Stetski steps into Mother Canada controversy

Stetski waded into one of the largest parks controversies in the country the planned Cape Breton Highlands National Park

Although just a few months into his new job, Kootenay-Columbia MP and NDP National Parks Critic Wayne Stetski has already waded into one of the largest parks controversies in the country by lambasting the planned Mother Canada statue in Cape Breton Highlands National Park — and he’s emerged from the debate on the winning side.

On Friday, February 5th, it was announced that Parks Canada has pulled its support for the $25-million project.

“Parks Canada will no longer be working towards the realization of the memorial in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. As a result, the project will not be moving forward on Parks Canada land,” said a Parks Canada news release.

Stetski had sent a letter to federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, calling on her to reject the 24-metre statue, which had been in the works for years, intended as a memorial to Canadian soldier who lost their lives fighting wars abroad. Models of the statue show it cloaked and standing on a rocky headland along the Cabot Trail, with arms outstretched across the Atlantic.

“The idea of a memorial to honour soldiers who died overseas in wars is truly a good one, but ultimately a national park is not an appropriate place for a seven-storey high statue,” Stetski told The Echo last week. “National parks are set aside for their ecological importance and developments in the park should support those ecological values. To just put in a statue that has nothing specifically to do with that park is inappropriate. On top of that, concerns have been raised that the statue might affect the ecological integrity of the spot.”

The statue, and the parking lot and visitor centre to go with it (which are being planned by the Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation), has stirred deep emotions across the country among both those who oppose it and those who support it.

Supporters saw the statue, facing in the direction of Europe where so many Canadian soldier have lost their lives in war, as entirely appropriate and point to what they call the high level of commercial activity in Banff and Jasper, saying if it can happen there, why not in Cape Breton National Park.

They also cited the potential economic benefit to nearby communities.

Critics, meanwhile, were not only sounding alarms bells about ecological concerns, but also charging that the statue’s size was excessive and its design distasteful. A partner in the Toronto-based design firm originally hired to develop the memorial concept alleged that the Never Forgotten Memorial Foundation ignored advice and cast aside the initial model, stretching it from something the size of a light post to its current size. Other critics voiced the opinion that promoting the statue in an effort to bolster the local economy amounted to earning a profit from the war dead.

And a group of 28 former senior Parks Canada managers, including a former Parks Canada chief executive officer, sent open letters to the former Conservative Environment Minister raised concerns about the proposal’s negative impact on the park.

“I have great respect for the terrible price many of our soldiers have paid,” wrote Stetski in his letter. “A memorial to honour them is welcome. The question before us is where such a memorial should be located.”

Stetski told The Echo that one of the Liberal’s campaign promises was to limit development in national parks and, instead, focus it on nearby communities, and added this case would be a good one for putting that promise into action.

“If there is public support for this particular monument in the area, then let’s look at putting it in one of the communities just outside Cape Breton Highlands National Park. It could be a positive attraction for one of those communities, and of benefit to it. And if none of those communities want it, then there are plenty of other appropriate spots right across the country,” he said.

Steski told The Echo he’s had a lot of feedback on the issue since he became parks critic and the majority of it was expressing concern. He added that the statue — which he agreed seems to resemble to Statue of Liberty in New York or the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro — could open the gates for other similar developments in national parks.

“If you put up a statue there, it not only affects that area, but sets a precedent for developments in national parks that do not relate to the reasons that the parks were established in the first place,” he said. “If there’s going to be developments in national parks, they should support the values for which the park was set up.”

The decision not to go ahead with the statue came following a review that found “too many key elements were outstanding” for a completion date of July 1st, 2017, according to the Parks Canada news release issued Friday.

The issues include funding, a final design and an agreement on the structuring of the funding for construction and maintenance, Parks Canada said.

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