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.

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, 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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