OTTAWA - The Harper government has hired a consultant to inject a little war into this year's Canada Day bash on Parliament Hill.
A Toronto theatre expert has been asked to find ways to insert a War of 1812 commemoration into the July 1st festivities that typically include pop music, dance and pyrotechnics.
"I do big-ass special events all the time, so they asked me to do that," artistic producer Paul Shaw said in an interview. "It's sort of tricky to do a War of 1812 theme when you've got so many modern things in and around it."
The Conservative government, which has been promoting Canada's military culture and heritage, has earmarked money and resources throughout the year to commemorate the bicentennial of the outbreak of War of 1812 in North America.
The hostilities led to a stalemate almost three years later between the United States and Britain's budding settlements in Canada, and some historians consider the war a pivotal moment in Canadian nationhood, though it is little known outside academia.
The Canadian Heritage Department normally injects patriotic themes into the Canada Day noontime show on Parliament Hill, giving the National Capital Commission a free hand to organize the evening show with singers and fireworks in a party atmosphere.
But a recently posted document indicates that the war theme will appear in both shows.
"The events on Parliament Hill also present a key opportunity of the federal government to foster enthusiasm and excitement around other significant events," says a tender document from the commission.
"In 2012, the Government of Canada is commemorating the War of 1812 and this theme must be incorporated in both the Noon and Evening Shows."
Last year, the noon show plans were carefully vetted by the Prime Minister's Office, a May 13 briefing note to the prime minister shows. Prince William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, attended and the prince gave a short speech praising the work of the military.
Military traditions were highlighted last year with a 21-gun salute, a CF-18 jetfighter flypast and a short video on the end of Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan depicting Canadian soldiers, all absent in the evening show. The themes of citizenship and Parks Canada's centennial were also highlighted.
Shaw, whose Toronto firm is Chez Pshaw, previously helped organize Pope John Paul II's visit to Toronto in 2002, and Olympic torch relays on Parliament Hill last year. Hired three weeks ago as a creative consultant for Canadian Heritage, Shaw says he wants to emphasize the 200-year-old origins of Canada's armed forces.
The War of 1812 "may be the last time aboriginals, the French and the English worked together, and it's what I'm trying to key in on," he said. "That's when we all helped each other, and because of it won some battles."
The National Capital Commission, a Crown corporation created in 1959 to oversee federal parks, buildings and events in the Ottawa region, has budgeted $3.7 million for this year's Canada Day festivities. Shaw's contract was not put out for competitive bidding because it is below a $25,000 threshold for mandatory tendering. Neither Shaw nor the commission would reveal the value.
A spokeswoman for the commission did not respond directly when asked whether the requirement for an 1812 theme in the evening show, as well as in the noon show, is a departure from the usual division of planning responsibility between the commission and Canadian Heritage.
"As you can imagine, there is a great deal of collaboration between the NCC and Canadian Heritage over content for the Parliament Hill shows, as many of the artists perform on both shows, and the stage, equipment, lighting, audio, services etc. are shared and so on," Denise LeBlanc said in an email.
A spokeswoman for Canadian Heritage, Dominique Collin, said only that "planning for the Canada Day Noon Show is at the preliminary stages."
In November, the military was again on display at Parliament Hill when the government paid tribute to Canada's role in the NATO mission in Libya. The ceremony included flypasts of a giant C-17 transport, a formation of CF-18s and a CC-150 Polaris. There was also a 21-gun salute to Gov.-Gen. David Johnston.
Last week, Heritage Minister James Moore announced a Canada Day poster contest, calling on young Canadians aged five to 18 to create original posters on the theme "1812: The Fight for Canada."
"This year, participants are invited to create a poster showing how people from different backgrounds and regions joined forces to fight for Canada during the War of 1812," Moore said.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version gave incorrect titles for Prince William and Catherine.