Two Winning Economic Stimulus Projects

As the Government of Canada rolls out its Economic Action Plan, I have two projects that, as far as I can tell, are not under consideration for funding. In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I’ve visited both several times with my children, and we’ve talked about how to improve these two museums.

The Canadian Air and Space Museum ( is on the site of the former Downsview airport in suburban Toronto. The museum is smaller than the Canadian Aviation Museum in Ottawa, but offers a different perspective, focusing its attention on the aircraft manufacturers, particularly De Havilland and A. V. Roe, which were both located in Toronto. It contains the only full-size replica of the Avro Arrow as well as a Canadian-built World War II Lancaster bomber that a group of dedicated amateur machinists is laboriously refurbishing.

The museum is attempting to raise $2 million in funds for a major expansion to highlight the role of the different manufacturers. The website contains a pitch from actor Harrison Ford, proclaiming the virtues of Canadian designed and manufactured aircraft, such as the Twin Otter.

I would have thought supporting the museum would readily appeal to the Harper government. It’s in multicultural northwest Toronto, an area where the Conservatives would like to make inroads. It would send messages about government support for manufacturing and for Canada’s armed forces. Yes, the Avro Arrow exhibit criticizes John Diefenbaker, the PM who decided to kill the Arrow, but I would hardly think the current-day Conservative Party – less than a decade old – considers itself accountable for Dief’s decisions half-a-century ago.

The second project is the Canadian Automotive Museum, which occupies a 25,000 square foot former dealership in an aging section of downtown Oshawa. The Museum has a superb collection of vintage cars going back to the 1910’s, with a particular emphasis on those manufactured in Canada.

The building is too small so the collection is very crowded. It is also in poor shape, for example the heating is insufficient for it to be comfortable in the winter. If the museum were in better shape, or in a better location, it could display its collection in the context of the history of Canadian automobile manufacturing, and launch a discussion about the economic, social, and environmental impacts of the automobile.

Developing this museum would also appear to be a no-brainer. The local MP is Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. The museum is about a vital part of Canada’s industrial heritage, which would appeal to the government’s values. So why, in this case as well, isn’t funding from the Economic Action Plan available? Isn’t the museum’s board knocking on the door of their powerful local MP? If they are, why isn’t that MP speaking up for his constituents?

Both these museums are about important chapters in our industrial heritage, and spending stimulus money on them would be a great idea. I hope it happens.

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