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Blogspot | 21Dec2011 | blackrod
The solution to CMHR
is Gail Asper's worst nightmare
Who writes The
Black Rod? Kreskin?
With the facade of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights crumbling
around the ears of its backers, we
found ourselves recalling the warnings we issued in months and even
"Remember, THEY HAVE NO
MONEY. The scam is
to get enough to keep construction going until later this year, say during the provincial
election, when they
will admit they're skint, and throw themselves on the mercy of the
We wrote that about the Canadian Museum for Human Rights last April---eight
Not impressed? Look at what we wrote in July, 2009:
"In fact, we estimate
that without huge infusions of new cash almost immediately, they will run
out of money in the spring of 2011."
It looks now that on both
counts we were spot on.
By the Spring of 2011 the trustees of the CMHR were staring into a
financial abyss. The government money taps would be turned off in
another year. Those vaunted millions in private donations had turned
out to be a steamer trunk full of IOU's. They were collecting dimes on
the dollar on their pledges and very soon the cash flow would barely
cover CEO Stu Murray's trips around the country.
With a $20 million hole in the budget on top of the cash shortage,
their options were limited. To their surprise, the federal government
was serious about cutting spending to trim the deficit. The province
was facing an election in the fall and not willing to cozy up to Gail
Asper who was spearheading a smear campaign against Canada's Ukrainian
community. That left only Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz, safely re-elected
and controlling millions of taxpayer dollars.
In hindsight, we can now see the origin of the frantic manoeuvering
last March by Katz to get city council to approve a kickback of $3.6
million in future property tax revenue to the CMHR. This wasn't an
above-board "gesture" of support to a wildly out-of-control
Instead, it has every appearance of a politician doing the bidding of a
millionaire friend over the best interests of the citizens of Winnipeg.
And we can tell you today
that the largesse of City Hall didn't end there.
As reported exclusively in The Black Rod, the Canadian Museum for Human
Rights hasn't paid its full property taxes for two years running. If
next June 30 they failed to pay their 2012 taxes, the CMHR would go up
for tax sale unless the trustees paid the entire outstanding bill at
But, then, Christmas came early for
Gail Asper and the museum.
On July 21st, 2011, somebody at City Hall
quietly wrote off $118,000 of the museum's tax bill.
The outstanding bill was a shade over $443,000 plus penalties of almost
$36,000 for non-payment in 2010. The city charges 1.25 percent per
month on unpaid tax bills.
Somehow, prime riverfront property independently assessed at $7
million, at least, lost value.
Without a word to the
public, somebody cut $118,000 off the CMHR's unpaid tax bill.
The same day as receiving the writeoff, the museum made a payment of
$98,538. The effect was to buy time. They can now default on their
2012 taxes without fear of going on the list of tax sale properties.
As we wrote just this past July:
"You can see why the
millionaires backing the CMHR can't be bothered paying their city
"They're counting on Sam Katz and
Justin Swandel to turn a blind eye for their buddies while
insisting the little people have to pay more taxes."
The Trustees of the CMHR managed to keep a lid on their financial woes
from Spring to Fall. The first crack in the official story came in
November in a puff piece on Gail Asper in the Toronto Star. For the first time ever there
was a mention that the museum wouldn't open until perhaps 2014.
There was no attribution for the date, so we dismissed it as
But a month later, the museum held its first ever public meeting, and
the cracks became chasms.
They confirmed the museum opening had been postponed for a year from
April, 2013, to sometime in 2014. Even that turned out to be a moving
target, as later statements from communications director Angela Cassie
said they were hoping it would open in 2014, but a later date was
The reason for the one year postponement?
Well, that, too, varied with the day, if not the hour.
At first Cassie said it was to give the museum time to train its staff
to deal with emotional visitors. But eventually, the truth sneaked
out----they were soon to be broke. They didn't have the money to fit up
Hell, they could hardly
count on enough money to finish building it--- exactly as predicted in
The Black Rod.
Even the Winnipeg Free Press, the propaganda arm of the Canadian Museum
for Human Rights, reluctantly conceded the facts in their Saturday
"Large gifts, moreover, are usually awarded over a limited time
period,say $1 million over 10 years. As a result, the museum's capital
campaign is not only behind by $20 million, there are millions of other
dollars that can't be spent or banked because they haven't started to
You don't say? Or should we say, you never
The newspaper's confession means, simply, that all those photos of a grinning
Gail Asper announcing some huge, ahem, donation without
once pointing out that the, ahem, donation was a tenth of the stated
value per year
Propaganda, not news.
Thankfully, those photo ops have dwindled to almost zero, just like the
museum's bank account.
But the Free Press had a solution to the museum's financial woes ---
the federal government should just give the CMHR a blank cheque.
See how simple it is,
when it comes to the pet projects of millionaires ?
We, too, have a solution and it, too, involves the federal government.
We're not the only ones to reach the same conclusion.
Put the Canadian Museum for Human Rights under third party management.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper ordered the Attawapiskat Indian Reserve
put under third party management because conditions were unacceptable
given the $90 million plus Ottawa has spent on the reserve since 2007.
Well, that's exactly what
the federal government has spent on the CMHR since 2007 and the results
are just as unacceptable.
Why are the white boys (and girl) being treated more favourably than
Nobody knows how much the museum is going to cost -- if it's ever
finished. They've already spent more than $200 million on construction
and nobody can even guess at what the final cost will be. Hell, they
can't even tell you what year it will open.
As of today, the rough plan is to finish building the structure in
2012, then let it sit empty for a year or two, or more, until they
figure out how to pay for the state-of-the-art bells and whistles that
will make up the exhibits. Once you've crossed out 'government', nobody
knows where the money will come from.
Nobody really knows how much money the Friends of the Museum have
Nobody knows what caveats are attached to the alleged donations.
Nobody knows how the pledges are structured---over how many years, for
example. Nobody knows what number of pledges have defaulted in the
current tough economic climate.
A third party manager
should dismiss the museum's board of directors and conduct a full,
forensic audit to reveal exactly how the CMHR has spent the money its
Apart from concrete, steel and glass, let's see ... there's sending
museum CEO Stu Murray on a junket to China, giving out bursaries to the
University of Winnipeg's Adventures in Global Citizenship Institute for
a three-week course they created, partnering in putting on a
documentary film festival in Montreal and, oh, co-sponsoring with
Amnesty International the screening in Ottawa of a documentary about
gay rights in Cameroon.
Yes, that's right, gay rights in Cameroon.
Given that the Friends of the Museum hands out charitable tax credits
for donations, a third party manager should demand full access to the
donors' list and publish any restrictions attached to any donations.
That's called transparency.
The Canadian Museum for
Human Rights was built on lies and it's time for the federal government
to step in and clean house.
The board of trustees
cannot be trusted any further.
The museum backers are playing their two last cards to duck the blame
for the fiasco while keeping their hands on the taxpayers' wallets.
It's a national museum, and as such, the federal government has a
responsibility to pay whatever it costs to build and maintain it, they
And nobody could have guessed the final bill. All previous
figures provided to the public were only estimates.
Before the Senate gave approval for the federal government to take over
the construction of the CMHR after it proved too expensive as Izzy
Asper's private project, one Senator asked the right questions of the
witnesses called in support of the move, including Patrick
O'Reilly, Director, Implementation Strategy, Canadian Museum for Human
Rights, and Rina Pantalony, Legal Counsel, Canadian
As reported exclusively in The Black Rod:
amended here for brevity)
Senator Jim Munson
(Acting Chair) in the chair:
The primary purpose of
Bill C-42 is to create a new national museum for human rights. It is to
be called the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. As provided by clause 1
through clause 4 of the bill, it will be established as an independent
Crown corporation through amendments to the Museums Act.
Lyn Elliot Sherwood, Executive Director,
Heritage Group, Canadian Heritage )
On the page of your presentation entitled ``Background,'' it talks
about $165 million having come from various sources other than the
federal government and $100 million coming from the federal government.
On the next
page you say that the budget to build and fit up the museum, including
exhibition development, would be capped at $265 million.
These projects have a tendency to run over the expected costs. Who will pick up the tab
if the costs exceed $265 million?
Sherwood: It is the responsibility of the board to develop
an approach to the building plan that includes a generous contingency
provision designed to stay within the budget. A number of steps can be
taken in planning for a construction project with detailed design,
development and costing
prior to the letting of construction contracts that enable a board to
accurately assess whether the project can come in on budget.
Senator Cowan: Does the $265 million include a
Ms. Sherwood: Yes, it does.
Senator Cowan: This is not one of those
projects where the federal government is left to pick up anything over
and above the $165 million that is contributed by other
parties, is it?
Ms. Sherwood: The total budget is $265 million. You
are putting your finger on a very real risk in the current environment,
which is the impact of inflation on construction budgets. That has been
factored into planning and is one of the reasons for the
urgency of this bill because at the moment the purchasing power of that
$265 million is being eroded at the rate of between $800,000 and $1.5
million per month.
Senator Cowan: I am not being critical of this project.
However, someone has to hold it at the end of the day.
Ms. Sherwood: The board of trustees
will be accountable for bringing this project in on budget
and making decisions with respect to the building design and the
contingency fund set aside that allow it to bring the project in on
The answers provided the
Senate were concise and clear.
The budget would be capped at $265 million. Steps would be taken to
"assess whether the project can come in on budget." Construction
inflation had been factored into the planning as was a "generous"
contingency. And, most
importantly, "the board of trustees WILL BE accountable for
bringing this project in on budget."
There was no talk of an "estimated" budget that could balloon out of
control and which the federal government would have to pay.
After we detected
in 2009 that the CMHR was grossly over budget, we called for them to
produce a "drop dead" figure---a construction cost that would be final
and fixed. It took a
while, but they finally coughed it up. Here's what we
wrote at the time:
Friday, August 14,
CMHR won't be able to
revise this history
He ducked. He dodged. He weaved. But in the end, he coughed
A drop-dead number. On the record. In stone.
CJOB radio host Geoff Currier sparred Thursday
morning with Arni Thorsteinson, chairman of the board of trustees for
the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and with Gail Asper, chairman of
the fundraising campaign by the Friends of the museum.
It was carefully
choreographed with scripted questions and absolutely no fielding of
calls from the public. But in an uncharacteristic display of
wouldn't let Thorsteinson get away without answering if the museum
project had a "ceiling," a cost that wouldn't be exceeded
no matter what.
"We're at that
now," Thorsteinson finally said.
"We've got our final budget. We're highly confident that
we will complete the project at that cost."
That cost: $310 million. Write it down. Print it
out. Paint it on the wall. Because Thorsteinson and
Gail Asper must be held to account to that number. No excuses. No more
moving finish line.
Well, guess what.
Two years later they're
trying to rewrite history.
$310 million was only
another estimate, they say.
Projects like this are complex and nobody can guess what they'll cost
in the end, they protest.
Especially not the taxpayer footing the bill.
Oh, and Arni Thorsteinson mysteriously resigned last week. He's not around anymore to
discuss the firm assurance he gave the public that the cost of the CMHR
The argument that the federal government is responsible for funding the
CMHR whatever the cost because the museum is a national facility is a
The CMHR was always, and is still, the Asper Family's pet project. It
was intended to be a private museum centred on the Holocaust until
costs grew out of control. There was never any desire from the public
for a human rights museum. Ever. It was imposed on the public and
everyone knows it.
Today, we can compare
what the public truly wants, with what is being rammed down their
throats by Gail Asper and her political pals.
The Jets are back.
* The CMHR trustees claim that 6600 people have donated to the museum.
The Winnipeg Jets sell out 15,000 seats every game.
* The CMHR claims its raised $130 million, although we now see that's a
bogus figure. A huge proportion of that number is pledges of money in
the future. To date, they may actually have collected half, if that.
The Jets, by comparison, would rake in $22 million a year if you're
using only the lowest season ticket price, and double that, $44
million, at an average season price. And they're sold out for the next
three years, with 15,000 more people ready and willing to snap up
tickets if they go on sale.
* One is something people want---and will gladly pay for. The other is
a pet project of elitist millionaires, something that people don't want
and which they have to be forced to pay for.
The Winnipeg Free Press has floated a figure for the latest cost
overrun -- $45
million but its attributed only to unnamed "sources". The
Friends of the CMHR already can't raise the $20 million outstanding on
the last overrun. Add
$45 million to that and you've entered the Twilight Zone.
The feds have said they're not upping their contribution. Period. The
province is looking at a billion dollar deficit and is not likely to
slip in another $40-50-60 million. And the city doesn't have that kind
If all this sounds vaguely familiar, it should.
We've witnessed this
sequence of events before -- the sudden collapse of a
careful coverup, politicians in the know running for cover, a rash of
resignations of senior executives, a Ponzi-like scam to use bogus
figures to trick new investors into signing cheques to bail out
previous investors, a small cabal of elitists out to change the world
and stick the taxpayer with the bill...
Labels: boondoggle, budget deficit, CMHR,
Crocus, Gail Asper, Justin Swandel, Sam Katz