Watson wants former U.S. Embassy to be 'Canada House'
Ottawa mayor Jim Watson wants the former U.S. Embassy on Wellington Street to become a showcase for Canada's achievements when the city celebrates the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017.
Watson, making the pitch public on Tuesday to Parliament's Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, said "Canada House" could be this country's answer to the Smithsonian in Washington DC.
The mayor suggested the building at 100 Wellington Street could hold such items as a replica of the Canadarm, Celine Dion's first gold record, Bombardier's first snowmobile and the t-shirt Terry Fox wore on his Marathon of Hope.
The former U.S. Embassy, built in 1931, is in a prime location in Ottawa across the street from the Parliament Buildings.
It has been vacant since 1999, but Public Works has said it is exploring options for the future use of the building.
Portrait gallery plan shelved in 2006
In 2001, then prime minister Jean Chrétien approved a $22-million plan to turn the building into a portrait gallery.
But the Harper government shelved the plan and further renovations in 2006, arguing the plan was expensive and inappropriate given the number of galleries in the city.
Watson said he has spoken with Prime Minister Stephen Harper about the idea and said he was told, at this stage, there was no specific plan for the building. Watson added he reached out to Heritage Minister James Moore and Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose.
The mayor said the city would like to see the building opened for tourists and residents.
"We obviously think it should be used for a public use instead of for office space," said Watson.
Baird says focus is finances, not new projects
Watson said the next step for the city is to come up with an action plan and business plan in the next year to make the pitch to the federal government.
John Baird, the Conservative MP for Ottawa West-Nepean, seemed surprised by the plan.
"The city of Ottawa wants us to do that? They don't want to do that," said Baird.
"Listen, we're in a period of fiscal restraint ... we're not looking at any capital projects of that magnitude," said Baird.