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:

Saturday, December 31, 2011

History repeats itself, even with the Winnipeg Free Press rewriting it as fast as possible.

Millionaire moocher Gail Asper is in a panic.

And when Gail Asper is in a panic, Winnipeg Free Press co-owner Bob Silver is in a panic.

And when Bob Silver is in a panic, everybody at the Winnipeg Free Press is in a panic.

No, it's not because someone has sicced the new police cadets on Winnipeg's biggest panhandler.

As we've learned only in the past 9 days, Gail Asper's pet project, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, has run out of money. Really, now. Who saw that coming?

By March 31, 2012, the fiscal year end, the unfinished museum will have received the last government money its going to get. No more dinero from the feds. And the coin from the province and the city was spent long, long ago.

Gail Asper and the Friends of the CMHR will try to cash in some of the private IOU's they're holding, but they've admitted that that won't bring in enough money to finish construction, never mind the millions needed for exhibits. They're $61 million in the hole, not counting the 2 percent of the project that hasn't even been tendered because there's no money.

Their one and only hope is that some arm of government (read the federal government) will write them a blank cheque.

That's where Bob Silver comes in. He's given his employees their marching orders -- rewrite history!

What? You thought it was something easy?

For the last week, in a barrage of features, editorials and news stories, the FP has been creating a new reality, absolving the Asper family of all responsibility for the overwhelming cost overruns while guilt-tripping Prime Minister Stephen Harper into reaching for his chequebook.

It's an exercise straight out of George Orwell's classic "1984" where the Ministry of Truth had no reluctance to turn truth into lies and lies into truth if it was necessary for the cause. Apparently the professional journalists at the Winnipeg Free Press with their professional journalist ethics and their professional journalist editors have no qualms either.

(The FP has a strange affection for Orwell's work. Last year they were writing stories turning the pigs of Orwell's 'Animal Farm' into the heroes of the story.)

What's particularly interesting is seeing bits and pieces of the truth pop up in the oddest places in the pro-museum propaganda churning out of the newspaper's Mountain Avenue headquarters, especially in the editorials.

And why not? Silver speaks directly to the oracles on the mountain while his hirelings don't.

We were intrigued by the latest editorial on Friday wherein the FP argued the CMHR was worth any price because its mission is so noble and valuable to the entire world. (Gag....ed.)

",,,when the budget for the museum soared to $315 from $265 in 2008, many private donors, including the Aspers, were prepared to withdraw their money rather than downsize and erect a red-brick warehouse for human rights." declared the Free Press.

You don't say?

Because in the real world, documented everywhere, the story is a little different.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights officially became a national museum on March 13, 2008 when amendments to the Museums Act received Royal Assent.

It wasn't until the next year, 2009, that the trustees of the CMHR confessed to $45 million in cost overruns (bringing the total cost to $310 million, not $315 million). And that was only after The Black Rod crunched the numbers and called them on it in a story we called CMHR to Politicians: We Lied. So, Whatcha Gonna Do? (Thursday, May 21, 2009).

But if the public needs any more proof that the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is a publicly funded private project in all but name, the Winnipeg Free Press just supplied it.

The Aspers threatened to withdraw their money if they didn't get their way? Did they?

By what right did Gail Asper have final say about how the federal government would build a national museum? The Aspers gave up any right to dictate the size, cost, design or even colour of the CMHR more than a year earlier when the federal government formally took it over as a public facility.

The Aspers and their supporters donated to a national museum. Didn't they? That's all we've been hearing for three years, how it's a national treasure, that the government is fully behind it because it's a national project, how all of Canada supports it because it's a national museum.

Only now we read information that could only have come from the horse's mouth that the Aspers and other donors didn't give a horse's ass about the national aspect of the museum. They wanted it to be theirs and theirs alone, with the public paying the cost while having no say on what it's getting in return.

But wait, there was more in Friday's editorial.

Did Editor Margo Goodhand think we would overlook this gem:

"There was no agreement that the private fundraisers, known as the Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, would be responsible for cost overruns, but their only choice -- since Ottawa refused to increase its $100-million stake, which thus discouraged the province and city from also contributing more -- was to raise more private cash."

The Winnipeg Free Press has refused to report on how the supporters of the CMHR reassured the Senate---in order to get their approval to make it a national museum--- that the federal government would NOT be responsible for cost overruns.

Here's a segment of what was said:

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 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.

The Winnipeg Free Press on Dec. 23 identified the Friends as "the fundraising arm of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights," with Gail Asper as national campaign chairwoman.

The Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights Inc. is the non-profit registered charity tasked with raising funds for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, states the CMHR website. If the government isn't responsible for overruns, who do you think is?

After the first overruns were announced in 2009 the Museum issued this news release:

Museum fundraising campaign continues

“The Board of Trustees asked the Friends to continue their efforts to ensure that we build the iconic structure and world-class exhibits expected from this national and international destination and centre for learning,” said Arni Thorsteinson, Chair of the CMHR Board.


“We have full confidence that Friends will meet this additional fundraising challenge, especially because we’re seeing the emergence of new interest, energy and donor capacity for this national human rights museum in provinces outside Manitoba,” said Gail Asper O.C., O.M. LL.D (Hon.).

The Winnipeg Free Press editorial writer let another bit of info slip.

"The Friends now need $60 million, an enormous burden that could delay the museum's opening for five or six years and thus create new budget problems, unless the government offers a loan or new money."

It's the second time in a week that the FP, in an editorial rather than a news story, has raised the spectre of a five or six year delay in opening the museum. That's got to be coming from someone high up.

Someone very, very worried high up. Someone downright panicky high up.

Six years? We're building a white elephant that's going to sit empty for six years--- unless the federal government writes a blank cheque? And who will be paying to heat, clean, patrol and polish the stonework for those years while the trustees travel the world soaking up museum culture?

If there's ever an argument for the federal government seizing control of the museum immediately, that's it.

It's supposed to be an ideas museum. You don't need four football fields of space inside a Tower of Babel to house ideas.

Reporter Dan Lett tested out the first rewrite of history a few days ago. The private sector fundraisers were only doing Canadians a favour; they didn't have to raise all that money for overruns; its a national museum and as such its the federal government's responsibility to cover the cost of overruns. It was all there.

But for the first time he took a shot at Gail Asper. A tiny shot. A shot-let. He said she was naive for knowing the museum would cost more than the $265 million but letting Prime Minister Stephen Harper believe it wouldn't.

Naive? Anyone else would call it deliberately deceptive, but in the Brave New World of the Free Press, Lett had to use a gentler spin.

He also called Harper naive for not knowing the cost would be greater than $265 million.

Eveyone, it seems, knew or should have known the museum was underfunded when construction started.

Everyone except the Free Press which, funnily, never once mentioned it.

We sure did. We screamed it out in story after story.

Here's what we wrote in May, 2009:

Wednesday, May 27, 2009
It only took five days to flush the truth out of them.

We wrote, then, how the proponents of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights knew in 2004 they didn't have the money for the project. We told how they were lowballing the construction costs. And how they misled the Canadian Senate, and by extension the Canadian people, over who would cover any cost overruns.
The MSM ignored the facts.
We predicted that once construction was started, the museum board of directors would begin to admit the huge cost overruns because they would believe it was too late to stop the project.
And in April of this year:

Monday, April 18, 2011
Your taxes go up as the mayor waives taxes for his millionaire friend, Gail Asper

You can't let the project fail now, when it's almost built, they'll wail.
It only needs a little bit more money ($10 million, $15 million, $20 million) for this magnificent building, they'll cry.
Surely. Surely, you won't let it fail at this the eleventh hour, they'll plead.
And the politicians will open your wallets, again, and throw more millions at the Aspers.
Remember. We told you so.

We told you so, Dan. And no amount of rewriting history will change the facts.

And speaking of history, how many of you remember this...
Exactly one year ago this month we were talking about another financial disaster involving--- guess who.
Here's a refresher:

"We were going to get a brand new football stadium built at his own cost by a private investor who promised to cover all cost overruns. The land where the old stadium stands would be sold to the highest bidder and the money used to attack the city's infrastructure deficit. And redevelopment of that land would provide Winnipeg with annual property taxes, whereas the city collected no taxes on the old stadium."

"And after they got through with it, what have we wound up with?"
"Let's see .... a 100-percent taxpayer funded stadium at almost double the projected cost, a giveaway deal to hand over the old stadium land to someone's pal at a bargain price, and no taxes from the land even after its redeveloped, at least not for a generation or two, if ever."
"The cash-strapped Winnipeg Blue Bombers football team is saddled a debt of $85 million, which, according to the CBC, will cost them a total of $176 million over 44 years once interest is calculated."
"And let's not forget the city of Winnipeg is committed to handing over at least $40 million to the province to cover its end of the new stadium."

"The only win is for "entrepreneur" David Asper, who gets a cheque for $4 million despite failing to live up to every promise he made to his "partners" who got stuck paying for his mess."

One year later, another great big Asper family boondoggle followed by demands for another government bailout.

"It's unacceptable to abandon the project now." wailed Dan Lett.

Now seems the perfect time.

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Friday, December 30, 2011

Newsmaker of the Year - It's no contest.

The sun is shining on Winnipeg today in more ways than one as we announce the recipient of the coveted The Black Rod Newsmaker of the Year Award for 2011.
It wasn't even close.

He was a shoo-in. The man of the hour. If we had a laurel wreath we would crown him with it.

Mark Chipman.

He brought the Winnipeg Jets back. You don't need to say another word.
He's 50; he's co-owner of True North Sports and Entertainment; he's got a degree in economics and worked as a lawyer. Blah blah blah. Who cares?

He brought the Jets back. Now there's an accomplishment.

It's like Prometheus bringing Man fire. Or Dr. Frankenstein seeing his creation twitch and breathe for the first time.

"It's alive! It's alive!"

For the return of the Jets has brought life back to Winnipeg. Life and sunshine. And song. And confidence. And hope. Can love be far behind?

Chipman did it, and he did it without massive government subsidy or a massive ego.

With the blinding light of the return of the Jets burning off the gloom that's choked the city for-, it seems like forever, we can see the stark contrast between what truly inspires the city and the dreck the city's elites tried to sell us.

Oh, look, there's the world's ugliest structure, a giant glass piece of Trudeau, doesn't it make you proud? Uh, no. It makes us poor and nauseus.

Oh, look, Spirited Energy. Doesn't it make you excited? No, it's hokey and embarassing.

Oh, look, an airport, massively over budget and wrapped in lawsuits. Isn't it beautiful? Yeah, but--- the Jets are back!

There's another reason for being thankful for Mark Chipman. If he hadn't done the impossible, we would have been forced to go to the Dark Side to name a Newsmaker of the Year.

Where Mark Chipman is the symbol of the postive, our only other choice was the symbol of the negative.

It was Greg Selinger. the dirtiest politician in Manitoba, who won a provincial election by running the dirtiest campaign ever. But in doing so he achieved his greatest goal---turning Manitoba into a single-party state.

Selinger did more than defeat the Opposition. He eliminated it. The Progressive Conservative Party is dead. As dead as Winnipeg's hopes before the Jets came back. Not dead metaphorically. Dead in reality, as in not coming back to life.

To achieve that, Selinger had the help of P.C. leader Hugh McFadyen, who ran an election where he placed his party to the left of the NDP and disconnected from its base. Given Selinger's far left leaning, that was next to impossible, and yet McFadyen managed it.

Selinger has defanged every independent watchdog in the province. We've seen how Elections Manitoba cooperates with the NDP to coverup election fraud. The Auditor General toadies to the Party. The Ombudsman may be worse.

Remember the Hydro Whistleblower complaint to the Ombudsman? The first and only complaint under the government's vaunted whistleblower legislation? It's now three years and counting and no word from the Ombudsman's office, unless you think burying a complaint until after a provincial election is the appropriate action.

Oh, and remember how the Auditor General first tried to seize control of the Whistleblower complaint and bury it under a years-long investigation, until The Black Rod exposed a conflict of interest between her and Hydro? She declared then, that she would still investigate the whistleblower's complaints against Hydro on her own.

Yep. Still waiting.

Selinger leads the press, read the Winnipeg Free Press, around by the nose, with newspaper co-owner Bob Silver sitting on his lap, oops, we mean on his economic advisory council and using the newspaper to promote whatever government scheme is front and centre in the moment.

Spirited Energy, anyone? The Crocus Fund?

The Legislature sat only 54 days this year. And the government spent almost a billion dollars without going to the Legislature for approval. And that was with an alleged Opposition in the House. Now that the Tories have zero credibility and zero future, its clear sailing for Selinger to turn the province into social workers' socialist paradise.

Thank goodness we had a choice between the Light and the Darkness.

Turning away from the Dark, The Black Rod would like to wish A Happy New Year to:

* Krista Erickson. You go girl. In your first year with Sun TV you've driven the biddies crazy. You gored a sacred cow. You made television history with the greatest number of complaints by Lefties ever. You're on the cutting edge of journalism in this country with your colleagues at Sun. And still lookin' good.

* Ezra Levant. What a refreshing breath of Western air. Every day we watch is a hoot. Fearless. And brilliant journalism. An inspiration to every Canadian not on the payroll of "the state broadcaster."

* Susan Auch. A medal-winning Olympian, you were criminally underused and underappreciated by the losing team in the last provincial election. You should have been on every election poster as an inspiration to all Manitobans. Instead they went with a grinning nobody with chemically enhanced teeth and a dangerously advancing widow's peak. Mayor Susan Auch. It has a nice ring.

* Colin Craig. You're in the front lines of the People's Opposition now. Strap your helmet on tight.

* John Harvie. As the Green Party candidate in Winnipeg North, you drained more than enough support from the NDP to deny them the seat held by Judy Wasylycia-Leis for over a decade. And you did it on an election budget of zero. We won't hold it against you that you got a Liberal elected. You are democracy in action, dude.

* Shelly Glover. The drive-by smear on you by the MSM failed miserably. The press gallery's favoured Liberals are on the trash heap and you are a rising star in Parliament.

* Vic Toews. You're living proof that there's no benefit to sucking up to the press. Don't give an inch. Challenge every lie. Watch 'em scurry under their rocks and whine.

* Lubomyr Luciuk. Guts. When the backers of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights launched an all-out assault on the Ukrainian community with wild accusations of anti-semitism to get you to shut up, you kept to the high road and refused to jump into the gutter with Gail Asper and her pals. It took a lot of guts to take the heat from that once-powerful quarter and to keep fighting for your cause without backing down as they hoped. And you did it with class, shaming your opponents in the process. Bravo.

* Menno Zacharias. It's been a joy watching you grow as a blogger.

* Rae Butcher. You're a bona fide, certified citizen journalist now. And you did it without any help from the "professionals" at the Winnipeg Free Press who will apparently be tutoring bloggers at their news cafe, God help us.

- 30 -


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Monday, December 26, 2011

The CMHR tests Stephen Harper. Money for whites as aboriginals get the shaft ?

There's a term they use in the boxing world when a fighter is being beaten to a pulp and his cornermen want the fight stopped to spare him further punishment.

They call it 'throwing in the towel'.

On Friday, the biggest boosters of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights threw in the towel.

Like a punch-drunk fighter, the CMHR is still swinging, refusing to give up. But the Winnipeg Free Press, the propaganda arm of the museum, admitted in an editorial that the cost overruns of the CMHR are beyond the ability of the private sector to pay. The charade is over.

The numbers are so grim that the FP refuses to publish them.

So we'll do it for them.

Before the public meeting held by the CMHR in early December, they claimed they were within $20 million of their budget. Two weeks after the meeting, they confessed that costs had actually risen another $41 million---for construction alone.

$ 61 Million

Even that wouldn't get you a finished building.

The CMHR said they weren't counting the costs of a 350-seat theatre and of a temporary gallery, that was going to be used for travelling exhibits and for non-permanent shows on a theme, event or issue. They ran out of money before these could be tendered, so they don't even know how much they would cost, although both are an integral part of the project.

You can add $2 million to the subtotal.

As reported in The Black Rod, the Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights reduced the amount of money they turned over for construction in 2010 by $2 million so they could use the money for future fundraising. But they didn't subtract it from the total they claimed they raised.

The 2010-2011 annual report from the CMHR says that as of March 31, 2011 they had spent $143.3 million on building the museum.
And they had $83.3 million in cash and investments on hand waiting to be spent.
But that only adds up to $226.6 million.

At that point, they were claiming publicly they had raised $285 million.

Where was the rest?

Ten million dollars was the final payment from the federal government, to be paid out this year, but the other $49 million had to be the IOU's collected by the private fundraising group, Friends of the Museum. Twenty million of that was paid out in 2011, according to a later financial statement from the CMHR, leaving $29 million outstanding. Add that ...

and you've got ...

a total of $92 million

plus the cost of untendered work, that the private sector has to either raise or collect in one year to finish the project.

Not. A. Hope. In. Hell.

And that would only pay for the building. The original budget set the price of exhibits---four years ago---at $35 million. Has that doubled since?

Can the private sector raise $127 million to $162 million to finish the museum in two years?

Not on this planet.

The Winnipeg Free Press conceded as much, but what they did next - was breathtaking.

The newspaper then dove headlong into an astonishing, headspinning exercise of rewriting history straight out of George Orwell's Ministry of Truth.

The Free Press story writes millionaire Gail Asper, and even her father, billionaire Izzy Asper, out of the history of the CMHR and inserts in their place Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

By the 'new truth', the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is Stephen Harper's project, not the Asper family's. (Honest. We're not making this up. You can't make this stuff up.) In fact, the headline on the editorial is "Mr. Harper must finish his project."

By the new reasoning, Stephen Harper "assumed complete control of the project" in 2007 when he seized it from "those who had earlier been struggling to get the project off the ground." and made it into a national museum.

He installed his own board of directors, the Free Press said, and Harper appointed his own CEO, Stu Murray,without consultation. (Uh, oh. It sure smells like somebody's getting set up for a trip under the bus.)

"Ottawa was in charge," trumpeted the editorial.

Gail Asper, the hero of the Free Press version of truth, came to the rescue of the federal government, not vice versa, by committing the private fundraising group Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, to raise $105 million of the $265 million budget.

"Last April, the Friends met their target and fulfilled their promise." the newspaper declared triumphantly. And when the budget rose to $310 million, the "fundraiser agreed to make up the difference" bless their souls. "Today," sniffed the editorial,
"they are about $20 million short of that goal, an enormous achievement."

But the museum staff "says it needs $41 million more before it can open." ( Note how subtly they've started creating distance between museum staff and the Asper-led Friends.) The cost overruns "were to be expected", says the newspaper, which interestingly never once in three years of construction predicted that there would be more than $80 million in overruns.

"The fact is it is Mr. Harper's responsibility to finish the museum by providing the last $41 million. It's Canada's museum and his reputation that are at risk, not the Asper family's."

Okay, STOP.

That's as much hysterical historical revisionism as we can stand.

Every single word in Friday's editorial was refuted in Saturday's War-And-Peace length feature story by columnist Dan Lett on the history of how the museum came to be.

He obviously didn't get the memo.

His story lays it out---how billionaire Izzy Asper wanted to memorialize the Holocaust with a museum here in Winnipeg, how he rooked the federal government into pledging $100 million for his pet project, how the Aspers hired an architect, selected the design and signed contracts before the federal government accepted the CMHR as a national museum.

* Lett forgot to mention how museum backers lied to the Senate to get that official museum status by declaring the budget of $265 million was accurate and backed by a healthy 15 percent contingency provision, and that in any event the private sector fundraisers would cover all cost overruns.

* He also forgot to mention that Gail Asper sits on the museum's board of trustees, heads the private fundraising effort, and has fought vociferously to limit the government's say on anything the museum does.

* And the fact that in 3 years she's made repeated public statements that its the private sector's responsibility to cover the increased costs of construction, not the government's.

That's Lett's share of historical revisionism.

Why would the newspaper even try to rewrite the truth in such a fashion?

At the time of the public meeting, when the museum reps studiously kept the latest cost overruns a secret, the chairman of the board of museum trustees was Arni Thorsteinson, a once-upon-a-time honoured and respected local businessman. As soon as the meeting was over and the first hints of trouble were reported, Thorsteinson bolted for the Exit.

He was long gone before the hopelessness of the CMHR's financial situation was revealed and nobody has been able to get a single word from him since.

His replacement came from within---Eric Hughes, who the Winnipeg Free Press described as a Calgary oil executive, who had been serving as vice-chairman.
What the FP carefully avoided from saying is that Eric Hughes is a close personal friend of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

They've been friends since their university days. In fact, Hughes played a big role in convincing Harper to get into politics. He handled the finances of the Canadian Alliance. He's a total Harper insider.

That's why the Free Press has decided to throw their credibility overboard. There is no other hope. They intend to whitewash the Aspers and put the blame on the failure of the museum on Harper unless he succumbs to the blackmail and writes a blank cheque for his pal.

Today the FP said there is talk of a $45 million bridge loan from the government to the museum.

A bridge loan to nowhere. A loan implies it will be repaid. There's absolutely no hope the museum backers can repay anything.

- Remember, Stu Murray was hired as CEO in large part because of his, ahem, expertise in fundraising.

- In April, the Friends of the CMHR announced the appointment of Davorka Cvitkovic as their first-ever CEO. "Dav Cvitkovic is recognized as one of the most accomplished fundraising professionals in Canada...," said John Stefaniuk, president of the Friends of the CMHR's board of directors.

- Gail Asper was the national chairman of the Friends' fundraising campaign. "Gail Asper is Canada’s best fundraiser,” said Gail Dexter Lord, co-president of Lord Cultural Resources.

After all these experts got to work, the CMHR is further in debt today than it was three years ago.

And you're going to lend money to them?

The museum lists as major contributors a dozen banks and credit unions. Why don't these financial institutions come to their rescue and loan them $45 million? The Aspers and their fellow millionaires could put their homes and summer homes and vacation homes up as collateral to backstop the loan.

Surely there's no risk the loan won't be paid back, is there?

The Harper government has much more at risk by becoming the lender of last resort than seeing a friend's nose out of joint.

If the Harper government rushes, or tiptoes or crawls, to the aid of the CMHR it will prove to all of Canada that it is a racist government.

The federal government tries to demonstrate its fiscal responsibility by criticizing aboriginal band councils for mismanaging their budgets and reacts to extreme cases by taking control of the finances through a third party manager.

But when a white organization like the CMHR demonstrates it is completely out of control of its finances, the Harper government turns a blind eye except for looking how to give them even more money to mismanage.

Why is this government treating aboriginals differently from whites? That is racism. Plain and simple.

Unless the Harper government takes control of the finances away from the CMHR, dismisses all the board of trustees, and orders a full and public investigation of how the money was spent, all the lies that were told, and who knew what and when, it deserves to be labelled as a racist, anti-aboriginal government throughout Canada.

This isn't a case of doing a favour for a pal.

If this government has principles, it must apply those principles equally regardless of race or political influence.

The cost of the CMHR has gone from $265 million to $351 million, plus untendered work, plus the cost of exhibits, plus plus plus, without any approval from the public.

At least aboriginal governments are elected.

The Harper government must stop the construction of the museum immediately until it knows for certain how much more money is needed. It must insist that the $310 million budget cannot be exceeded. The project must be finished as best it can within that $310 million, and what cannot be paid for will not be built.

That is the message that must be sent to the entire country---stay within your budgets or else pay the consequences.

What then? Then the grandiose plans of the Aspers must be thrown on the trash heap of arrogance.

The best idea we've heard yet is that the Winnipeg Convention Centre could move into the building to share space with the revamped "ideas" museum.

This would save the city hundreds of millions of dollars and recoup some of the monstrous loss we face with the current money pit.

The Harper government must act or pay the political price.

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Another tax break can't save the CMHR from drowning in red ink. Neither can the MSM.

As if you need more proof that the laws for the peasants don't apply to millionaires like Gail Asper and her pet project the Canadian Museum for Human Rights --- but here's some more.

We told you this week that some unknown Fairy Godmother at City Hall secretly wiped out $118,000 from the museum's property tax bill. That act saved the museum which won't, or can't, pay its taxes from being put up for tax sale in the event it fails to pay in 2012 for the third year in a row.

We've since learned that the CMHR is getting even more special treatment from the Winnipeg tax department.

The museum is the only property in the entire city that is exempt from penalties for non-payment of property taxes.

More than $50,000 in penalties should have been added to the museum's outstanding tax arrears last year,
but wasn't.

The City of Winnipeg website clearly states that penalties of 1.25 percent are charged on unpaid taxes.

Plus 7.5 percent in the current year in September.

They'll have to add an amendment: except for millionaires who expect the little people to pay their share.

But a present of forty thousand dollars is next to worthless compared to the deep, deep,deep financial pit the CMHR finds itself in.

Make no mistake---the finances of the CMHR are out of control.

The museum trustees confessed Thursday that the project is another $41 million over budget. That's on top of the $45 million cost overrun they admitted to in 2009. And that's also not counting the other millions they need that they're not counting. (No, honest, we're not making that up. That's what they said.)

Winnipeg's mainstream media continues its tradition of running interference for the Asper family of moochers. No news outlet has yet pointed out that the $41 million shortfall is ON TOP of the $20 million the museum backers have failed to raise on the previous overrun. That brings the black hole up to $61 million.

And here's how the Winnipeg Free Press, the propaganda arm of the CMHR, described the museum's faulty and deceptive bookkeeping being used to keep even more costs off the books:

"This revised project budget still does not allocate funds to complete the museum's temporary gallery and theatre. These elements were not included in the $310 million budget, either."

The temporary gallery is in addition to the museum's 12 permanent zones. It was to be used for temporary and traveling exhibits which could run from 3 to 6 months and would "examine particular events, themes or issues" according to communications director Angela Cassie. The 350-seat theatre is being promoted by Tourism Winnipeg as having retractable seating.

And don't forget that while the Friends of the CMHR claims to have raised $130 million in private donations --- they now acknowledge that much of that sum is pledges over years and not cash-in-hand. That means that as much as half of that claim is in the form of IOU's that have no value until, and if, they are paid out.

In other words, add another $65 million to the money still needed to finish building the museum.

Grand total in that case: $126 million

Plus the cost of the temporary gallery and theatre.

The Friends of the CMHR managed to raise a palty $5 million in cash and IOU's in the year 2011. At that rate it will only another 25 years to build the museum.

And after it's built, they now say its going to sit empty for a year or two, at least, until they can find the money to install the fancy interactive electronic devices that are the literal guts of the place. Remember, it's an "ideas" museum with next to no artifacts of any sort. So the "ideas" are words and pictures that will be displayed electronically to people. (We're not making this up.)

But the Museum has a plan. Its going after corporate sponsorships. In fact, you too can be a piece of the museum if you're rich enough. They literally have a price list. Check it out:
Naming opportunities
Space Minimum Donation Amount Years for Naming of Space Years for Recognition (i.e. on donor 'wall')
Tower of Hope $10 million Reserved Perpetuity
Great Hall $6 million Reserved Perpetuity
Garden of Contemplation $5 million 25 Perpetuity
Theatre $5 million 25 Perpetuity
Floors 2,3 & 4 (3) $5 million 25 Perpetuity
Temporary Gallery $4 million 25 Perpetuity
Exhibition Rooms (4-L,3-Med, 2-Sm) $2 - 4 million 25 Perpetuity
Glass Elevators (2) $3 million 25 Perpetuity
Wetlands $3 million 25 Perpetuity
Lobby / ticketing $3 million 25 Perpetuity
Restaurant $2 million 25 Perpetuity
Retail store $2 million 25 Perpetuity
Lower theatre level $2 million 25 Perpetuity
Library $2 million 25 Perpetuity
Stairs in Tower (to Observatory) $2 million 25 Perpetuity
Amphitheatre – exterior $2 million 25 Perpetuity
Bridge over entrance – interior $2 million 25 Perpetuity
Upper theatre level $1.5 million 25 Perpetuity
Universal access entrance $1.5 million 25 Perpetuity
Group entrance – exterior plaza $1.5 million 25 Perpetuity
Group entrance - interior $1.5 million 25 Perpetuity
Café patio – exterior $1.5 million 25 Perpetuity
Elevator lobby areas (5) $1.5 million 25 Perpetuity
Classrooms (3) $1.5 million 25 Perpetuity
Programs various Perpetuity Perpetuity
The following is a list of naming opportunities available to $1 million donors.
The naming of the space will be for a period of up to 25 years with recognition (i.e. on the donor ‘wall’) in perpetuity.
Archival area
Artifact preparation area
Boardroom - Reserved
Classroom lobby
Earth garden
Exterior pathway segments (6-10)
Lounges & terraces - interior & exterior (5)
Native grass areas (9)
Office floor levels (3)
Ramp segments (approx. 25)
Training room
Wedge Pond
VIP waiting room
Naming opportunities for endowed funds will be offered in perpetuity.
But you have to act fast. Some prime spots are already spoken for.

John & Bonnie Buhler Hall - Museum's grand hall with an estimated capacity of 650 persons

Stuart Clark Garden of Contemplation with towering glass walls, basalt columns and gently flowing streams - ideal for cocktail gatherings

We're going for The Black Rod doorknob to the Exit.

Professional Reporters At Work
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights carefully orchestrated the release of the news that is another $41 million in the hole. As predicted, they waited until just before Christmas weekend to provide the figure knowing that all city newsrooms are decimated by staff taking time off for the holidays. They needn't have bothered being sneaky. The mainstream reporters in the city did, as usual, as little as possible to report the news.

A comment left on a news website Thursday said Premier Greg Selinger told CBC Radio that morning that he was prepared to channel more money into the CMHR. We watched the television news for that clip, in vain.

But host Janet Stewart did say they did a year-end interview with Selinger, but it was too long to play and viewers should see the whole thing on their website. Yeah, that'll happen.

CTV didn't have a word about the museum's wonky budgetting. What's a third of a billion dollars wasted, eh, Gord?

The Winnipeg Free Press, official museum touters, promoted the museum story on Page One with the Headline "Museum vows to find cash".

The blurb read: "A day after Ottawa said no bailout is coming, the new interim chair is confident national donors and corporate sponsorships will help make up the shortfall." No mention of a $41 million cost overrun.

If you turned to the story, on Page Five, you would see a big headline "Museum's new cash strategy" and the lead "The new interim chairman of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is confident the institution can make up a funding shortfall without receiving another dime from Ottawa." Eight paragraphs in you read that "It's been speculated the CMHR.. .may need another $45 million to complete."

The newspaper never actually spelled it out, that the cost of construction had risen by $41 million. In a sidebar to the main story they danced around the figure. The lead to that story was how the museum was encouraging fundraising. They said the total cost of "building and contents" had risen to $351 million.

Wrong. That number is for building alone. But the FP never lets facts get in the way of their stories.

They then used smaller figures to hide the $41 million shock.

* "Unanticipated challenges" increased the base building budget to $25 million.
* The cost of exhibit design was up $9 million.
* An additional $7 million "associated with creating software programs" are now included. "Those costs were previously captured within the operating budget".


Talk about burying the lead.

The CMHR was hiding $7 million in costs in the operating budget? When was that known? Was that even legal? Don't count on the Winnipeg Free Press to answer those questions.

None of this was revealed at the annual public meeting the museum was obligated by law to hold at the beginning of December. Front and centre at that meeting was Arni Thorsteinson, chairman of the museum's board of trustees. He never said a word about the $41 million shortfall. He did, though, resign almost immediately after the meeting and by now he's run halfway across Saskatchewan to avoid questions.

Also at that meeting was museum CEO Stu Murray who was equally silent about the out of control finances.

Murray appeared on CJOB's Richard Cloutier show Friday. For the first time ever when discussing the CMHR, Cloutier set aside his usual obsequiousness and put on his "I'm a tough reporter" voice.

He then proceeded to conduct an interview about as tough as Kermit the Frog interviewing Miss Piggy.

Stu Murray, who was once a thinking, feeling human being, answered robotically, spewing the party line in neatly practised and memorized clumps of blather.

Why did he once say that the final budget for the CMHR would be $310 million? "At that time the number was accurate." Huh? It was right before it was wrong? That's your answer for misleading the public, Stu? Cloutier didn't press him.

Should people believe the new number? "The board feels it's a number that's not going to move." Not until they add the cost of the temporary gallery and theatre, which were never mentioned by Cloutier.

Cloutier raised the point that to the public it looks like elites spending tax money. Murray said the CMHR got used furniture from Manitoba Hydro when the utility moved into it's new downtown building. No, honest, that was his answer. We're not making this up or exaggerating.

CJOB then took calls, sort of. Cloutier proceeded to condescend, then insult anyone who was against spending more on the museum. "Turn up your hearing aid," he sneered at one caller, telling him to watch Teletoons on TV. "Perhaps that's where you should be."

When one caller told Cloutier he got "snowed" by Murray, there was dead silence on air before Cloutier defensively and contemptuously changed the subject and cut the caller off. Talk about elitism. No wonder OB's audience is dropping like a stone. Perhaps the management should consider that Cloutier is bored with his job and a change of hosts is overdue.

"Mickey and Goofy could have done a better interview" one caller managed to say before anyone could hit the kill switch.

Finally, as they say, leave 'em laughing.

We've been saving this comment off the Free Press website following the public meeting held by the CMHR. It puts the slap in kneeslapping funny. Best comment of the year. And it ties in because it refers, obliquely, to the unfunded theatre planned for the rights museum.

8:57 AM on 12/7/2011
"Museum CEO Stuart Murray said they have plans for live, interactive exhibits. He conjured up an example -- an actor portraying Louis Riel giving his last speech in a Regina courtroom before he was hanged." ---------------------------- I hate to nitpick, but if I'm watching an actor give a speech it's not interactive, it's passive. Or will I be allowed to operate the gallows?

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The solution to CMHR spending orgy is Gail Asper's worst nightmare

Who writes The Black Rod? Kreskin?

With the facade of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights crumbling around the ears of its backers, we found ourselves recalling the warnings we issued in months and even years past.

"Remember, THEY HAVE NO MONEY. The scam is to get enough to keep construction going until later this year, say during the provincial election, when they will admit they're skint, and throw themselves on the mercy of the politicians."

We wrote that about the Canadian Museum for Human Rights last April---eight months ago.

Not impressed? Look at what we wrote in July, 2009:
"In fact, we estimate that without huge infusions of new cash almost immediately, they will run out of money in the spring of 2011."

It looks now that on both counts we were spot on.

By the Spring of 2011 the trustees of the CMHR were staring into a financial abyss. The government money taps would be turned off in another year. Those vaunted millions in private donations had turned out to be a steamer trunk full of IOU's. They were collecting dimes on the dollar on their pledges and very soon the cash flow would barely cover CEO Stu Murray's trips around the country.

With a $20 million hole in the budget on top of the cash shortage, their options were limited. To their surprise, the federal government was serious about cutting spending to trim the deficit. The province was facing an election in the fall and not willing to cozy up to Gail Asper who was spearheading a smear campaign against Canada's Ukrainian community. That left only Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz, safely re-elected and controlling millions of taxpayer dollars.

In hindsight, we can now see the origin of the frantic manoeuvering last March by Katz to get city council to approve a kickback of $3.6 million in future property tax revenue to the CMHR. This wasn't an above-board "gesture" of support to a wildly out-of-control infrastructure project.

Instead, it has every appearance of a politician doing the bidding of a millionaire friend over the best interests of the citizens of Winnipeg.

And we can tell you today that the largesse of City Hall didn't end there.

As reported exclusively in The Black Rod, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights hasn't paid its full property taxes for two years running. If next June 30 they failed to pay their 2012 taxes, the CMHR would go up for tax sale unless the trustees paid the entire outstanding bill at one swoop.

But, then, Christmas came early for Gail Asper and the museum.

On July 21st, 2011, somebody at City Hall quietly wrote off $118,000 of the museum's tax bill.

The outstanding bill was a shade over $443,000 plus penalties of almost $36,000 for non-payment in 2010. The city charges 1.25 percent per month on unpaid tax bills.

Somehow, prime riverfront property independently assessed at $7 million, at least, lost value.

Without a word to the public, somebody cut $118,000 off the CMHR's unpaid tax bill.

The same day as receiving the writeoff, the museum made a payment of $98,538. The effect was to buy time. They can now default on their 2012 taxes without fear of going on the list of tax sale properties.

As we wrote just this past July:

"You can see why the millionaires backing the CMHR can't be bothered paying their city taxes."
"They're counting on Sam Katz and Justin Swandel to turn a blind eye for their buddies while insisting the little people have to pay more taxes."

The Trustees of the CMHR managed to keep a lid on their financial woes from Spring to Fall. The first crack in the official story came in November in a puff piece on Gail Asper in the Toronto Star. For the first time ever there was a mention that the museum wouldn't open until perhaps 2014. There was no attribution for the date, so we dismissed it as speculation.

But a month later, the museum held its first ever public meeting, and the cracks became chasms.

They confirmed the museum opening had been postponed for a year from April, 2013, to sometime in 2014. Even that turned out to be a moving target, as later statements from communications director Angela Cassie said they were hoping it would open in 2014, but a later date was possible.

The reason for the one year postponement?

Well, that, too, varied with the day, if not the hour.

At first Cassie said it was to give the museum time to train its staff to deal with emotional visitors. But eventually, the truth sneaked out----they were soon to be broke. They didn't have the money to fit up the museum.

Hell, they could hardly count on enough money to finish building it--- exactly as predicted in The Black Rod.

Even the Winnipeg Free Press, the propaganda arm of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, reluctantly conceded the facts in their Saturday editorial:

"Large gifts, moreover, are usually awarded over a limited time period,say $1 million over 10 years. As a result, the museum's capital campaign is not only behind by $20 million, there are millions of other dollars that can't be spent or banked because they haven't started to flow."

You don't say? Or should we say, you never before said.

The newspaper's confession means, simply, that all those photos of a grinning Gail Asper announcing some huge, ahem, donation without once pointing out that the, ahem, donation was a tenth of the stated value per year were bogus.


Propaganda, not news.

Thankfully, those photo ops have dwindled to almost zero, just like the museum's bank account.

But the Free Press had a solution to the museum's financial woes --- the federal government should just give the CMHR a blank cheque.

See how simple it is, when it comes to the pet projects of millionaires ?

We, too, have a solution and it, too, involves the federal government.

We're not the only ones to reach the same conclusion.

Put the Canadian Museum for Human Rights under third party management.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper ordered the Attawapiskat Indian Reserve put under third party management because conditions were unacceptable given the $90 million plus Ottawa has spent on the reserve since 2007.

Well, that's exactly what the federal government has spent on the CMHR since 2007 and the results are just as unacceptable.

Why are the white boys (and girl) being treated more favourably than the natives?

Nobody knows how much the museum is going to cost -- if it's ever finished. They've already spent more than $200 million on construction and nobody can even guess at what the final cost will be. Hell, they can't even tell you what year it will open.

As of today, the rough plan is to finish building the structure in 2012, then let it sit empty for a year or two, or more, until they figure out how to pay for the state-of-the-art bells and whistles that will make up the exhibits. Once you've crossed out 'government', nobody knows where the money will come from.

Nobody really knows how much money the Friends of the Museum have raised either.
Nobody knows what caveats are attached to the alleged donations.
Nobody knows how the pledges are structured---over how many years, for example. Nobody knows what number of pledges have defaulted in the current tough economic climate.

A third party manager should dismiss the museum's board of directors and conduct a full, forensic audit to reveal exactly how the CMHR has spent the money its received.

Apart from concrete, steel and glass, let's see ... there's sending museum CEO Stu Murray on a junket to China, giving out bursaries to the University of Winnipeg's Adventures in Global Citizenship Institute for a three-week course they created, partnering in putting on a documentary film festival in Montreal and, oh, co-sponsoring with Amnesty International the screening in Ottawa of a documentary about gay rights in Cameroon.

Yes, that's right, gay rights in Cameroon.

Given that the Friends of the Museum hands out charitable tax credits for donations, a third party manager should demand full access to the donors' list and publish any restrictions attached to any donations. That's called transparency.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights was built on lies and it's time for the federal government to step in and clean house.

The board of trustees cannot be trusted any further.

The museum backers are playing their two last cards to duck the blame for the fiasco while keeping their hands on the taxpayers' wallets.

It's a national museum, and as such, the federal government has a responsibility to pay whatever it costs to build and maintain it, they say.

And nobody could have guessed the final bill. All previous figures provided to the public were only estimates.

Lies, both.

Before the Senate gave approval for the federal government to take over the construction of the CMHR after it proved too expensive as Izzy Asper's private project, one Senator asked the right questions of the witnesses called in support of the move, including Patrick O'Reilly, Director, Implementation Strategy, Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and Rina Pantalony, Legal Counsel, Canadian Heritage.

As reported exclusively in The Black Rod:

(transcript slightly amended here for brevity)
Senator Jim Munson (Acting Chair) in the chair.
The primary purpose of Bill C-42 is to create a new national museum for human rights. It is to be called the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. As provided by clause 1 through clause 4 of the bill, it will be established as an independent Crown corporation through amendments to the Museums Act.
Senator Cowan: (Addressing Lyn Elliot Sherwood, Executive Director, Heritage Group, Canadian Heritage )
On the page of your presentation entitled ``Background,'' it talks about $165 million having come from various sources other than the federal government and $100 million coming from the federal government. On the next page you 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?
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. 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.

The answers provided the Senate were concise and clear.

The budget would be capped at $265 million. Steps would be taken to "assess whether the project can come in on budget." Construction inflation had been factored into the planning as was a "generous" contingency. And, most importantly, "the board of trustees WILL BE accountable for bringing this project in on budget."

There was no talk of an "estimated" budget that could balloon out of control and which the federal government would have to pay.

After we detected in 2009 that the CMHR was grossly over budget, we called for them to produce a "drop dead" figure---a construction cost that would be final and fixed. It took a while, but they finally coughed it up. Here's what we wrote at the time:

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.
Well, guess what.
Two years later they're trying to rewrite history.
$310 million was only another estimate, they say.
Projects like this are complex and nobody can guess what they'll cost in the end
, they protest.
Especially not the taxpayer footing the bill.

Oh, and Arni Thorsteinson mysteriously resigned last week. He's not around anymore to discuss the firm assurance he gave the public that the cost of the CMHR was "final."

The argument that the federal government is responsible for funding the CMHR whatever the cost because the museum is a national facility is a joke, right?


The CMHR was always, and is still, the Asper Family's pet project. It was intended to be a private museum centred on the Holocaust until costs grew out of control. There was never any desire from the public for a human rights museum. Ever. It was imposed on the public and everyone knows it.

Today, we can compare what the public truly wants, with what is being rammed down their throats by Gail Asper and her political pals.

The Jets are back.

* The CMHR trustees claim that 6600 people have donated to the museum.
The Winnipeg Jets sell out 15,000 seats every game.

* The CMHR claims its raised $130 million, although we now see that's a bogus figure. A huge proportion of that number is pledges of money in the future. To date, they may actually have collected half, if that.

The Jets, by comparison, would rake in $22 million a year if you're using only the lowest season ticket price, and double that, $44 million, at an average season price. And they're sold out for the next three years, with 15,000 more people ready and willing to snap up tickets if they go on sale.

* One is something people want---and will gladly pay for. The other is a pet project of elitist millionaires, something that people don't want and which they have to be forced to pay for.


The Winnipeg Free Press has floated a figure for the latest cost overrun -- $45 million but its attributed only to unnamed "sources". The Friends of the CMHR already can't raise the $20 million outstanding on the last overrun. Add $45 million to that and you've entered the Twilight Zone.

The feds have said they're not upping their contribution. Period. The province is looking at a billion dollar deficit and is not likely to slip in another $40-50-60 million. And the city doesn't have that kind of money.

If all this sounds vaguely familiar, it should.

We've witnessed this sequence of events before -- the sudden collapse of a careful coverup, politicians in the know running for cover, a rash of resignations of senior executives, a Ponzi-like scam to use bogus figures to trick new investors into signing cheques to bail out previous investors, a small cabal of elitists out to change the world and stick the taxpayer with the bill...
Crocus, anyone?

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Friday, December 09, 2011

Deciphering the secrets of the CMHR's first public meeting

This week the Canadian Museum for Human Rights held its first public meeting but it took a few days before the various accounts coalesced into a semi-coherent reflection of what was said and, more to the point, what the public was not told.

Like, for example, the true cost of the Asper family money pit, pegged for the last couple of years at $310 million.

Angela Cassie, the, ahem, "communications director" for the museum, said, to quote the Winnipeg Sun, "planners are “reforecasting” the cost projection and plan to “confirm an exact number on that in the next couple of weeks”."

WHOOP. WHOOP. WHOOP. Sound the alarm.

The museum "planners" are going to reveal the newly-revised cost of the half-built museum sometime around, oh, let's see, Christmas? When there's hardly a reporter working? And when nobody will be around to comment? Oh, that's not suspicious at all.

And, just so you know, 'reforecasting' is a real word.

What's it mean?

We asked city councillor Ross Eadie.

"It means 'Holy shxx. Do you fxxxing know what the real fxxxing bill is going to fxxxing be? We're fxxxed'." Uh, thanks Ross.

We went instead to the accounting world where we learned that another term for 'reforecasting' is budget flexing. Don't you just love that? Budget flexing---aka revising the projected expense based on knowing what things will actually cost.

And you can bet the farm that costs aren't going down. A sure sign was that museum CEO Stu Murray didn't give the audience his usual reassurance that the CMHR will be built "on time and on budget." That's at least, in part, because it won't be on time. The opening is being delayed by a year to 2014, which will make it two years late and way, way over budget.

How much over budget this time? You can start your guesses at $3.6 million.

Remember back in April and the panicky vote at city council to kick back precisely $3.63 million in future property taxes to the CMHR? Nobody every explained where that exact figure came from? Or why the rush to pass the kickback with no public notice?

But guess where that $3.6 million showed up? In the last annual report from the CMHR under the heading "Construction Project: Budget."

"The Museum developed a financial Risk Mitigation Strategy in 2010-2011. Significant progress related to risk mitigation includes an additional commitment from the City of Winnipeg of $3.6 million..."

Translation: Sam Katz agreed to pay off up to $3.6 million cost overruns without telling the public.

Which explains a comment made by a giggly Gail Asper when she was interviewed by Winnipeg Free Press reporter Geoff Kirbyson in July.

He asked if the cost of construction could go up even higher than $310 million.
"I can't really say," answered Gail Asper. "I certainly hope not. There's contingency funds..."

And this after years of hearing Stu Murray swear with one hand on his heart and the other on a stack of bibles that the project wouldn't cost a penny more than $310 million. Something was up even then.

The museum talking heads used to dismiss concerns about cost by reciting a mantra quoting the percentage tendered and supposedly fixed. The CMHR annual report states: At March 31, 2011, the construction of the building is 50 percent complete and 95 percent of the building costs have been tendered and confirmed. In 2011-2012, the remaining five percent of the building costs will be tendered and the budgets for the exhibition fit-up, fabrication and installation will be finalized.

You can bet that costs didn't suddenly shoot up in the two weeks between the annual report and city council's tax giveaway.

They were misleading the public as early as April.
Do you think they've stopped now?

And the museum seems to be on a wobbly financial footing. Is this why the opening has been delayed a year? Because they can't afford to finish the building in time?
The annual report carries this intriguing sentence in discussing risk mitigation:

"Efforts continue to confirm other sources of funding to ensure capital cash flow needs are met."

So they're having cash flow problems? That's never good.

Angela Cassie told a television interviewer that the real reason for the year-long delay in opening is to train staff on how to respond to emotional (read angry) visitors. Up to now the response has been to accuse anyone who challenges the Asper vision of anti-semitism. The CMHR tried another tactic at its public meeting -- it restricted questions to 15 minutes of the two hour presentation.

Some of those questions centred on the museum's plans to elevate the Holocaust over all other mass murders in the world by setting aside one of the museum's 12 "zones" exclusively for the study of the murder of Europe's Jews by the Nazis.

The latest reason floated by supporters of the museum is that the Holocaust is the most completely documented genocide in history. This replaces the previous excuse for special treatment for the Holocaust, that the very concept of human rights flowed from the organized murder of Jews in the early Forties.

Canada's Ukrainian community has led the objection to giving the Holocaust special status in a national museum dedicated to the promotion of the human rights of all Canada's ethnic groups. They proposed the Holocaust be incorporated into a single thematic gallery which would tell the stories of all historic genocides including the death of millions of Ukrainians at the hands of Russian Communists. The response has been a virulent campaign by museum supporters to smear the Ukrainians as anti-semites, capped by the invention by one academic of an imaginary demand to eliminate any permanent reference of the Holocaust at the CMHR.

Well, so much for encouraging dialogue, eh, Stu?

But the Ukrainians haven't backed down, and the CMHR is trying a new tack---spin.

Angela Cassie told the Jewish Pos
t that the museum's 12 original galleries have now been re-labelled as "clusters" each on a theme. Three of those galleries will be one cluster that examines genocides.

There will be an “examining the Holocaust” gallery, she said. If she was quoted accurately in the Jewish Post, this same gallery will have a "thematic approach" and will include, as the Post paraphrased it, 'some attention' to the Armenian genocide and the Holodomor, the mass murder by starvation of Ukrainians by Russian Communists.

Will this appease the Ukrainian community organizations? Its hard to say since this "remedy" wasn't discussed in the open Q&A session of the public meeting. But what was written next in the Jewish Post won't be overlooked. Whether this came from Angela Cassie or was an aside by the author we don't know because it isn't clear in the reading. What it says is sure to provoke an angry response.

"...the Holodomor (the Ukrainian genocide perpetrated by Joseph Stalin, although to what extent the Holodomor can be seen as a deliberate genocide aimed at the Ukrainian people is a matter of debate. Some historians argue that the Ukrainians were simply the largest group to suffer among a number of different ethnic groups that fell victim to Stalinist policies of forced collectivization."

You've heard of Holocaust deniers. Now it's Holodomor deniers?

The deaths of millions of Ukrainians is to be dismissed as not a true genocide but a technicality of a failed economic policy? Oh yeah, that's going to go over well.

About as well as what we'll tell you next about the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

You won't believe what you're going to read.

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