The city of Ottawa is appealing to all local Members of Parliament to support its bid to land the national portrait gallery, but underlying the competition are heated philosophical and political battles.
Politically, opposition MPs criticize the Conservatives for offering a cultural jewel to the highest bidder, but government members defend the national competition as a way to avoid the “waste” of the previous Liberal regime.
Liberal Ottawa South MP David McGuinty said the government’s bid to have cities vie for the gallery puts regions against one another.
“This conduct has never been seen before by a party of any political stripe,” he said. “The government is situated here in the National Capital Region and our cluster is public administration. It’s also the seat where you would find most national institutions. It’s also the practice in most modern and emerging economies.”
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre (Nepean-Carleton) defended the competition, saying the Liberals spent tens of millions on plans for the gallery in the former U.S. Embassy building on Wellington Street, only to see it not opened.
He hopes Ottawa wins the bid to keep the gallery local.
“I’m going to speak to the minister about it and work in concert with my municipal counterparts to see what can be done to favour our success,” Poilievre said.
But city councillor Diane Holmes said the contest was undermining Ottawa as the capital and she criticized Poilievre for not doing anything to stop the gallery from leaving.
“He seems to be happy to give away a city anchor structure,” she said.
Poilievre scoffed at that, saying the Conservatives have been generous to national institutions here.
“We’ve given $100 million to upgrade the museums of Nature of Civilization and of Science and Technology,” said Poilievre. “That will help deepen the presence of these institutions in the nation’s capital and ensure that they don’t have to shut their doors or move elsewhere.”