Ottawa, Canada - Parties disagree on Holocaust memorial funding

A private member's bill calling for a national Holocaust memorial to be built in Ottawa within three years sailed through Parliament last week with the support of every MP, but that hasn't resolved the partisan bickering over who will pay for it.

The Liberals -- who originally introduced the bill, before it was adopted by the Conservatives -- say the government should be on the hook to fund the memorial, while the Conservatives say the bulk of the money will come from private donations.

Toronto Liberal MP Joe Volpe said he successfully overturned a series of last-minute government changes to the legislation that would have required the monument to be paid for through fundraising, spearheaded by Canadian Jewish groups.

"There's no need for fundraising because it's going to be all financed by the Government of Canada," Mr. Volpe said. "If that group wants to raise funds, it's an additional voluntary tax. I don't know if anybody wants to go down that road."

But the bill's sponsor, Edmonton-area Conservative MP Tim Uppal, said the government has only promised to donate the land. The money to design and build the monument will have to come from a committee set up to collect private donations.

"It brings a buy-in from the Canadian public," he said, adding that "the government really believes that Canadians will be more than willing and pleased to contribute the full amount to this."

None of the other 16 national monuments managed by Ottawa's National Capital Commission were privately funded, Mr. Volpe said. Lessons learned from the Holocaust are for all Canadians and he said targeting only the Jewish community to provide the money will "diminish" the monument.

"The fact of the matter is that [the government] lied to everybody," he said. "They wanted a specific group of people to pay for the monument and that specific group of people were members of the Jewish community. By doing so, they were saying this is not a monument representative of Canadian's desire to commemorate the Holocaust and to draw attention to the evil that men can do. They just said this is something for the Jewish community. We'll keep them happy, but as long as they pay for it."

Many in Canada's Jewish community say they would rather just raise the money themselves than let a national Holocaust memorial -- which has already taken a circuitous two-year path through the parliamentary system -- languish in more red tape and bickering.

That's particularly true of Canada's nearly 16,000 Holocaust survivors, many of

whom are in their 80s, said Canadian Jewish Congress chief executive Bernie Farber.

"They wanted to see this in their lifetime," Mr. Farber said. "Knowing how the wheels of government move at glacial speed, we didn't want this to be the issue for the monument not to be built. We were prepared to say we will do what has to be done."

Laura Grosman, a 22-year-old University of Ottawa student, first proposed a bill to create a national monument in Ottawa two years ago, saying Canada is one of few Western nations without a national tribute honouring victims of the Holocaust.

She said the memorial would serve as an educational tool for Canadians and a personal tribute to her grandfather, who escaped the Nazis during the Second World War, only to return to find the rest of his family had been killed in concentration camps.

Ms. Grosman, now executive director of the Canadian Holocaust Memorial Project, supports the government's plans for private fundraising.

"I believe that our community, as well as the Canadian community as a whole, wants to be able to contribute the funds to this monument," she wrote in an email.

"I also believe this monument shouldn't be given privileges that others erected in the capital do not have. Monuments created by the National Capital Commission are not awarded complete funding from the government."

The debate sparked a spat between Mr. Volpe and the Canadian Jewish Congress, with Mr. Volpe admitting he sent the organization a few letters "that weren't very flattering."

"I think there's hypocrisy at work of the starkest variety," he said. "I was very upset with the Canadian Jewish Congress for even associating itself with it."

The government's position not to contribute is "unfortunate," said Nathan Leipciger, a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp and copresident of Canadian Jewish Holocaust Survivors.

"When there's a disaster somewhere in the world, lots of NGOs do the main fundraising, but the Canadian government does its share. I think it adds to the project because there's an old saying: Put your money where your mouth is."

National Post


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