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.