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:

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Shame. Gail Asper sexed up the tourist benefit of the CMHR

Gail Asper will be lucky if she's not sued by Burger King for copyright infringement given the number of whoppers in her Wednesday op-ed defending the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Regular readers of The Black Rod could immediately spot her newly-spun pair of nose-stretchers, and it only took us five minutes to expose her biggest mugging of the truth. The desperation in her article to stop the bleeding of her credibility tells how rapidly her house of cards is collapsing.

"Weigh the museum's costs, and benefits" read the ironic headline in the Winnipeg Free Press, because, really, the absolute last thing Gail Asper wants is for anyone to actually make that comparison.

"The Canadian Museum for Human Rights will "provide significant economic benefits for the citizens of Winnipeg and Manitoba which, but for the creation for the museum, would not exist in our province," wrote Asper.

What delusional arrogance. Spending $300 million on any construction project in the province would create the same economic benefits as her pet project.

"The previous budget of $265 million for the museum was an estimated budget that was developed a few years ago."

This historical revisionism may fool reporters in the mainstream media, but readers of The Black Rod know this claim for what it is: a blatant lie.

On March 3, 2008, the museum backers appeared before the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights to pitch the idea that the heretofore private museum should become a national, and nationally funded, museum. If Winnipeg's daily newspapers truly want to publish an op-ed that informs the public and illuminates an issue, they should publish the transcript of that hearing.

The Senators heard from witnesses who included Lyn Elliot Sherwood, Executive Director, Heritage Group, Canadian Heritage; and Patrick O'Reilly, Director, Implementation Strategy, Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Senator James Cowan asked the question on everyone's mind: "Who will pick up the tab if the costs exceed $265 million?"

The following exchange exposes Gail Asper's lie.

Ms. 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 contingency provision?
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.

The total budget is $265 million. How much clearer can you say it? Patrick O'Reilly sat beside Lyn Sherwood. He didn't chime in, "oh, actually, that's an estimate and the final cost will likely be much higher." He heard what she said and agreed.

Sherwood warned the Senators that construction costs were increasing at a rate of "between $800,000 and $1.5 million per month." But, she said, "(t)hat has been factored into planning."

In final reassurance, she said:

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 budget.

Patrick O'Reilly, representing the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, heard every word spoken and approved every commitment Sherwood made to the Senators.

Want more?

Western Economic Diversification Canada was under no illusion what the museum project was to cost, publishing this on its website:

Foundations (Conditional Grants)
Name of recipient: Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights Inc. (Friends)
Start date: February 25, 2004
End date: N/A
Total funding: $27,000,000
Description: Establishment of a museum for human rights in Winnipeg.
Strategic outcome(s): Community Economic Development
Summary of annual plans of recipient: On April 20, 2007, the federal, provincial and municipal governments, Friends and the Forks North Portage Partnership signed a Statement of Intentions to create this Museum as a federal institution by April 1, 2008. Federal funding for the $265 million project is capped at $100 million, including this $27 million grant and an earlier $3.0 million contribution from WD.

The idea that the $265 million figure was just an estimate was first floated in the CMHR's corporate plan submitted to Parliament earlier this year, when the board already knew they were drowning in red ink and would eventually have to come clean.

If you haven't already, read the story that forced their hand---The Black Rod, May 21, 2009, CMHR to Politicians: We Lied. So, Whatcha Gonna Do?

Back to Gail Asper's op-ed, we read:
"we have raised $37 million from the private sector in the last two years alone..."

Did she really think the public has forgotten the millions "donated" by Manitoba Hydro, the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission, the Manitoba Lotteries Corporation, and the Manitoba Public Insurance corporation? How did these public utilities become "the private sector"? By fiat from her #1 benefactor Gary Doer?

Did she think we forgot that $1 million came from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, representing the poorest people in the province? And that the firefighters forsook their own charity, the children's burn fund, to divert money to Gail Asper? We wouldn't be so quick to trumpet those "private donations."

And where is the mention of the costs to the public purse of the CMHR? The museum site ate up 400 parking places at the Forks, which is why The Forks North Portage Partnership is building a new parkade at public expense. Should we deduct that expense from Gail Asper's inflated benefits column? What about the money given by Western Economic Diversification Canada to Hostelling International - Canada (Manitoba Region) to work with the CMHR on hostel accomodations, because, goodness knows, there's nothing like penny-pinching backpackers to make the hospitality industry such strong and enthusiastic supporters of the museum.

Which brings us to Gail Asper's biggest whopper.

"Benefits accruing to Manitoba as a result of the increase of tourism are conservatively estimated by the province to be $25.7 million per year."

To begin with, the federal government has promised to pay $21.7 million annually for operating costs. Payment in lieu of city taxes will be on top of that, at $5 to $9 million a year, if the Friends of the museum get their way.

So we'll be spending $26.7 million to $30.7 million a year to collect $25.7 million in tourism? Who does their accounting? A graduate of the Asper School of Business? No wonder Canwest Global is in the toilet.

But, you ask, where, exactly, did that figure of $25.7 million per year come from?

We almost fell out of our chairs when we found out.

The answer came from the mouth of above-mentioned Patrick O'Reilly, now the CEO of the human rights museum.

On April 2, O'Reilly addressed the Francophone Chamber of Commerce in St. Boniface. We found a copy of his speech. Here's the relevant section in its entirety:

"Our conservative estimates indicate the Museum will attract approximately 250,000 visitors annually.

To breakdown this number of visitors a little, according to a recent study conducted by the Manitoba Bureau of Statistics, visitors traveling in family groups are assumed to stay in Manitoba an average of 1.83 days and spend an average of $154 per day per person.
Therefore, annually the 50,000 visitors traveling in family groups have estimated expenditures of $14.1 million.

Also, 25,000 visitors travelling in tour groups are assumed to stay in Winnipeg an average of 1.62 days and spend an average of $183 per day per person, bringing total annual estimated expenditures to $7.4 million.

When you add visitor expenditures of $4.18 million for students, $14.1 million for family groups, and $7.4 million for tour groups,
it results in Total Annual Visitor expenditures of $25.7 million.

As these statistics demonstrate, the Museum will help grow Manitoba’s economy."

In short, Manitoba tourism stats show that 50,000 people come here in family groups and 25,000 come in tour groups. NOWHERE does it say those 75,000 people are coming here to see the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. But that's exactly what Gail Asper and Patrick O'Rielly want you to believe.

And the students? The museum's own budget plan calls for spending $6 million to bring students to Winnipeg, where they will spend $4 million.

Let's say it again, who does their accounting?

The claim that the museum, alone, will attract 25.7 million in tourist dollars is a pure falsehood. What it proves beyond a doubt is that we cannot believe a word that these people say about the alleged benefits and ballooning costs of the CMHR.

But Gail Asper did do us one favour, even if she doesn't know it.

She set the drop-dead number.

The museum backers, she said, now have "a new budget of $310 million, which is now an extremely accurate picture of the museum's capital cost."

It's fair, then, to set that as the final number, to insist that nobody from the Friends will come forward in the future and ask for more money.

If total costs are projected at any point from here on in to exceed $310 million, then the project must be cancelled or suspended at that point. And if the Friends cannot raise the $45 million in overruns they already admit to, then the project must be stopped.

Nobody (except maybe Gary Doer) has written Gail Asper a blank cheque.

There has to be a limit. And she, herself, has set that limit at $310 million.

The museum proponents have to be held accountable for any failure to keep the project within budget, either through inability to raise the $45 million in overruns or any future cost inflation. At year's end, they have to show substantial progress on raising the $45 million and present a written guarantee of no further cost increases, or they must all resign and be replaced.

After all, Gail Asper has said raising the $45 million is a sure thing.

In that case, she and her Friends can borrow the money privately from the financial institutions that back the museum and repay it as donations come in.

If the business plan is so good, let the professional risk managers see it and decide whether they want to loan $45 million to Gail Asper and Arni Thorsteinson as individuals putting up their own homes and businesses as collateral.

We end with a bit of advice for Gail Asper---stay away from dogs.

They can smell fear.

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