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 adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

The CMHR pulls an Oliver Twist: Please sirs, we want some more - - money.


The Canadian Museum for Human Rights has informed the federal government in no uncertain terms that it can't pay its tax bills to the City of Winnipeg.

And the CMHR says in its latest annual report that it will have no money to cover its utility bills once it opens.

From the 2010-2011 annual report:

"The Museum will be seeking the government's approval to augment the operating funds already committed by an amount sufficient to cover the required property tax (PILT) payments and to address ongoing pressures of inflation in operating, maintenance and capital repairs."

Translation: The CMHR has a plan.

The government should give it more money to pay its outstanding bills.

Much more than the $21.7 million a year that's budgeted.

Then everything will be alright.

oh, and if the museum doesn't pay its tax bill in 2012 for the third year running it goes up for a tax sale.

In Winnipeg that means the City takes ownership of the property unless the taxes and penalties are paid in full within a year. Does Salisbury House need another restaurant?

And the museum's electricity bill alone is expected to be huge. The CMHR is already signalling to the government, and the public, that its not your father's kind of museum. It runs on electricity.

"The CMHR is a new kind of museum; an "idea" and "dialogue" museum that relies heavily on technology to deliver the stories, videos and digital "artifacts" that visitors will engage with both on site and from around the world. The Museum's unique IT requirements have necessitated greater investment than anticipated in earlier estimates. In 2010- 2011, the Museum invested in network equipment — the first of the required information technology infrastructure. Further expenditures for servers and storage are planned for future years."

Oh, and it looks like the CMHR won't be able to raise the money needed to finish building the "iconic" structure. Can the government help with that too?

Two years ago the museum board of trustees confessed they were $45 million short on the construction funding. Since they claim the private fundraising arm of the museum, Friends of the CMHR, has raised pledges of another $10 million, leaving them still $35 million in the glue with two years to the opening date.

Their chance of raising that money is equal to Gaddafi's chance of resuming power in Libya. But there's always hope, isn't there? Here's how the CMHR annual report presents that hope as of March 31, 2011:

"The Friends of the CMHR has committed to raising the additional $45 million, in addition to its original contribution, from the public and private sectors."

See? The "private" sector will raise money from the public sector, aka governments and government agencies like Manitoba Hydro. They'll get the money from taxpayers, then Sam Katz and Greg Selinger can claim the funding from "private" donors justifies even more spending from the public coffers.

Among the red flags in the annual report is the suggestion that CMHR CEO Stuart Murray did his best to mislead the federal cabinet about the museum's plans and exhibits.

The issue arose when the Ukrainian Community complained that the CMHR was actually a Holocaust museum in disguise, with the rest of Canada's ethnic groups being relegated to second class status by having their stories relegated to a 'Mass Atrocities' gallery which lumped all the world's genocides and mass murders in together while the Holocaust story got its own exclusive gallery.

Federal Heritage Minister James Moore was questioned on this point in April by Winnipeg Free Press columnist Dan Lett, who wrote:

"(Moore) said he had been told no final decisions on museum content had been made and that no one subject would be getting permanent status. "There will be no permanent exhibits," Moore said. "That was very clear from Stuart Murray and the board."

The Jewish Post followed up on the Lett story and carried this note:

"However, on April 11 after Lett’s article had been published, Moore’s acting communications director James Maunder told The Globe and Mail: “No final decisions have been made on any permanent exhibits, or if there will be any.”[emphasis added (in the original)]."

And yet, the CMHR '10-'11 annual report says final decisions had already been taken.

"Over the past fiscal year multi-departmental teams — in-house human rights experts and exhibit designers — compiled and then translated this extraordinary raft of research, scholarship and public input into distinct exhibit-design plans. These meticulously crafted plans will now ultimately serve as the blueprints that fabricators will use to bring the Museum's inaugural exhibits to life."

"Included in these new blueprints are detailed 3D models that map out where in the Museum each exhibit will be built and specify the materials to be used. With this critical foundation in place, elevation work, graphic design, information visualization and media and technology design can now commence, setting the stage for the exhibit construction and carpentry that will begin next year."

Was the board deliberately misleading Parliament? It wouldn't be the first time.

The CMHR even rewrites history in its report to hide the fact. It wrote:

"Prior to spring of 2008, cost estimates for the Museum building were based on a very preliminary design. From spring 2008 onwards, engineers and consultants were engaged to advance the Predock design so that more accurate cost estimating could be achieved."

****
"On February 11, 2008, the Government of Canada introduced legislation in Parliament to create the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and the bill was passed by a unanimous decision of the Canadian Parliament. The amendments to the Museums Act received Royal Assent in the early spring of 2008 and came into force by Order in Council on August 10, 2008."

What the CMHR board left out was reported in The Black Rod in May, 2009, in a story headlined "CMHR to Politicians: We Lied. So, Whatcha Gonna Do?"

It turns out that in March, 2008, the promoters of the museum appeared before the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights prior to getting the Senate's approval for the project. Present was Patrick O'Reilly, Director, Implementation Strategy, Canadian Museum for Human Rights, who sat with Lyn Elliot Sherwood, Executive Director, Heritage Group, Canadian Heritage, as she answered Senator's questions, including this one:

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. You are putting your finger on a very real risk in the current environment, which is the impact of inflation on construction budgets. That has been factored into planning and is one of the reasons for the urgency of this bill because at the moment the purchasing power of that $265 million is being eroded at the rate of between $800,000 and $1.5 million per month.

Senator Cowan: I am not being critical of this project. However, someone has to hold it at the end of the day.

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.
March was a month after February when " the Government of Canada introduced legislation in Parliament to create the Canadian Museum for Human Rights." When questioned by the Senators, there was no mention that the budget for the CMHR was an estimate based on a very preliminary design. Just the opposite. The Senate was told this was a firm figure which contained a hefty contingency that would ensure the government wouldn't be asked for more money, not that you would know from the alternate version of the truth now being peddled by Gail Asper and her ilk.

But the CMHR says they are trying to keep expenses in check. They're holding board meetings via conference call to "minimize costs and maximize value" and coordinating exhibit project meetings via Skype.

Oh, and fifty percent of the water used in the Museum’s toilets will be rainwater collected on site.

What happens in a year like this when there is no rainwater is a proposition to make you shudder. Sort of like the museum's accounting.

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