Back to school: First lesson, history
Well, we're back in business here at Parliament; with the fall session starting today. I decided to ease into things with a morning stroll over to Ottawa's Old City Hall, which was renamed today as the John G. Diefenbaker Building, in honour of the Old Chief who led the Conservative party and the country in the late 1950s-60s.
I don't think anyone would argue with the nod to history (well, Jackie Kennedy might have had some views, as we learned last week), and in fact it fits appropriately with all this renewed talk of Harper's efforts to "conservatize" Canada with his new majority. And given all the institutions around the capital with Liberal names, it is undoubtedly time to even up that balance a bit.
So, for those of us who live around here, it means that the Lester B. Pearson Building and the John G. Diefenbaker Building sit side by side on Sussex Drive. Or, as one wag privately suggested on Twitter, we now have "Fort Pearson" and "the Diefenbunker" gracing the route that the Prime Minister takes to work each day.
John Baird, one of the ministers present at the announcement (there were three!), had hauled along a Red Ensign that had last flown on 24 Sussex when Dief was PM. That's actually how I guessed the new name in advance of the official announcement -- I saw that flag in Baird's office last December when I was working on this story. It doesn't belong to Baird (as I incorrectly surmised on Twitter)... It's borrowed from a friend.
Speculation had run rampant that today's renaming was part of a "royal" series of rebrands by this government, following on the heels of the word "royal" being reinserted into the name of our armed forces, as well as the decision to put the Queen's portrait in the place of Quebec art at the Pearson Building.
Baird made a joking reference to the speculation, saying that Old City Hall was *not* being renamed as the Queen Elizabeth II Building. And in fact, the only royalty relevant to this rebrand is Prince, the musician who eccentrically renounced his stage name in 1993, becoming, in popular parlance, "the artist formerly known as Prince." Ottawa's Old City Hall, in the same fashion, has been burdened with the name of what it used to be before the city amalgamated in the 1990s and moved camp to a building on Elgin Street.
But even if this renaming didn't fit with the renewed royalty fixation, it does very much fit with this government's *acute* attention to symbols, brands, props and political-product placement. And that's of course the result of this government's attention to political marketing -- enduring interest in this corner.
It will be interesting to see what this government plans to do with Wellington Street, the street that's home to Parliament, amid any effort to put some Conservative brands on buildings in the capital. Right now, the street is pretty much a ghost street, filled with abandoned, neglected or mid-construction architectural gems. (You can read more about that here, if you're interested.) Who knows? Maybe we'll end up with a street lined with Bennett, Meighen, Borden, Clark and Mulroney buildings. (Okay, maybe not so much the Clark and Mulroney ones, at least while the current Prime Minister is in power.)