Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What's Wrong With This Picture?

On January 24, 2003, a group of New York-based collectors and dealers; members of an organization called the American Council for Cultural Policy, met with the Bush administration and Pentagon officials.

The purpose of the meeting was to encourage Bush to ignore international laws, by allowing the treasures of ancient Mesopotamia (now Iraq), to fall into the hands of private collectors.

This group of wealthy Americans, had been coveting these prized objects for some time, giving them a commercial value, rather than the historical and religious value bestowed upon them not only by the people of Iraq but indeed anyone seeking to preserve our ancient cultural heritage.

So while George Bush was promising scholars and historians that he would do his utmost to protect the ancient holdings, in the land referred to in archaeological circles as "the cradle of civilization", he had already made a commitment to the American Council for Cultural Policy, that he would make sure they got what they craved.
In 2006, the World Monuments Fund took the unprecedented step of putting the entire country of Iraq on its list of the most endangered sites. The torching of books and manuscripts in the Library of Korans and the National Library was in itself a historical disaster of the first order. Most of the Ottoman imperial documents and the old royal archives concerning the creation of Iraq were reduced to ashes ... about a million books and ten million documents were destroyed.

At a conference on art crimes held in London a year after the disaster, the British Museum's John Curtis reported that at least half of the forty most important stolen objects had not been retrieved and that of some 15,000 items looted from the museum's showcases and storerooms about 8,000 had yet to be traced. Its entire collection of 5,800 cylinder seals and clay tablets, many containing cuneiform writing and other inscriptions some of which go back to the earliest discoveries of writing itself, was stolen.
Donald Rumsfeld dismissed the horrendous acts by saying "it is an administrative dispute" ... oops, wrong guy. "Democracy is messy".

It would appear that the Bush Administration was driven by more than just allowing wealthy Americans to own priceless antiquities. This was an attempt to rewrite the history of Iraq by rendering its history meaningless.

Was a similar deal struck in Canada between Stephen Harper and Canada's wealthy, to get their hands on our treasures? They have certainly attempted to rewrite our history. At a rally recently, Stephen Harper told his flock that Canada was the country Conservatives built.

Odd. I thought it was the country that Canadians built. But since Liberals have been in power longer since Confederation, should he not have called it the country Liberals built? His tongue would have fallen out.

Canada's National Portrait Gallery

In late 2006, when the Harper government was less than a year old, we were shocked to learn that Stephen Harper was negotiating a deal that would move our National Portrait Gallery to the boardrooms of EnCana, in Calgary.

A deal between the federal government and energy giant EnCana to locate the Portrait Gallery of Canada to Calgary is expected to be announced within a few weeks.

A 'national' gallery of treasures that belonged to us, would be given to the corporate sector.
Both the government and EnCana have refused to confirm or deny the partnership, but Heritage Minister Bev Oda confirmed she has been shopping outside of Ottawa for a new portrait gallery home and EnCana has said it will be making an announcement ''within a few weeks'' concerning the occupants of 100,000 square feet of ''cultural space'' within its new building ...''Yes, we will consider outside of Ottawa and, in fact, we see some benefits to that.''
That could have very well made us the only country in the world whose 'national' gallery was not in their nation's capital. Visitors to Ottawa would have to travel 3553km for a tour. And how would visitation be handled? It's too alarming for words?

It's hard not to imagine that these talks began long before we almost had an announcement. Gwyn Morgan, former CEO of EnCana was a long time fundraiser for Harper, dating back to Reform Party days, continuing on through the Alliance and eventually the Conservative Party of Canada.

He was the man that Stephen Harper tried to put in charge of the Appointments Commission, knowing full well that he would be rejected. Then in a hissy fit, Harper refused to find a replacement, though it didn't stop him from spending $1 million a year to fund an office that only existed on paper.

The Harper government would continue to play games with the portrait gallery as well, shelling out $1.9 million for a study and announcing plans for a new gallery, before ending the entire project. Meanwhile, many of Canada's national treasures were stored in a warehouse.

But if you're pining for a national portrait gallery, pine no more. Stephen Harper had all of the historic portraits in the government area of the Parliament Buildings removed, and replaced them with snapshots of himself. Frightening, isn't it?

Who are We Now?

The late Chalmers Johnson, in his book Dismantling the Empire, tells us that the sacred ground of ancient Mesopotamia, now holds a Burger King and a Pizza Hut. And he describes how "the dust stirred up by U.S. helicopters has sandblasted the fragile brick facade of the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon from 605 to 562 BC." (1) The steady erosion of a nation's history.

In many ways, that's exactly what Stephen Harper is doing to the Canadian identity.

It's why he allowed an American firm to design and build the Canadian Pavilion for the Olympics. A bland, colorless, lifeless structure, that Rick Mercer compared to a duty free shop. He was being kind.

And it's why he has entered Canada into some of the most aggressive trade deals in our history, that allow multinationals to dictate how we do business.

And it's why the latest EU Trade deal will mean that we no longer own our water or public services. Yet, the Irish Parliament is more concerned with "Canada's race to the bottom" than we are, it would seem (video below).

Harper's mistreatment of the portraits of our history, is an attempt to rewrite it. His tampering with the long form census, an attempt to chart it.

It's rather Orwellian seeing images of him on the campaign trail, in his 'Canada' jacket, behind a slogan, 'Here for Canada'.

Kinda' begs the question: "What's wrong with this picture?"


1. Dismantling the Empire: America's Last Best Hope, By Chalmers Johnson, Metropolitan Books, 2010, ISBN: 978-0-9303-2


  1. Their slogan Here for Canada comes across as spooky. It could be interpreted as the bogeyman is here for Canada. And that would be true.