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.