developers in a nationwide competition was acceptable and the government must act prudently in a time of economic instability.
But Copps said she didn't buy that excuse.
She described the competition as "poorly thought-out" and a "no-win" political situation that would pit the losing cities against the government.

This was always about Calgary. It was a sop to Encana, and the ideology of P3's. Encana of course is the company that Gwyn Morgan used to run. Harpers old political/business pal whom he tried to get appointed as the newly created Federal Government Appointments Commissioner after the 2006 election. But that too failed to pass. And like the National Gallery cancellation the post of Appointments Commissioner was never filled.

Encana was also a victim of the Harpocrites about face on Income Trusts so having the National Gallery in Calgary built by Encana was simply payback.

This was about moving a National Gallery to Calgary to show that political power had shifted west, to the Petro Bay Street of Canada. It was also about selling off the Gallery to Encana. Thus Canada's National Portrait Gallery would have been the Encana National Portrait Gallery of Canada.

The new Conservative government killed that project in 2006 and tried to forge the EnCana deal. When that failed in the face of withering criticism from Ottawans and others, the government resorted to the bidding process. Now cities across the country have spent money preparing bids and $11 million has been wasted renovating the U.S. embassy location. The machinations surrounding the gallery have been a sorry display of government inefficiency and inept politics.

Once again the neo-con ideology of Privatization bites the bullet.

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