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The Mystery of Alberta's Missing Museum: What Edmonton needs to tell the Tories

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Edmonton-Centre MP Laurie Hawn

About the only thing that's really clear about the tortured saga of the $350-millionish Royal Alberta Museum is that hardly anybody understands how the supposed key to Edmonton's desperately needed downtown renewal could be promised, then jerked away in a matter of weeks.

That said, two conclusions are inescapable:

1)    The major players from all three secretive Conservative governments that have had a hand in this fiasco (the Ed Stelmach provincial government, the Alison Redford provincial government and the Stephen Harper federal government) are likely lying to us about it.

2)    Edmonton and its taxpayers are consistently taken for granted and treated with contempt by Conservatives of all stripes.

Back on April 7, the provincial government of trotted out the trumpeters and the fireworks to announce that the grand edifice would be erected adjacent to the north wall of Edmonton City Hall, in a part of downtown that can be justly described as both dreary and dangerous.

The new museum was to be finished by 2015, we were told then. "Just as the great urban centres around the world are known for their great museums, known for their cultural facilities, so too, will this great city, and this great province will have a truly world-class museum," enthused then-premier Stelmach.

"I really deeply believe that this particular structure will give a new birth to an area of our city that's had challenges," trilled along Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel, fastidiously understating the problems of the neighbourhood.

Over the summer, designers and contractors were hired, deals were signed, magnificent drawings were published by the local newspapers and the project appeared to be moving ahead swimmingly.

Most Edmonton-area residents were pleased by this announcement, even if they didn't particularly care about museums or cultural stuff.

Most everyone here recognizes that part of downtown needs fixing -- and patching up areas like that is an essential job that only a government can be expected to do in a pinch like this. People know in their hearts that if we wait for private sector to fix this grimy patch of concrete, we'll be waiting till the 22nd Century. Indeed, building a museum in this block will do more to make Edmonton's streets safe than another billion spent on the Harper Government's "tough-on-crime" agenda.

Anyway, any city that aspires to be part of the elusive "world class" needs a museum or two.

In retrospect, one wonders if someone in the provincial government didn't read the calendar wrong when they booked the room for the news conference at nearby Grant MacEwan University. Maybe it was supposed to be on April 1, not April 7?

OK, that was then and this is now. So, what happened was … something.

On Oct. 26, Edmontonians were genuinely shocked to learn from the province that the federal government had pulled $92 million in promised money and, in the process, pulled the plug on the project.

Mayor Mandel expressed his anger and dismay, which, is something that obviously caused Prime Minister Harper and his Calgary Conservative brain trust in Ottawa to lose no sleep. Indeed, all this had the feeling of déjà vu all over again. (Wasn't it just this time last year that Mandel was expressing his anger and dismay at the federal government's decision to pull the plug on the city's bid for Expo 2017?)

At this point, the narrative becomes very confusing. Using Edmonton Centre MP Laurie Hawn, in whose riding the museum would have been located, as their point man, Ottawa denied ever having promised to fork over the dough.

As Edmonton Journal columnist and blogger Paula Simons explained it in her excellent unravelling of this Tory cluster-pluck, "like his colleagues Rona Ambrose and James Rajotte, Hawn has been busy insisting that the federal government never promised to give the RAM project any more than the minimum $30 million previously pledged by the former Liberal regime."

Alas, she pointed out, this would appear to be a flat out fib, as Hawn was bragging about his government's contribution, $85 million of it at any rate, back during his campaign for re-election in the federal election last May. That, however, may simply be another case of that was then and this is now. At the very least, the federal Conservative claims the provincial conservatives never asked for the money strain credulity.

Not that any of the other Conservative governments come off covered in glory or winning laurels for their commitment to openness and transparency.

As Edmonton blogger Dave Cournoyer has ably pointed out, the Stelmach government obviously rushed the announcement of the project as a legacy when they didn't have all their ducks in a row, then misled Albertans about the deal. And the Calgary-focused Redford government may well have been less enthused by the expensive plan and quite happy to let someone else take the rap for killing it, and was economical with the truth about what they really want to happen.

What's more, as Simons explained the background to this situation: "the federal Conservatives have clearly allied and aligned themselves with the Wildrose opposition, much to the fury of the provincial Tories. Our museum has been caught up, a civilian victim in that civil war."

Needless to say, this whole fiasco is not only a slap in the face of everyone who pays taxes in the Edmonton region, it's an international embarrassment -- the opposite of the vision of world classiness we always seem to be striving for in these parts.

Indeed, about the only good thing that can be said about this situation is that it's entertaining watching this tripartite peeing match between these three Tory skunks. Too bad it has to be happening in our front yard, because it’s going to stink the place up for years.

Weirdly unspoken, however, in all the mainstream media coverage of the Mystery of the Missing Museum is the obvious conclusion that these Tories of all stripes -- and you should include the Calgary-centric Wildrose Tories in this because they're part of it too -- are obviously going to keep on treating Edmonton with contempt as long as we reflexively keep re-electing them.

Just look at what happened in the Edmonton-Strathcona riding before the last federal election: Having an NDP Member of Parliament, Linda Duncan, was the best thing that ever happened to the place!

It's as simple as this, people. They're going to keep slapping us around until we stand up to them and make them stop!

And if we won't, well, we have no one to blame but ourselves!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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