Heritage Minister James Moore draws the line on political interference - Macleans.ca

Heritage Minister James Moore draws the line on political interference

The opposition’s criticism just doesn’t hold water, for now


CP / Patrick Doyle

There’s lots of talk this week about the federal government’s renaming of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, which was officially announced yesterday by Heritage Minister James Moore. The NDP is on the offensive, calling it part of the government’s “propaganda agenda” that’s “rebranding everything in their image.” The Liberals, not to be outdone, say the museum’s new mandate will “turn the museum into a subsidiary of the Conservative Party spin machine.”

For his part, of course, Moore denies the rebranding is politically motivated. “This is not about left or right. This is about supporting Canada’s heritage,” he told me yesterday. He does take full credit for the idea, though, saying he’s worked on it for about a year and has been thinking about it for some time. Moore adds that the president and CEO of the Crown corporation that operates the museum, Mark O’Neill, has also known about the proposed name change for some time.

This talk of government controlling national museums stirs images of Moore calling an exhibit about sex that opened this past spring at the Canada Science and Technology Museum “insulting to taxpayers.” At the time, the museum denied any overt political interference had occurred. Yves St-Onge, vice-president of public affairs and marketing with the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation, explained to OpenFile’s Trevor Pritchard how his organization is free from government control.

Basically, we operate as a Crown corporation. We actually do file [an] annual business plan, our corporate plan, with the government. But that doesn’t include details of our exhibition plan. There’s no process for the government to actually intervene in or engage with it. Of course, we are attentive to the government’s agenda. For instance, when it fits with our mandate, we actually intervene.

So, Moore didn’t use the powers of his office to outright interfere with the exhibit, but neither was he personally neutral. Clever.

Now, on to the re-branded Museum of History. Here’s how Chantal Schryer, the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation’s vice-president public affairs and publishing, explained the museums’ independence from government to OpenFile’s Amanda Shendruk:

Our museums have always selected the exhibits that they would want to have in their galleries. We have an extremely rigorous process internally to decide what we present. It has always worked well and I’m certain it will always continue to work well. And, you know, I’ll flip this around for you: I think that, right now for us, being two museums of Canadian history—military and human history—it’s actually interesting for us and welcome that the government is interested in history.

Fair enough: the minister doesn’t dictate which exhibits should be exhibited. Instead, he’s introducing legislation to change the museum’s mandate—which, naturally, will have an effect on exhibitions, but doesn’t interfere directly in what the museum chooses to show visitors. Another clever, and legitimate, move.

The opposition will have to uncover something more nefarious than what we already know, if their accusations that Moore and his colleagues are meddling with museums hold any water. Nothing to see here, for now.

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Heritage Minister James Moore draws the line on political interference

  1. Musuem of Human Rights, the Portait Gallery debacle….the attempt to remove tax credit for Canadian produced films that the Minister doesn’t see as fit…….sure the government doesn’t interfere.

  2. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/dont-curate-the-peacemaking-out-of-canadian-history/article4613989/

    Martin raises some good points. Sure, go ahead, show more Canadian history, but how’re we to know the museums quasi political bosses wont bow even slightly toward the master in Ottawa? Can Moore guarantee there will be floor space given to parts of our history that reflect well on the liberal period for instance? The rationale for peacemaking over peacekeeping may be strong at the moment, but does it negate the past – obviously not!
    So, it all boils down to can we trust this particular govt to not keep its sticky fingers out of the history cookie jar?
    They may surprise us by playing fair, but from comments i’ve seen amongst professional historians in regard to 1812, and plenty of other crap they’ve pulled, the question is almost certainly a rhetorical one…or should that be moot?

    • It must be devastating for old Liberals like Martin to realize that the only way he feels good about about the LPC is by looking at the past—-they are the Party of the past and the great fear is that they will not be able to interpret the past to their liking.

      Speaking of the past and old Liberals, and since the only ones who seem to want the Liberal leadership are old girlfriends and offspring of PET, or should that be moot?

      • Good to see which side of the fence you’ll be on, right from the get go, regardless of the facts.
        And if you’ve got $75000 burning a hole in your back pocket[ and up to a million in liability] you’re free to throw your hat in if you think you can beat Justin.

        • Justin will be given the leadership by a desperate Party—he will win slightly more seats than the NDP in the next election, but well behind the governing Conservatives. The Libs and dippers will then join under new leader Megan Leslie. Now why would I want anything to do with a Liberal Party on life support ?

          • You still didn’t get my point, no matter.

            I haven’t a clue what will happen. Your guess is as likely as the next. Personally, if he doesn’t blow himself up, i think Justin is going to do real damage to Harper and the NDP. Much depends on whether the media decide they like or hate him…and no, it is not a given they will like or loath him.

  3. Putting aside the absurdity of a Heritage Ministry rebranding an institution, I’d like to know what this is going to cost. It’s not just a matter of changing the sign on the building. A few years back the B.C. Health Authorities thought they should get a new logo. It cost something like $250,000 to have it created but millions to make the change over because the logo appears on everything from stationery to vehicles. Ditto for Gordon Campbell changing the provinces Beautiful British Columbia to – I can’t remember what it is now it cost a fortune. Meanwhile we have Tony Clement spending his days looking at things like parking to save a few bucks.

    • So from the press release it’s $25 million to start the process.

      • In other news, the Harper government is saving $2M by closing the Experimental Lakes Area and giving up its unique and valuable research.

        You think it’s easy to make priorities?

  4. It’s already ‘the most popular and most-visited museum in Canada’

    There is currently a large Canadian section in the place anyway.

    We do not need to travel to Ottawa/Gatineau to see Rocket Richards hockey jersey in order to feel Canadian.

    It’s half a century too late for nationalism….it’s just right ….as is….for globalization

    • It seems to me that by gutting LAC — where real historians use real documents to write history — and rebranding a museum as our place to get our history, Canadians are left with history that celebrates positive moments, but turns away from what really makes history — in other words, shallow nationalism instead of anything meaningful and studied. I asked James Moore about that via Twitter and he simply told me that LAC is NOT being gutted. Tell that to the archivists and librarians.

      • Yeah, it won’t be telling us a story anymore….it’ll be just a cheering section.

        It’s an American approach….not a Canadian or accurate one

  5. If its new mandate is going to be Canada-specific, any idea why they’ve re-branded it the “Canadian Museum of History” and not the “Museum of Canadian History”?

    • That is dangerously close to the ‘Canadian Version of History’.

  6. Related, at the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute’s “3Ds Blog”:

    “J.L. Granatstein – Museums, War, and History”


  7. We can look forward The Dark and Nefarious History of the Carbon
    Tax on Everything exhibit.

  8. Let’s see what happens to the First Peoples Hall and the anthropological elements of the museum. Why is a shitty talk-radio host even in this ministerial position? Because he holds vaguely socially liberal views? The CPC couldn’t dig up a crusty old Red Tory to give us some noblesse oblige, instead we’re subjected to this philistine. Sigh. At least he has a degree.

  9. If the institution becomes the Museum of History, I dream of the day when the CPC will be nothing more than an exhibit in its collection. They certainly won’t be worthy of inclusion in anything called a museum of civilization.