The mania for monuments

The mania for monuments
Posted on October 22, 2013 | Elizabeth May | Written on October 22, 2013
Letter type:


National Post

Dear Canadians,

My intention with the Speech from the Throne, as in all my work as a Member of Parliament, is to quicken the pulse of democracy — to find ways to increase awareness among Canadians about the decline in the health of our system of governance. There is a real thirst to regain a healthy system and an awareness that our current system, essentially one-man rule from a super-powerful PMO, is broken.

In this hyper-partisan spin machine, I am never surprised by the absurdity of latching on to small comments, especially via Twitter. It was no surprise that I was attacked for a 10 word tweet and that my 2700 word Speech from the Throne, detailing our history, the significance of our traditions, the reason why it matters that in a Constitutional Monarchy, a Westminster Parliamentary democracy, we honour our basic principles, was ignored. Live tweeting the speech was part of my effort to increase public engagement through social media.

Over the course of the hour, I sent out dozens of tweets. Only one had a little smiley face to signal “just kidding here folks.” And that one was in response to the news that we will spend close to one and a half million dollars for a monument to the victims of communism. In the 30 seconds on twitter before moving along to the next uninspired piece of pandering to a segmented political demographic target, I tried to express why I am sick and tired of empty symbolic gestures.

We had the very moving ceremony in the apology to Canada’s First Nations for the inter-generational violence and damage done by the Residential School system. Over the Members’ Entrance to Centre Block a beautiful stained glass window has been installed setting out that shameful part of our history. But the prime minister’s commitment to First Nations, that the apology was just the beginning, was not a promise met through empty gestures. The Commission for Truth and Reconciliation has been stymied by this administration’s refusal to turn over the historical record the commission needs to do its work. The missing and murdered aboriginal women cry out for an inquiry. But their cries fall on deaf ears.

Meanwhile, great political fervour is whipped up about monuments to our brave men and women in uniform. We have a new law with a mandatory minimum sentence for anyone who defaces a war monument. We spent $28 million to mark the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. We are planning monuments to Vimy Ridge and Dieppe. Meanwhile, the Ombudsman for Veterans just identified how many of our veterans are homeless. We are closing the Veterans Affairs offices on which veterans across Canada depend. As a Canadian Legion member myself, I know that great organization is stretching itself to the limit to help provide services. Would those who died at Vimy Ridge want a monument, or would they want those veterans alive today to receive the support they are owed?

Now a great new monument – to the victims of communism. And here the hypocrisy is staggering. The prime minister apparently recognizes the harsh cruelty of communist regimes only when they have passed into history. While posturing about victims of communism, the last remaining communist super power is being granted preferential ability to attack Canadian laws. Under the Canada-China Investment Treaty, State Owned Enterprises of the Peoples Republic of China will have preferential rights to claim damages against Canadian laws and regulations they find offensive, while Canadian corporations have no such rights in relation to our domestic laws. The lust for investment from the People’s Republic of China is blinding us to the current horrors of repression of political dissidents and religious minorities.

Another civilization is famous for its monuments. As their world collapsed around them, Easter Islanders squandered their few remaining resources on massive, mysterious monuments. As historian Ronald Wright wrote in A Short History of Progress, “The (Easter Island) statue cult became a self-destructive mania, an ideological pathology.”

Monuments may be crowd pleasers, but I, for one, would rather we invested in the living. I prefer we invest in our children and stop wasting resources on empty symbolism.

About The Author

Elizabeth May's picture

Elizabeth May is an environmentalist, writer, activist, lawyer, and leader of the Green Party of Canada. Elizabeth became active in the environmental movement in the 1970s. She is a graduate of Dalhousie Law School... More


Danny Handelman

Elizabeth May voted in favour of increasing the amount of money being spent on the funerals of veterans when that money would be better allocated toward living veterans (if at all).

Funerals are about showing respect and I don't think you can equate the cost of a funeral to that of a monument. Where one may cost a few thousand dollars, monuments cost millions of dollars. Her point, which I agree with entirely, because I'm a history grad, is that these monuments are not really about veterans at all but rather about pounding our chest in testament to our greatness as a nation and as a people.

This is the same ignorant approach the US government and media has been feeding down the throats of Americans for centuries. Look where it has lead... it has divided and paralyzed their nation. Rhetorical nationalism never leads to anything positive. It was unfettered nationalism that lead to the first and second world wars because with nationalism comes prejudice and racism.

There is an old saying in politics that basically sums up the Conservatives actions since forming a majority government: "When you start believing your own bullshit, you're fucked!" Just like the Liberals before them, the Conservatives have worn out their welcome in Ottawa now that they have moved away from nation building policy, replacing it instead with partisan rhetoric and factless policy.

Danny Handelman

I suspect the majority of the population would prefer that the money which is currently directed toward the funerals of veterans would be either directed toward the funerals of veterans when they are living or provided to the families after the death of the veteran for the family to best allocate the money. The military-industrial complex would not be as effective if the populace were better educated, which would make propaganda less effective.

Lennor Stieda

Dear Elizabeth,
Thank you for conitnuing to speak out and to share important knowledge to the average Canadian. I hope many more will pay attention when you publish something of such importance.