The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have since 2005, adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL:

Friday, May 29, 2009

The truth is a rare commodity from backers of the CMHR

The board of trustees of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights knew six months ago that their financial plans had gone horribly off the rails.

They just didn't want to tell anyone. (Until The Black Rod forced their hand last week.)

"We first flagged that there was going to be a need for more money when our board was appointed in the fall," Canadian Museum for Human Rights CEO Patrick O'Reilly told CTV news Wednesday.

There's only one problem with that statement---the truth.

The CMHR board of trustees was appointed in August, 2008, what most people would call summer. O'Reilly was appointed CEO in October, the fall. But by then the board knew full well how deep in the soup they were.

How can we say that so flatly?
Because one of the trustees was Arni Thorsteinson.

Seven months earlier, in January, 2008, he had been interviewed by the Winnipeg Free Press regarding a proposed downtown highrise.

Portage Place seeking developer
Apartments would fill need in core area

Winnipeg Free Press
Monday January 21 2008
By Murray McNeill

DOWNTOWN development officials are resurrecting the dream of seeing a highrise tower rise up from the roof at each end of Portage Place Shopping Centre.

The chief executive officer of North Portage Development Corp. said he plans to contact three or four local developers within the next two to three weeks to see if they'd be interested in building a highrise residential tower at each end of the downtown mall.

One of those developers was Arni Thorsteinson, president of Shelter Canadian Properties Ltd., and, coincidentally, chairman of a nine-member advisory committee to the CMHR. He had this to say about the perils of building anything at the time.

"All three developers said one of the biggest obstacles to overcome will be soaring construction costs, which, Thorsteinson said, have increased by 40 per cent in the last two years."

Thorsteinson knew in January, 2008, that the $265 million figure being tossed about for the museum project was a sham.

- He knew it in August when he was appointed to the board of trustees.
- He knew it in October when O'Reilly came on board.

- He knew it in December, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper came to Winnipeg for a bogus sod-turning.

Do you think for one second he didn't tell everyone connected with the project that construction costs had already blown the budget to kingdom come.

He, and they, just didn't tell the public.

That's the problem. You can't trust a word that comes out of their mouths.

O'Reilly is a perfect example. You will remember he sat at the Senate hearing where a questioning senator was assured that all cost overruns would be addressed by the board of trustees.

This week when the board finally had to confess they were already sinking under $45 million in red ink, they issued a press release assuring the public that the private Friends of the Museum were tasked with finding the money to fill the gap.

Then, behind the scenes, they went running to Gail Asper's sugar daddy, Premier Gary Doer.

Doer, you will recall, personally doubled the provincial funding of the museum to $40 million in the 2007 budget without notice or debate.

Sure enough, Doer said he would be happy to pump millions more into the failing project.

But, once again, the truth gets slippery when discussing the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

At first Doer used an economic argument.

"We've said to the museum that we're going to get a lot of revenue out of this project. We're willing to reinvest some of that to close that gap," Doer told the Winnipeg Free Press.

Okay, but the province has a hundred programs to help businesses which are expected to produce tax revenue. The museum hasn't applied to any one of them.

Could it be because they all insist on documentation, a business plan, proof of viability, things like that?

The premier also hedged his bet.

"...he suggested the government might help fund construction of some of the museum's multimedia displays and possibly contribute to some of the finishing touches on the building itself."

But the museum doesn't have a problem with money for exhibits. (Or does it?)

The $45 million is needed just to put up the building. They'd budgeted $35 million for exhibits, separately.

Dare we float the obvious?

Is the board of trustees planning to use the money for exhibits to backstop the construction, then come crying to the governments that they've got such a beautiful "iconic" building, but it's empty?

"I have helped fundraise with Gail Asper... before. I know how good she is as a fundraiser. This is not an insurmountable gap," Doer said.

Gail Asper has failed in five years to raise the $105 million in private funding that was supposedly a prerequisite for the project.

Yes, we know Kevin Rollison wrote in the Winnipeg Free Press Wednesday that the private funding goal was complete. Not according to Gail Asper.

On April 22, 2009, were were informed the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs together with the South Beach Casino donated $1 million to the Museum.

"Asper said this latest donation brings the private total to about $104 million -- about $1 million short of the museum's $105-million goal." wrote Paul Turenne in the Winnipeg Sun.

Since then the only donation they've trumpeted is $250,000 from the Canadian Union of Public Employees on May 8. That's three-quarters of a million shy of the goal.

Maybe that's why the CMHR homepage still begs donors to help them reach their goal instead of boasting success.

"This is not an insurmountable gap," Doer said.

In January, 2006, the CMHR announced private campaign pledges had reached $60 million. Add $45 million and you get $105 million, the very goal still not reached 3 years and 4 months later. And it's a moving target.

That $45 million was the shortfall in construction costs as of March 31, 2009. The museum's own spokeswoman has said they're backsliding at the rate of $1.5 million a month. They need $1.5 million in donations every month just to stand still. How's that coming?

The last donation was for a quarter of a million dollars three weeks ago. Oops.

That $35 million in the exhibits pot begins looking better by the day.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is not a cure for cancer. It should not be given a blank cheque. Especially since the public has never been given any say on whether we even want this white elephant.

* Governments must give the board of trustees a drop dead number.

* They must be told the budget must come in at this figure and not a dime more or the project ends now.

* They must be given a deadline to come up with $45 million (plus any further deficits) before construction continues.

They admit that if they stop now, the cost will go up; the corollory is that costs are going up each month anyway and they cannot keep up. So how do they expect to pay the construction cost, other than millions upon millions from the taxpayer.

If, as Doer says, raising $45 million is a snap, then the millionaires who back the museum should pledge their personal fortunes to the construction, with their commitment dropping as the Friends of the Museum raise pledges elsewhere. Any takers?

Nobody involved with the CMHR has been honest with the public since its inception. Maybe if they put their own money on the line, we'll hear the truth at last, and not at the last minute.


There was a bit of comic relief in the CMHR scam Thursday.

It was announced that Gail Asper was getting a "lifetime achievement award" from something called the Canadian Urban Institute, which turns out to be a Toronto think tank.

The presentation was to be by none other than their president, Glen Murray, Winnipeg's former mayor.

None of the news stories of the day mentioned that Glen Murray has his own sordid connection with Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

A story in the Winnipeg Free Press in April, 2005, revealed how the bureacrats in Ottawa rejected nearly $24,000 in expense claims by the Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Look who shows up at the museum trough in the list of rejected claims:

* $865 to London Limos;
* a $300 cash advance to Gail Asper related to her private meeting with the prime minister in Winnipeg last September;
* $248 for four claims under the heading of "gourmet coffee";
* $50 for in -room hotel movies;
* $12,432 "to the Murray Group, a consulting firm headed by former Winnipeg mayor Glenn Murray"

Yes, they misspelled Glen's name. And he still gives her an award. What a guy.

CMHR Update
In January, the CMHR announced a new Content Advisory Committee of human rights scholars, specialists, leaders and acknowledged experts in their respective fields.

The group consists of the old advisory committee, minus two, plus six new names.

One of the two outcasts was Anthony Hall, the 9/11 Truther who was using his seat on the committee to bolster his credibility with his conspiracy-minded friends. We revealed his dual roles on Dec. 28, 2008 ( and pfft, next thing you know, he's gone. What a coincidence.

The other name missing from the new advisory committe is Ruth Selwyn, "former executive director, Canadian Human Rights Foundation". In March, 2008, she wrote to the editor of the Montreal Gazette attacking Mark Steyn, who you recall, fought a knock 'em down, drag 'em out battle with a human rights commission---and won.

Wrote Selwyn:

"It is a pity that space is given to Mark Steyn's self-serving campaign to ridicule human rights. Steyn's representation of marginal cases as the be all and end all of the work of human-rights commissions shows a lack of understanding of the system or, worse, a deliberate attempt to distort it.

Oh that we could move on and focus on the real issues such as the discrimination that people do face every day in Canada."

It seems some people who wrap themselves in the cloak of human rights have no objections to human rights star chambers denying people their rights.

Ain't that the truth.

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