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March Madness

March is a miserable month for millionaires.

It's gotten so bad you can't go downtown without seeing some fat cat or other with his hand out, begging for money.

Spare change? Give us your twenties, your fifties, any denomination you can spare, they plead pitiously.

Some hire public relations firms to sell their cause. Some fly from their homes in Toronto to their Winnipeg pied-a-terres to appeal to the hoi polloi in person. Some suck up to newspaper owners. Who says the rich don't know sacrifice?

Winnipeg's richest families, jointly worth in the vicinity of $3 billion, need to raise $30 million by March 31st, or else.

Or else what?

Or else they can't collect tens of millions of your money for their pet projects. That's what, buster.

Millionaire moocher #1 is Gail Asper, whose family is jointly worth $833 million give or take ten million depending on this minute's stock prices.

She's begging for $20 million.

If she doesn't get it by March 31, her personal project, The Canadian Museum for Human Rights will lose $100 million pledged by the federal government for "capital costs". That is, they'll lose the funding for this year because everyone knows once money is "pledged" by government to millionaires it never returns to the taxpayers' pockets.

But that ain't half the story. Every con that goes on too long eventually begins to unravel. And this con is almost five years old.

For starters-how much is the Asper Museum project actually going to cost? The answer is: nobody knows.

Here's a sampling of the many variations:

On April 17th, 2003, on the 21st Anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, I, along with our federal and provincial governments and the City of Winnipeg partners, announced the potential creation of a groundbreaking $270 million Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
Izzy Asper

Canadian Architect June 2005
Months of rumours over the winner of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights design competition are over. On April 15, The Asper Foundation officially announced that New Mexico-based Antoine Predock won the competition for the ambitious public- private initiative begun by the late Izzy Asper in 2002 to build a major national cultural institution in Winnipeg. The total cost of the project is estimated at $243 million, with construction costs estimated at $126 million.

Embargoed until 11:00, CT, January 19, 2006:
Winnipeg, January 19, 2006: The Asper Foundation today announced a total donation to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights of $20 million.


Total project costs are $311 million - including an endowment fund for the national student travel program.

Ottawa funding human rights museum in Winnipeg
Updated Fri. Apr. 20 2007 10:16 PM ET News Staff
Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced on Friday a new Winnipeg-based Canadian Museum for Human Rights as a national institution -- qualifying it for federal funding to cover operating costs.


Harper confirmed the federal government would ultimately be responsible for the operating costs which are estimated at $22 million per year. He also said the construction costs will not exceed $265 million.


Human Rights Museum another step closer
FEB 12 2008 12:30 AM

Manitoba Conservative M-P Vic Toews, President of the Treasury Board, has seconded legislation to create the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. It will be the first national museum to be created outside the National Capital Region.


The Province of Manitoba, the City of Winnipeg, the Friends of the Canada Museum for Human Rights and the Forks Renewal Corporation are contributing a total of $165 million toward construction.
CJOB's Robert Holland reporting

So the total cost is either $240 million or $311 million. And the cost of simply building the thing is either $126 million or $164 million or $265 million.

Here's what we've been able to piece together from many sources:

Assuming the total cost to be $311M.

· $50 million is for an endowment fund to bring 20,000 junior high students to Winnipeg each year
· $100 million is for exhibits
· The remaining $161 million would be for construction

Except that the $311 million figure is two years old.

* The MTS Centre, which opened in 2006, cost $133 million and it's essentially a concrete box with seats and corridors.

* Winnipeg's new water treatment plant was $65 million over budget at last count despite every budget safeguard known to man and a few invented just for the project.

* The Manitoba Hydro Tower currently being built on Portage Avenue was supposed to cost $278 million as of one year ago, but it's opening date is seven months late and goodness knows how many millions the project is over budget. Why? Because the current rule of thumb in construction is costs are rising 1.5 to 2 percent per month. That's PER MONTH.

* That means the cost of the Museum for Human Rights could be growing by 18-20 percent a year. Since 2006, the cost could have risen almost $30 million and could go up another $35 million if constuction starts in 2008.

And where's that money going to come from? Exhibits or endowments?

You know where the money is going to come from.


The same place the $22 million a year to run the museum is going to come from. And the millions its going to cost to bring soldiers and police and civil servants to Winnipeg to learn all about human rights, probably from the people who run the Human Rights Commissions that are stifling free speech across the country in the name of, oh yeah, protecting human rights.

The dash to raise $20 million by March 31 is just to trigger construction. Once the first shovel hits the ground, you, the taxpayer, have bought the pig in a poke and you'll be paying the millions in cost overruns. Too pessimistic?

According to what's been written on the internet by well placed sources in a position to know, the museum backers have just issued a proposal for the glasswork on the museum and supposedly only FIVE companies in North America are capable of doing the specialized work required. Since the whole museum is glass, this ain't going to be cheap.

Hang onto your wallets, boys and girls, its going to be a bumpy ride.

And that's good advice in any case because there's still a swarm of millionaires out there looking for a little green from you. Correction - - a lot of green.

This band of merry men call themselve the Friends of Upper Fort Garry. They need to raise $10 million dollars by March 31 to kibosh a developer's plans to build an apartment complex on surplus city land near the fort's gates. The Friends showed no interest in Upper Fort Garry until the developer answered the city's RFP (request for proposal) and negotiated a price for the surplus land. Then the Friends decided they had a veto over the city's deal.

They wanted the land, they pouted, and the city should give it to them. And taxpayers should cough up $12.5 million for an "interpretive centre" and a "heritage park". And anyone who disagrees with them is a hateful Philistine.

The only thing standing in their way was the mayor's ethical position that "a deal's a deal."

Ethics, smethics. DON'T YOU KNOW WHO WE ARE? WE'RE RICH. City Hall has to jump when WE say jump.


The Winnipeg Free Press has jumped.

Editor Bob Cox is doing a great job keeping the fact that newspaper owner Bob Silver is one of the Friends out of the newspaper. Otherwise people might begin thinking the paper's coverage of the issue is biased.

The Friends have personally pledged $2.5 million towards the $12.5 million they estimate their pet project will cost. They think that if they can raise $3.5 million, the federal and provincial governments will hand over $9 million because, well, the Friends are rich, and why wouldn't they?

The plutocrats have spared no deceit to win. They run ads pleading with the public to "save" Upper Fort Garry---and cough up some cash. The implication being that the developer plans to tear down the gate and dig up the site. A lie, but is a lie in a good cause wrong?

They've even engaged in tortured theatrics on a pledge drive staged on CJOB. David Asper, yes Gail's big brother, pretended to toss in some pocket change for the Friend's campaign by pledging $500,000 from the Asper Foundation. It turned out the pledge was a retread of a donation made weeks ago and already included in the $2.5 million. Hartley Richardson, whose family has a net worth of $2 billion, wanted to play Daddy Warbucks as well so he chipped in $500,000 too, except it was also the same half mil he pledged in January.

The public pledged a whopping $75,000 to bring the grand total to....uh... carry the zero.... $75,000 more than it was before the millionaires' pledge drive.

Pledges have dried up since faster than global warming in the Arctic.

The Millionaire Friends are now trying to get city councillors to overturn the deal with the developer, ostensibly to give the Friends more time to raise money. So far they've got Dan Vandal in their pocket. We can hardly wait to see whether the vaunted defenders of the poor and working class, Lillian Thomas, Harvey Smith, Jenny Gerbasi, Harry Lazarenko, Mike Pagtakhan, and even Russ Wyatt fight for the right of millionaires to party at the Manitoba Club without riff raff taking their parking spaces.

Here's the problem. The developer needs to know by March 31st if he can start contruction or if he's stuck with empty land for another year. If he needs to recoup his costs, can you smell a lawsuit for breach of contract? Who's going to pay for that?

It ain't going to be the millionaires. Not unless they can raise the money from you.

Spare change? Twenties. Fifties. Whatever you got.....

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