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Who The Hell Is Going To Pay For The Mother Canada Statue?

Parks Canada won’t say how much needs to be raised in donations to give approval.

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The group behind the controversial Mother Canada monument only has a few thousand dollars in the bank, and some are worried that taxpayers could end up on the hook for much of the statue's potential $60 million price tag.

Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation

The proposed 80-foot-tall monument to fallen Canadian soldiers in Cape Breton Highlands National Park has become the focus of a national debate.

People have criticized its aesthetics, argued that a national park is not an appropriate location for a statue, and raised concerns about whether news anchors should be endorsing it.

One important question is where the money is coming from — and whether taxpayers could end up footing part of the bill.

The Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation is promising to raise the costs of Mother Canada from private donations. The group told BuzzFeed Canada it expects the project to cost $25 million. Earlier estimates range from $25 to $60 million.

But according to filings with the Canada Revenue Agency, as of the end of last year the foundation had only $6,000 in the bank. It also had $30,000 in accounts receivable against $396,000 in accounts payable and accrued liabilities.

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The foundation did raise almost $866,000 in 2014. It also received $90,000 in support from the federal government. However most of that money was spent by the end of the year, likely on studying and writing the proposal to Parks Canada. (Only $44,000 went to management and administration salaries).

Never Forgotten wants to start construction later this year. But how much up-front money will they need to gain approval from Parks Canada? In a response to BuzzFeed Canada, Parks Canada deferred this question to... the foundation itself.

Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation

For their part, the foundation says they will start converting pledges to donations only after they get approval. They won't say how much money has been pledged so far.

This has some Cape Bretoners worried.

“Once you start the project it’s very hard to stop it and Green Cove will be lost in its current form forever," said Sean Howard, chair of an anti-monument group called Friends of Green Cove.

Howard says putting the monument in a public park could be part of a strategy to guarantee taxpayers pick up the bill if donations fall short.

"Could it be because they know that if they get the project started and run into trouble the government will step in?" he said. "Whereas if it was on private land and an authentically private development they wouldn’t have that backstop."

Parks Canada has not granted final approval for the project but has agreed to give over national park land. Minister for Nova Scotia Peter MacKay and the minister in charge of Parks Canada Leona Aglukkaq both endorsed the memorial.

The foundation hopes to have the monument substantially in place by Canada's 150th birthday in 2017.

The group filed no formal cost estimate with the federal government, saying the cost will depend on a number of factors such as which material is chosen.

Cape Breton-Canso Member of Parliament Rodger Cuzner said the people of northern Cape Breton near the memorial are overwhelmingly in favour of it. But he said others on the island have major concerns about funding.

Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation

“The local community is overwhelmingly in favour. The tourism industry hasn’t been great in the last couple years," said Cuzner.

Cuzner said he believes the memorial organizers got involved with noble intentions, but he's concerned about starting construction in a national park before funding is secured.

“When you’re looking at raising 50 million bucks I’m not sure that’s the best plan of attack unless you have the money in place," he said.

Mother Canada is the brainchild of Toronto businessman Tony Trigiani, who did not respond to an interview request for this story. BuzzFeed asked the foundation if they had sought federal assistance to fund the project, but has not yet heard back (Now we have! See update below).

But in an earlier statement spokeswoman Meg Stokes said the group is looking ahead.

"With regards to fundraising, we are excited to take next steps with the circle of supporters who are working together through this project to honour our fallen. As soon as the environmental assessment (DIA) and First Nations (MEKS) reviews have been completed, we will be working to convert funding commitments into donations," Stokes wrote in an email.

The Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation responded to say that it will be looking for federal support through the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program. The government plans to give out $150 million over two years through the program. The foundation did not say how much they have asked for but said the program did not exist when they began work on Mother Canada.

It's not clear if the Canada 150 program can be used to build a new monument. The government says the role of the program is to "support the rehabilitation, renovation and expansion of existing community infrastructure."

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