Ottawa South Liberal MP David McGuinty is furious. Stephen Harper's Conservative government has decided that spending $800 million or $400 million or a gajillion simoleons on a museum in McGuinty's riding is simply not a priority:
The federal government has dashed any lingering hopefor a new Canada Museum of Science and Technology, saying it has no money even for a slimmed-down project that would cost half the $800 million originally envisaged.
Treasury Board President John Baird acknowledged museum officials have revised their plan, but said it is still too expensive for the government to support.
''They came forward with an $800-million project, then they reduced it to $500 million, and then they reduced it to $400 million. We don't have $400 million to build a new museum in Ottawa. Taxpayers cannot afford that,''Baird said.
Ottawa South Liberal MP David McGuinty criticized the decision, saying it is part of the continuing neglect of Ottawa by the federal Tories. He said it fits a pattern that includes the decision to locate the Portrait Gallery in Calgary and Baird's role in killing the city's north-south light rail project.
''It is disappointing to hear Mr. Baird say that a new Museum of Science and Technology is off the table,''McGuinty said.
Who has a billion or half-a-billion for a museum?
But then the Liberals think that would be a great idea.
I have another great idea. This is a technology museum, right? Why not use technology to create a museum at a hundredth of the cost?
Why doesn't McGuinty suggest a compromise as a way of protecting Canadian taxpayers' dollars? A virtual museum:
The museum, housed in a cramped former bakery since 1967, has been looking for a permanent home for five years. Officials have long complained that a large part of its collection of about a million artifacts, photos and papers is languishing in warehouses.
You scan all the documents and photos and papers, index them, and make them available on the web. Each artifact is accompanied with a write-up prepared by historians and researchers working under contract. Better yet, offer jobs to students to research the pieces and to develop reading material.
Artifacts get covered by multiple high-res photographs and videos. In a follow-on, create highly detailed 3D models of the artifacts, able to be rotated and zoom and cross-section via a browser-based interface.
Along with the original material, incorporate Wikis and forums so that the museum's virtual visitors can add their comments and observations, especially of those examples of technology that form a part of everyday life.
Wrap the whole thing up in a slick website developed by Canada's best web designers.
I think the idea is a good one. Every student in Canada can visit the museum without trying to raise the funds needed for a full-blown school trip. No longer are students in Ontario and Quebec at an advantage by virtue of their proximity to Ottawa.
Not only is the overall idea cheaper, it can be rolled out in stages. Unlike a bricks-and-mortar museum that needs to be finished once started, the development of a virtual museum can be throttled back if circumstances demand it.
Could the Liberals get behind this idea, and stop pushing for the billion-dollar boondoggle? Don't bet on it.
The reason is simple. The more you spend, the more you can pilfer. Sorry, but why else would McGuinty and his fellow Liberals want the government to take on such a huge undertaking? They figure that they'll be back in power before the museum would get off the ground. Then, as the hundreds of millions start moving around, a bit of it here and a bit of it there would end up stuffed in some envelope left on the table of some Ottawa restaurant. With hundreds of millions at stake, construction firms and other contractors desperate for a chunk of that cash would make certain the right palms were greased.
The Liberals have shown over and over again that their trustworthiness as guardians of the public purse is, at best, very questionable.
And yet what have they learned? To bleat long and loud when hundreds of millions don't get spent on some huge project. This time it would be different. This time the money would be handled responsibly. This time the Liberals would not give reason for Canada to be embarassed on the world stage.
The Conservatives know better than to start a megaproject of dubious necessity that could take so long to complete that there would be a chance that the Liberals would get their hands on it. That the Liberals lack the imagination, or the desire, to offer a far less expensive alternative doesn't surprise me in the least.