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, August 14, 2009

CMHR won't be able to revise this history

He ducked. He dodged. He weaved. But in the end, he coughed up.

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 journalism, Currier 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 point 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.

Not that we believe it.

They'll be back, begging cup in hand, within a year.
"That steel work was trickier than anyone expected."
" That glass is so unique, it's worth every extra penny."
"We've spent so much, already, we can't stop now."

You know the drill.

Still, CJOB, without apparently recognizing a real news story even when it's biting them on the ankle, actually squeezed out a lot of information the museum proponents would sooner have kept secret:

* they were aware before construction began that the museum budget was wildly out of whack and easily $50 million in the red

* they have formally asked the City of Winnipeg and Manitoba Premier Gary Doer for more millions.

* the provincial Department of Education will be providing backdoor funding to the museum to subsidize visits by school children.

* they insist that their claim of 250,000 visitors a year means real people going through the turnstyles, and not visits on-line.

Is CJOB switching format from a news station to a history station?
Readers of The Black Rod have known for 2 1/2 months that Gail Asper and Arni Thorsteinson were aware that they were at least $45 million over budget before the first shovel hit the imported dirt on the project in December.

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.

And that's not counting the $5 to $9 million in property taxes they will owe each year and which they haven't a clue how to pay, and which Currier carefully avoided mentioning.

Or maybe they do.

They've gone to the city and province panhandling for more money, haven't they? How much? Why hasn't anyone at either level of government revealed the approach? Why are our elected officials hiding Gail Asper's midnight call?

Are they trying to find some backdoor way to channel money to her pet project, like the Department of Education? Funny how that use of taxpayers' money was never publicized. How much money has Education Minister Peter Bjornson promised to spend on propping up the Canadian Museum of Human Rights? Was he ever planning to tell the public?

The funniest claim is that the museum backers expect a quarter of a million real people to visit the museum.

Currier failed to ask about Gail Asper's own bogus claims of tourists flocking to Winnipeg, which, as revealed in The Black Rod
were based on adding up all the visitors coming in groups and claiming the CMHR was responsible for luring them here.

Did Thorsteinson and Asper forget that in March, 2008, a report from the Advisory Committee on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights was delivered to Josee Verner, Canada's Heritage Minister, in which they stated:

"It will be important, though, to acknowledge that visitors to this museum will also include online visitors, people engaged through outreach and through travelling programs."

There, in black and white, they confessed that online visits will be included in their visitor total. And the CMHR plans travelling shows to attract people in other cities.

Wow, that's going to boost the economy in Winnipeg.

By comparison, Folklorama, which hasn't cost us $300 million in 40 years, boasted 446,000 visits to 44 pavilions last year. And they don't have to bus anyone in at government expense.

Gail Asper told CJOB that their business plan predicted 250,000 visits annually by real people. That would be the secret business plan that can't be shown to anybody, so we can put as much credibility to it as we put in the museum's constantly changing budget numbers.

But the most stomach-turning segment of the interview came when Currier asked what he called the "skunk at the picnic question"----is this just really only your pet project?

Asper called on the ghost of her father to prove alleged public support for the museum. If, she said, the project had been pitched to the levels of government and nobody had bitten, then her father, Izzy Asper, would have walked away, saying "Fine, I've got other things to do."

But "the fact is", said Gail, the federal, provincial and city governments "loved it."

Unfortunately for her, the one thing millionares can't do is rewrite the past, or expunge the record.

On April 17th, 2003, Izzy Asper announced the "potential creation" of a $270 million Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

"The Asper Foundation has proposed a unique partnership for funding the capital cost of the museum, estimated at $200 million for the first phase." he said.

The original proposal, prepared in 2001, called for $100 million from the federal government, $20 million from the province, $20 million from the city of Winnipeg, and $60 million from the private sector.

But Izzy Asper died in October, 2003. And the fact is the CMHR wasn't exactly embraced wildly by politicians or the public.

There had been a lot of meetings. At the time of his death, the City of Winnpeg had provided a letter committing to $20 million "in a combination of cash and value in kind (land)." They were still debating a property tax exemption. The province submitted a letter agreeing to cover 10 percent of capital costs (which included site development, building construction, interior furnishings, and exhibits."

And the federal government was in for $30 million.

The headlines pick up the story...

Human rights museum stalled as Ottawa considers funding
Last Updated: Wednesday, July 7, 2004

Politicians at odds on human rights museum funding dispute
Last Updated: Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Nine months after Izzy Asper's death, the museum proponents were fighting the federal government over money. They claimed Izzy Asper had a verbal agreement with former Prime Minister Jean Chretien that the feds would cough up $100 million.

CBC asked Manitoba MP Reg Alcock who was telling the truth.

"Chr├ętien had promised to donate further money, said Treasury Board Minister Reg Alcock, but it wasn't going to be $100 million, a figure he says the Asper Foundation named on its own.
"There's no evidence of that," Alcock said. "Because they decided they wanted that [and] we had to deliver it is just wrong. It's just not the way we do business."

It wasn't until April, 2007, 3 1/2 years after Izzy Asper's death, that Prime Minister Stephen Harper put life into the CMHR. He formally committed to paying up to $100 million of the $265 million cost of the project, plus covering the annual operating costs of $22 million--- and only after making the Canadian Museum for Human Rights a national museum.

Historical revisionism isn't very becoming.

Oh, and for the record, we weren't the first to call the CMHR an Asper pet project.

That honour belongs to the CBC.

Politicians at odds on human rights museum funding dispute
Last Updated: Tuesday, August 17, 2004 10:24 AM ET
CBC Arts

The Asper Foundation revealed the museum's three design finalists in April.
The $270-million museum, which aims to be the world's largest human rights insitution and learning centre, was a pet project of Izzy Asper, the late media magnate.

Human rights museum stalled as Ottawa considers funding
Last Updated: Wednesday, July 7, 2004 1:28 PM ET
CBC News

Plans for the proposed Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg could be in jeopardy because of a dispute with the federal government over its funding.
Supporters of the $270-million museum, a pet project of late CanWest Global chairman Israel Asper, were counting on a $100-million commitment from Ottawa to create the world's largest human rights institution and centre for education.

Tomorrow: Pig, meet Poke. Do you know exactly what we're spending $310 million on? You won't believe it.

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