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:

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Winnipeg Free Press plays catch-up to us on the CMHR


The Winnipeg Free Press on Saturday discovered the obvious.

"Human rights museum budget already short."

The story is part of a series the newspaper has planned, with the next installments being 'The sky is blue'; 'Ice: It's frozen water!'; and 'Bacon is delicious.'

Reporter Mia Rabson wrote that the Canadian Museum for Human Rights "is expected to be over budget on everything from its capital costs to its annual operating needs because of inflation and taxes."

No kidding?

Here's the real story that Rabson missed: the budgets the museum files with the government have absolutely no relation to reality.

They either haven't got a clue what the project will cost at any stage, or, they do and they're lying through their teeth.

They say they need another $5.2 million in operating funds for this year (2009) alone. They got $6.5 million from Ottawa to cover the years 2008-2010, but they're running short and want a bit more---like 80 percent more.

We note particularly that Rabson fails to explain what operating costs are exactly for a building that hasn't been built.

Printer ink? Postage? Gail Asper's travel costs? Or is it the back taxes they owe the City of Winnipeg?

Oh, says the museum spokeswoman, about those "operating costs" after the musum is up and running --- you better plan on adding another $9 million a year. That's 41 percent higher than we said they would be. And that's not counting inflation which will up the ante even more.

And the actual cost of erecting the museum?
Yep. Going up.
Nope. No clue by how much.

But museum spokeswoman Angela Cassie knows where the extra money is expected from.

Wrote Rabson:

"Cassie said all stakeholders, including the three levels of government and additonal private donors, will be tapped to help."

Hmmm. Let's see … the museum backers have already failed to raise their promised share of cost ($103 million), and now they say they'll be asking private donors to cough up more millions. Yeah, we believe that nose-stretcher. So that leaves…ummm. YOU, SUCKER.

We did learn, for the first time ever, that the budgeted cost of the fancy museum building is $165 million.

Up to now that's been a closely guarded secret, with proponents only talking about the entire project costing $285 million.

We can now begin to rough out the numbers a bit more. A year ago we reported that the human rights museum number crunchers had included a 15 percent contingency for cost overruns. We can see today that the actual budget for construction was $143 million plus a contingency of about $21 million. That leaves $80 million, which, we're told is to cover the cost of exhibits---and the interior--- and of which at least $27 million has already been spent.

But museum backers continue to play fast and loose with the truth.

The Winnipeg Free Press reported that the museum spokesmen presented a report to Ottawa stating "…the $165 million estimate for the base building…was done in 2007."

But on three months ago, the newspaper reported ("Museum spinoffs an economic bright spot", Murray McNeill, Feb. 10, 2009):

"The museum's chief operating officer Patrick O'Reilly said in an interview the final price tag could be higher because construction costs have risen significantly since that cost estimate was calculated in 2004."

Which is it? The museum spokesmen say the cost estimate is either two years out of date or five years out of date.

Regardless -- The resulting margin of error is mindboggling.

Already they're saying the cost of the basic building is surely going up. The contingency fund has been entirely used up---just as we reported a year ago.

No less an authority than Gail Asper's big bro, David, said (New stadium by 2009 unlikely, Asper says, Winnipeg Free Press, March 29, 2008) that construction costs had gone up 1.5 percent a month over the last year. There went the contingency fund -- and not a thimble of dirt had been moved yet.

Add construction inflation for 2008 and 2009 and you're already looking at a hole in the budget of $20-30 million, with years of construction to go.

Remember what the Public Utilities Board said about the downtown Manitoba Hydro building?:
"9.7 New Head Office
As a condition of the purchase agreement entered into when WH was acquired, MH agreed to build a new Corporate head office in downtown Winnipeg. The building was originally forecast in CEF 03-1 at a cost estimate of $75 million, the amount then cited as a 'place marker' subject to design changes and cost revisions.
The new building is to accommodate approximately 2,100 employees and to be ready for occupation by 2009, and come at a projected revised cost of $278 million."

That's a whopping 370 percent over the initial cost estimate.

And the CMHR isn't expecting to have most of its tenders in until November.

We see that the museum proponents now intend to slough off the rising costs on the government "stakeholders" even though they solemnly promised only a year ago that wouldn't happen.

"It turns out the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights held a hearing into the human rights museum Monday, March 3, 2008 before passing the law making it a national institution.

Senator James Cowan asked:
" 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? "

Lyn Elliot Sherwood, Executive Director, Heritage Group, Canadian Heritage, answered.
"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 budget."

Did they intentionally deceive the Senate?

Can you say bait-and-switch?

It's not too late to say:

Enough And No More.

Fill. In. The. Hole.

They lied to the Senate to get the government on the financial hook. They've proven they haven't the slightest idea what the project is going to cost other than they're orders of magnitude out on their public estimates.

The CBC last week ran a documentary on Enron called "The Smartest Guys in the Room". At the film's conclusion the narrator asks why, until the company imploded, nobody ever raised a single objection to the company's business practices---not the legion of accountants, or the lawyers, or the brokers, or the financial analysts.

We're asking the same question about the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

And the answer is obvious.

This is exactly like Meech Lake and the Charlottetown Accord. The "elites" have decided its good for us and they're going to force it down our throats one way or another.

Nobody asked for this museum. It was never discussed or put up for public debate. It was never supposed to be a publicly funded endeavour. It began as Izzy Asper's pet project. When he died it became his daughter Gail's pet project.

Remember when it was pitched as Asper's contribution to Winnipeg? How it was going to put Winnipeg on the world map? How it was going to be to Winnipeg what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris?

Now even the biggest proponents shuffle their feet and mumble how it's going to be an addition to the attractions in Winnipeg for tourists.

"Hey kids. Let's take a vote. Do we go to see the baby kangaroos at the zoo? or go to the human rights museum and see how bigots beat up black children to keep them from going to school with whites?"

"Kangaroos, daddy, kangaroos."

"Come on, don't be hasty. There's lots to learn at the human rights museum. Who knows how to spell genocide?"

"Kangaroos, daddy, kangaroos."

Gail Asper realized her family's pet project still cost too much, so she foisted it off on the federal and provincial governments who simply announced that henceforth it was a public project. No debate. No discussion. No option.

No choice except to watch a quarter of a billion dollars given to a billionaire's family to guarantee his daughter gets free travel around the world at our expense forever.

Now that's obvious.

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