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.

Name:
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: black_rod_usher@yahoo.com

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Winnipeg Firehall Scandal: Following the trail of deception



The City of Winnipeg's top civil servants have defiantly closed ranks around Fire Chief Reid Douglas whose handling of a $15 million project to build four new fire stations is at the heart of a scandal that's shaking public trust in city government like never before.

Douglas submitted a report last week to a city committee seeking another $2.3 million from the 2013 budget to cover cost overruns on the new firehalls.  He's already spent the $15.3 million allocated for the project but only three fire stations have been built and the last, in St. James, only just started.  Douglas twice increased the size of the fourth firehall without telling city councillors why, then tried to hide the increased cost  from them, even as late as last month (September).

He wrote in his report supporting the extra funding that :
"The Fire Chief had the authority to change the scope of the project in order to accommodate these operational needs and efficiencies as they were anticipated to fall within the $15.3M budget."
It was nice of him to clear himself of any suggestion of wrongdoing, even though Mayor Sam Katz declared he couldn't defend the shenanigans around the St.James firehall and Paula Havixbeck, chair of the Protection Committee, is so angry she's ordered Douglas to show up before the committee to answer questions left unanswered in his report.
Barry Thorgrimson, the city's director of property, planning and development, on the other hand, co-authored the Douglas report and obviously had no problems with it. And Deepak Joshi, the city's Chief Operating Officer, whose name also appears on the report, told reporters that Douglas had acted within his rights to supersize the fire station and megasize the cost while using an accounting trick to hide the fact from councillors.

By defending Douglas against the anger and distrust of mayor and council, these administrators have tied their professional futures to that of the fire chief, who should already be cleaning his office of personal belongings to speed up the job when his departure is made official.

Douglas answered none of the questions people have raised about the St.James firehall fiasco and provided no documentation to support his version of the facts -- memos, emails, dates of his decisions, reasons for them, and, above, all, who else in the government knew what he was doing.

We've scoured the pubic record and believe we have some of the answers that Reid Douglas is hiding.

From the Douglas report under the heading History:

"On November 21, 2008 a plan outlining the urgent need for WFPS infrastructure replacement, identified by a 2005 WFPS internal review, was presented to the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO). In the summer of 2009, a committee of WFPS and United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg (UFFW) members met with the CAO and Senior Administration to discuss how to address replacing the inadequate facilities, and significantly improve emergency response times and operational efficiencies in a timely manner."


That unnamed CAO is Phil Sheegl. Interestingly, the report begins with the heading Authorization, under which there are boxes identifying the Author (R. Douglas and B. Thorgrimson),  Department Head (R. Douglas and B. Thorgrimson),  CFO (M.Ruta, CFO) and CAO. 

Except, instead of finding the name Phil Sheegl under CAO, you find "D.Joshi, COO".  

Sheegl did not put his name to the report.  Why?
Newspaper stories refer to the initial size of the new St. James station as 10,000 square feet (which would eventually grow to 14,000 sq. ft.)  We can't find a single news story that refers to that size.  We conclude that this was the proposed size in the RFQ---the request for qualifications---issued by the city in the spring of 2009.

Initially, the plan for the new firehalls was to have private developers build them and the city lease them.  The RFQ went to developers to narrow down the pool of those who were interested and able to do the job.  Prospects were asked if they could design, build, finance and maintain four new fire-and-paramedic stations in Charleswood, St. James, River Heights and Sage Creek.

The national economy was still struggling.  In its 2009 budget, the federal government put together a stimulus package, which included  low-cost loans to municipalities for infrastructure like housing and even fire halls.

It was a deal too good to pass up. The city bit. 

In July, 2010, the city formally approved taking the CMHC loan for the new fire halls. Out the window went the design-build idea, and Winnipeg signed on the bottom line for a 15-year $9.7 million loan to build its own firehalls. It had unspent cash sitting around from previous budgets that would top up the project funding at $15.3 million for four shiny new fire stations. Reid Douglas, then the deputy fire chief, was put in charge.

The first thing Douglas did was to "change the scope of the project", which is the fancy bureaucratic way to say "make it bigger." In March, 2011,  a story in the Canstar weekly The Metro discussed a possible location for the new fire station which is apparently 20 percent bigger already and includes a firefighting museum.

Canstar Community News - ONLINE EDITION
Talk of new fire hall location heating up
Fire department eyeing spot near Route 90 for Berry St. replacement, deputy chief says
By: Matt Preprost
Posted: 03/23/2011 3:34 AM | Comments: 0
 .
Almost 100 years old, the fire hall at 200 Berry Street is long past its useful life and needs to be replaced, fire officials say.
Fire official are eyeing a two-acre plot of land at Portage Avenue and Century Street for the relocation of Station No. 11 on Berry Street.

The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service is hoping to build a new fire and paramedic station and fire museum inside the cloverleaf just west of Century Street, Reid Douglas, the services deputy chief, confirmed in an interview.

The plan is not yet finalized, and needs to go through several civic committees and public consultation before being approved, Douglas said.


snip

If all goes to plan, a new $4 million, 12,000 sq. ft. station will be built in the northwest corner of the cloverleaf next to the St. James Hotel.

The 12,000 sq. ft. number will be repeated in every story on the St.James station until September, 2012. 

The cloverleaf location for the firehall was not the first choice.  In July, 2011, then-Deputy Chief Douglas told an open house on the relocation of the St. James firehall that he had considered two other locations first.

He said the fire department had tried to buy land from the Assiniboine School Division.  They had apparently been so persistent that, said Douglas, the division sent a cease-and-desist letter demanding they back off. 

They also had their eye on a former Esso station on Portage Avenue and Queen Street. They even paid a down payment on the land, he said. But "stalled environmental scans and remediation slowed the process.

A new home was built at the edge of the vacant lot and the cost of expropriating homes became too pricey, he said."

The cloverleaf  "was the only site where there was enough land for us to build on," he told area residents.
The location, said Douglas, had been suggested by Shindico Realty, the contractor building the station. (Cue irony music)

That's an important clue to when at least one important change to the project was made. Councillor Scott Fielding (St.James-Brooklands) told the Winnipeg Free Press a few weeks ago "(a)n earlier plan for Station No. 11 called for some form of firefighting museum, but that was dropped before the city awarded a design and construction contract to Shindico Realty."

In his report last week, Reid Douglas mentioned the dropping of the museum in a paragraph designed to be as confusing as possible.

"In February 2010, WFPS presented a report to the SPC on Protection and Community Services which outlined a plan to strategically replace its aging infrastructure. The preliminary findings of a deployment study initiated by WFPS identified the need for additional scope to Station 11, to create operational efficiencies (removal of museum, inclusion of aerial ladder, haz-mat unit and training facility)."

The implication is that the "removal of museum" was recommended by the "deployment study" which he implies was in February, 2010. As you can see, the museum was still in the plans in March, 2011.

A four-month traffic study (begun in February, 2011, we presume) was approved by the city's public works department in June, Douglas told the open house.  The plan then worked its way through the committee process, and nobody twigged on the fact that the fire station was 20 percent bigger than originally planned.  Note whose eyes saw the relevant reports.

Fire hall clears another city hurdle, one more to go
By: Matt Preprost
Posted: 07/20/2011 1:12 AM | Comments: 0
The relocation of Station No. 11 on Berry Street was given the green light by a city committee last week.
Councillors unanimously approved closing part of the west side of Century Street north of Portage Avenue, at the Assiniboia community committee Tues., July 12, essentially giving the fire department the go-ahead to proceed with construction.
The request will go before the mayor’s executive policy committee and then to city council on Wed., July 20, before council prorogues for the summer.
Councillors Scott Fielding (St. James-Brooklands), Grant Nordman (St. Charles), and Paula Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo) sit on the committee.


November, 2011, five months later and construction of the St. James station hadn't started yet.  A story in the Metro explained why (or so the reporter thought). We'll put money that this was when the second change to "the scope" of the project was ordered, to make it 14,000 square feet.  
The Metro
Canstar Community News - ONLINE EDITION
Design changes delay fire hall construction
By: Matt Preprost
Posted: 11/30/2011 1:24 AM |
Original site plan for the replacement of Fire Station No. 11. The plan has been updated to move the station closer to Portage Avenue. (SUPPLIED PHOTO)

Construction is expected to start within weeks on a new $4 million replacement for Fire Station No. 11 in St. James, fire officials say.
Construction was originally supposed to begin in October. However, changes to the station’s site plan were made and had to be resubmitted to the city for approval.
"Our target is within the next couple of weeks," said Christine Friesen, project manager for the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service. "Before Christmas. That’s what we’re hoping for."
Friesen said the original plan called for the station to be situated too far back on two acres of land in the northwest corner of the cloverleaf next to the St. James Hotel.
The new plan calls for the station to be moved closer to Portage Avenue so it is easier to build and will have more of a visual presence in the community, Friesen said.
"When it was set back, you couldn’t see it that well," she said. "Speaking with the councillor, this is a flagship kind of station, and needs more of a public presence."


snip

The location for the new 12,000-sq. ft. Station No. 11 was chosen based on computer models and historical response time data, and will feature four drive-thru style bay doors.

It would be another four months, and almost a year after the deadline for completion in order to qualify for federal funding, that construction would begin.

Canstar Community News - ONLINE EDITION
Fire hall build to start in March: city
By: Matt Preprost
Posted: 02/29/2012 1:23 AM | Comments: 0 

City officials now say construction of the new $4 million replacement for Fire Station No. 11 in St. James is expected to begin in early March.
City administration recently approved foundation permits for the work to begin around the first week of March, according to Coun. Scott Fielding (St. James).
By July, 2 years after the firehalls project was approved by city council, all looked well. Three new fire stations had been built and the fourth was underway. What could go wrong?

Then it went wrong.

In August, the CBC ran a throwaway story about Shindico.

Questions arise over old fire hall put up for lease

CBC News
Posted: Aug 23, 2012 6:41 AM CT
A Winnipeg property developer put an unused fire hall up up for lease this summer, but a city official says a deal to transfer the property over has not yet been completed.

It was the kind of story that would be a one-day wonder in most circumstances. Shindico owner Sandy Shindleman had no comment the first day or two then issued a statement saying, in effect, "Oops. Honest mistake. My bad."

But the story wouldn't go away. It grew. Fire Chief Reid Douglas stepped forward to defend Shindico, saying he had made a verbal deal with the company for a land swap that included the land Shindico put up for lease.  A swap for what?  Why, for the land where the new fire station in River Heights was built.  You see, Winnipeg had built a firehall on land it didn't own.

Douglas had launched a firestorm, the kind of fire no fire department can put out. 

The more reporters dug, the dirtier the firehall scandal looked.

Secret land swaps, single source contracts, fishy tendering designed to hide information from city council, "everybody knew", to quote the mayor, became two internal audits because, apparently, "nobody" knew what went on and nobody knows what's going on today.

Douglas was trying to pull the wool over the eyes of city councillors as late as September, a month after the scandal began to unravel.

Big cost hike for fire hall feared
Councillors told St. James station may be up to $2.3M over budget

By: Bartley Kives
Posted: 09/27/2012 1:00 AM | sept. 27

A new fire-paramedic station under construction in St. James may be as much as $2.3 million over budget, city councillors have been warned.
But it's unclear whether the price tag for the new Station No. 11 at the intersection of Portage Avenue and Route 90 is going up because of changes to the scope of the project or because of actual cost overruns.

snip
The new station No. 11, whose budget was pegged at $5.8 million, is one of four new fire-paramedic stations under review by the city auditor and external legal and property experts. 

snip

In a briefing last week, several members of executive policy committee were told the new Station No. 11 was subject to a price increase that may wind up being anywhere from $300,000 to $2.3 milllion. But city finance officials have yet to determine the precise amount of the increase -- and the exact nature of the change, said council property chairman Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) and protection chairwoman Paula Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo).

"The numbers are being reviewed at the moment and it sounds like there may very well be an overrun," Browaty said Wednesday. But councillors are still waiting to find out if the increase is the result of an imprecise initial estimate or a change to the station design -- or something else entirely.

"We still don't have the details as to whether it's a cost overrun or a scope change," Havixbeck said. "I'm optimistic this review will reveal why the changes were needed and what the differences are."

Havixbeck said councillors are curious as to why they were not told earlier about any financial issue regarding Station No. 11, especially since a $62,000 cost overrun for Station No. 27 was the subject of a city report.

The reason nobody was telling the councillors anything has become obvious. They were desperately trying to keep the lid on the overspending on the St. James station even at that late date.

This is where many of the reporters get lost. We'll try to clarify it.

The total budget for the four new firehalls was $15.3 million. The cost of the first three firehalls came to $9.4 million  (Sage Creek, $3 million; River Heights, $3.2 million; Charleswood, $3.2 million).

That left $5.9 million.  The St. James station was to cost $4 million, leaving a cushion of $1.9 million.

When Douglas confessed in September that the cost of the St. James station had risen to $5.8 million, he was hoping to hide the increase within the $1.9 million cushion for overruns. That way he could say the project to build 4 firehalls came in on (total) budget.

But when the bean counters toted up all the costs for the St.James station, they were at least $2.3 million more than the $4 million budget.  As long as the costs were $1.9 million or less, Douglas could get away with it. When they topped $1.9 million---and $2.3 million is more than $1.9 million---the jig was up. There was no more money in the honeypot. He had to get city council's approval for more money to finish the St. James station. There were no other options.

Havixbeck has ordered Reid Douglas to show up before Protection Committee to explain what happened.  

She had better ask pointed questions about why Douglas was trying to deceive her and her colleagues as late as one month ago.

That would be a start. Because the electorate wants to know why he has been deceiving us for the past two years and why the other city administrators think that's just fine.
                                        -30-

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Friday, October 19, 2012

What you are going to see inside the CMHR. "Look on...and despair."




Earlier this year, the New York designer of the museum's exhibits, Ralph Appelbaum, came to Winnipeg to give 200 donors to the CMHR a super-sneak preview of  the "interior wonders" they can expect to see when they visit.


The museum's fundraising arm, the Friends of the CMHR, took detailed notes and reported Appelbaum's "thrilling" lecture in the group's Summer, 2012, newsletter.  


Given the importance of knowing exactly what we're spending $351 million (and counting) on, we decided to scalp the Friends' account (with the really boring bits scissored out).

Barf bags at the ready, here we go...


"Appelbaum began his thrilling virtual tour of the Museum’s interior at the building entrance between two of the structure’s massive “roots”. The roots represent the earth as the common home of all people and the beginning of our journey from darkness to light, from despair to hope."

"Visitors enter ‘Buhler Hall’, a vast welcome and gathering space. High-contrast ambient projections against an earthen red wall welcome visitors in different languages. Part of the ceiling opens up into the heart of the Museum and offers a dazzling view of people crossing one of the ramps high above."






Buhler Hall

  






Like a scene from one of Cecil B. DeMille's biblical epics, or a trip back in time to the day of the Pharoahs, it will leave visitors wondering "how much did we spend on this?" and "Gosh, what we could have done with that money..." 

Women's shelters beg for funding, the homeless beg for lodgings, the poorest are beggared by food costs, scientific studies are killed under the rubric of austerity, but governments of all stripes didn't stint on this fantastical monument to one man.  It's Shelley's immortal poem Ozymandias brought to life.

http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2012/01/from-shill-to-saint-what-week-on-cmhr.html

But, let's continue the tour with the Friends...
"Next, visitors follow a hallway into the ‘Introduction to Human Rights’ gallery. The exhibits here immerse people in “the range of diversity of the human rights story,”  Visitors traveling through the gallery will encounter a powerful soundscape and dramatic floor-to-ceiling panoramic film, from which objects significant to the story will appear to emerge “almost magically”. A human rights timeline will help visitors – especially students and teachers – “find exactly where their story begins” in the global and historical context."

"At the far end of the ‘Introduction’ gallery stands a basket-shaped theatre. Inside the theatre, a 360-degree film screen tells the story of Canada’s Indigenous peoples – and presents Indigenous concepts of humanity’s rights and responsibilities. visitors will “hear stories about community and co-existence, respect and modes of government... It serves as the prologue to the great story we are about to tell.”

"That great story is ‘Canada’s Human Rights Journey’, which occupies the Museum’s largest space. (It) begins with films that explore Canada’s human rights struggles and successes. The open, two-storey gallery features multi-layered, dynamic presentations of Canada’s human rights advances and setbacks, as well as our nation’s development of human rights laws and institutions. An interactive floor game will engage visitors of all ages in discovering how individual actions have an effect on others. An enormous canvas will provide a backdrop for digital projections, and three stages hidden in the wall will open to reveal performances by actors portraying figures and scenes from Canada’s human rights journey."

"The gallery also features storytelling alcoves: mini exhibits that bring to life the stories and experiences of Canada’s human rights pioneers and champions. Appelbaum says many of these heroes are relatively unknown. “This is a gallery devoted to remembering their names.” Visitors can even leave their own names and human rights stories behind in a recording booth, and watch recordings left behind by previous visitors."

(Are we bad people for wondering who will leave the first sex tape?)
"Canada’s Challenge’, the next gallery, sheds light on the unique character of Canada’s legal system and the traditions that have influenced it. An animated ‘Living Tree’ will blend words and images to evoke the flexible nature of Canada’s laws. Artifacts and documents will be displayed here, including the Canadian Bill of Rights and the Canadian Human Rights Act. Visitors can gather at a ring-shaped ‘Debate Table’ to participate in facilitated discussions. The table is enhanced with digital interfaces and overhead monitors that provide context and invite visitors to vote on specific human rights cases and situations. "
"Midway through the CMHR, visitors reach the ‘Examining the Holocaust’ gallery, which explores the most thoroughly researched genocide in history.  Here, visitors gain powerful perspective from real-life stories and view footage in a theatre resembling a shell of broken glass. A freestanding showcase will present real artifacts associated with the Holocaust along with the stories behind them. An interactive exhibit will deepen our understanding of Raphael Lemkin’s techniques of genocide"

 “The walls are etched with images of genocide so we can better understand what genocide is....” Visitors will “see the world’s response to those tragic events through giant scrapbooks whose pages turn with a wave of your hand."

"The next gallery, ‘Hope and Hard Work’, presents and explains the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Here, visitors will use large interactive monitors to explore how the Declaration applies to real-world situations. Another exhibit will focus on John Humphreys, the Canadian who played a lead role in drafting the Declaration. Panels with images and texts will highlight some of the many other human rights instruments that followed the Declaration, and an animated overhead projection will depict the Declaration’s thirty clauses."
"‘Breaking the Silence’ follows – a quiet, respectful place where visitors can learn more about the five genocides recognized by Canadian Parliament--- the Armenian genocide, the Holodomor, the Holocaust, Rwanda, and Srebrenica." 
"From ‘Breaking the Silence’, visitors will enter ‘The Forum’. ‘The Forum’ is a positive space meant to inspire hope in our visitors after  several challenging galleries focused on historic violations, mass atrocities, genocide and crimes against humanity."

"...a network of translucent alabaster ramps will convey Museum visitors upwards into a modern-day view of human rights. ‘Human Rights Today’ features a spectacular world map that Appelbaum says “would make (CNN anchor) Wolf Blitzer jealous.” Visitors can interact with the map to find out what’s happening in human rights anywhere in the world in real time. The gallery will also lead visitors through exhibits that demonstrate how the media shapes perceptions of human rights abuses, and to an interactive “tapestry” of some of the people who defend human rights in their work every day."

"The final gallery, ‘Take Action’, invites visitors to make an active commitment to protecting human rights. Here, Museum facilitators will answer questions, engage visitors in discussions, and help visitors discover what actions they can take to promote the rights of everyone."

" The Museum experience culminates in a visit to the ‘Tower of Hope’, accessible via glass elevator or circular staircase. The Tower offers a magnificent view of Winnipeg and will house the story of the recipient of a newly-created human rights award.  Here visitors can share their thoughts and receive a memento to remind them of their personal journey at the Museum."
"...no two visitors will share the same Museum experience, no one visitor will experience the Museum the same way twice. Exhibits will change constantly..."
The stated purpose of this architectural monstrosity is to indoctrinate Canada's youth into a designated world view.

The most stomach-turning example of how successful they have been is also in the Summer, 2012 issue of the Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights newsletter.

There, on Page 10, is a picture of a smiling Gail Asper standing next to a little boy who is honoured as a "Human Rights Champion."  The story reads:

“I asked my friends who were invited to my birthday party to donate to the Museum instead of getting birthday presents because I have had lots of birthdays with presents, and I already have lots of toys. So I decided to donate to the Museum because it needs the money more than I need more toys. I was proud to give the money that I raised to the Museum so that my friends and I can visit there some day. And my family still gave me some presents,” (he) says. 
So millionaire Gail Asper, the sister of two multi-millionaires, is taking money from a little boy because the cost of a monument to her billionaire father is wildly out of control.   "I already have lots of toys," said the birthday boy.


And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

The CMHR annual report fuels the need for a forensic audit


We couldn't figure it out at first.

Why did they stall so long before submitting the latest annual report of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights when everything in it was known ten months ago? What were they hiding?

We had to dig deep---30 pages into the 58 page report before we spotted it---there in a summary of the funding collected for the project:

"Cash contributions from the Province of Manitoba ($38.8 million) and the City of Winnipeg ($16 million) have been received, as well as the private sector installments from The Friends of CMHR ($87.8 million)."

Problem was, by March 31, 2012, the fiscal year end, the Friends of CMHR were crowing they had raised $130 million.

It turns out that the CMHR was sitting on $42 million in IOU's at the same time it was about to shut down construction because it had no money.

The museum fundraisers had collected only two-thirds of the private donations they claimed to have raised.
When the CMHR was telling people it had a 60 million dollar shortfall, it was actually $102 million shy of what was needed to finish the project.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights was misleading the public---again.

That comes as no surprise to readers of The Black Rod where for years we have been chronicling the steady stream of lies and deception flowing from the pet project of the Asper family. Here are just a few of those stories:

http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2009/05/truth-is-rare-commodity-from-backers-of.html


http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2009/05/bwahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.html


http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2009/05/winnipeg-free-press-plays-catch-up-to.html

And the more we looked, the more variations of the truth we found in the 2011 annual report.

"The Museum’s physical structure and associated building systems have been designed to achieve a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver designation." CMHR Annual Report 2011-2012
--------------
"There were two big items that cost... the building to go up in cost. One, was the board at the time, a few years ago, made a decision that the building had to be a Gold LEED standard building...That came with a price tag---if memory serves---about $37 million price tag." Heritage Minister James Moore.speaking at the Winnipeg Free Press News Cafe, Sept. 13, 2012.

***********
"Hiring was limited to ‘critical positions’. For example, while we projected hiring 35 employees in 2011-2012, only 13 new positions were hired." CMHR Annual report 2011-2012
----------------
"Instead of the projected 35 new hires, as of today (December 6, 2011) the Museum has hired just 17 positions. Cost savings related to staffing are approximately $2.5 million." CMHR CEO Stu Murray speech, Dec.2011

***************
"Angela Cassie, director of communications for the CMHR, said the museum sought and received permission to direct the savings into its capital budget. That means the amount owing on a $45-million advance provided by the federal government over the summer is down to $35 million." Winnipeg Free Press, Oct. 12, 2012

"Amid all this, the museum was reaching out to Ottawa and the provincial government for a bailout. That finally came in the form of the $45-million advance payment from Ottawa and a $35-million loan guarantee by the provincial government..." Winnipeg Free Press, Oct. 12, 2012
----------------
"$35 million...." James Moore, News Cafe, Sept. 13, 2012
The museum says it got a $45 million advance from the federal government and the federal government says it was $35 million. What's ten million?

Is all this confusion a result of incompetence? Or is it deliberate?

Winnipeg citizens are asking that very question about another scandal---the firehall boondoggle which involves some of the very same people in the CMHR fiasco, namely Mayor Sam Katz who has been channelling millions into this pet project of his friend Gail Asper.

Two audits have now been ordered to try and make sense out of the firehall debacle and to sort out the roles of Katz, his friend Phil Sheegl and his other friend Sandy Shindleman.  
 
The CMHR fiasco is 25 times bigger than the firehall deal and just as murky and shady.

Lying to the Senate, auctioning off space to ethnic groups, a secret loan for millions of dollars, allegations of a breach of provincial law on sweetheart financial deals, non-payment of taxes in deliberate breach of federal regulation, a litany of lies to justify never-ending money shortages. And because of government collusion at all levels everyone turns a blind eye.

The CMHR will argue that its annual reports contain financial data that's reviewed by internal and external auditors. And the reports do contain an Independent Auditors Report signed by the assistant auditor general of Canada. It's a boilerplate insert and declares "the transactions of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights that have come to my attention" have been in accordance with the relevant laws, rules and regulations.
But a closer reading of the Independent Auditors Report leads to an astonishing conclusion. It's not an endorsement of the CMHR financial information. It's a disclaimer.

The independent auditor declares that before designing his audit procedures he assessed whether the CMHR had relevant internal controls (such as an audit committee, etc) that produced the financial statements "but not for the purpose of expressing an opinion on the effectiveness of the entity's internal control."

In plain English that means he refuses to vouch that the financial statements are reliable and in compliance with the law. He will only go so far as to say the financial data was provided to him and by what looks like a legitimate process.

Wow. Now we see how Enron could run a criminal enterprise and Crocus could be a Ponzi scheme and still get their auditors to approve the books.
That's just not good enough for an enterprise that's swallowing hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars under the guise of provable lies and false statements, a constantly moving bottom line and no end in sight.

The situation screams for a forensic audit of the project from the day they lied to the Senate about who would be responsible for cost overruns to the future opening date which is already two years later than promised.


This would include the mythical projections of tourists to be attracted by the museum and the secret business plan that's never been submitted to any of the funders.

All we know today, courtesy of a single television newscast, is that the CMHR intends to charge admission that's "more than a movie ticket and less than a theatre seat."

And we need this forensic audit fast, because, if our Spidey Sense is right, the biggest scam is around the corner.

Angela Cassie told the Free Press the CMHR got a $45 million advance of which $10 million has been repaid through some legerdemain by which the $10 million of annual funding that wasn't spent last year was redirected to redeem the part of the advance.

James Moore told the News Cafe audience that the $35 million advance he was making would be repaid with annual installments from the $21.7 million in annual funding the federal government will give the CMHR.

The problem is that neither statement makes sense. The 2011-2012 annual report states that the savings in the annual funding was being "reprofiled." We didn't know what that meant either. We looked it up and reprofiled means rescheduled. They're going to spend this year (2012) the money they didn't spend last year (2011). That means the amount of annual operating funds left to pay back the, ahem, "advance", is zero.

As for coming years? Well, that will be zero too. The CMHR has already said it needs more annual funding, not less.

From the 2010-2011 annual report:
"The Museum will be seeking the government's approval to augment the operating funds already committed by an amount sufficient to cover the required property tax (PILT) payments and to address ongoing pressures of inflation in operating, maintenance and capital repairs."

How much more? Start with an estimated $5 milliion to $9 million in property taxes, add the cost of utilities which they forgot to include, and work up.

In short, there's no hope the "advance" is being paid back.

But, what about that $42 million in IOU's? Couldn't they collect those pledges over the years and use it to pay the government back?

They could, but we're betting they won't. They have a better use for that money. And if they stiff the government, what are the feds going to do? Shut them down?

No, that $42 million would be better served to make up the $35 million to $50 million endowment
fund that's always been an integral part of the museum project. The endowment fund is intended to finance bringing tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of children to the CMHR.

Here's how the Friends of the CMHR stated it on their website:
A Unique Student Travel Program
Inspired by the impact of The Asper Foundation Human Rights and Holocaust Studies Program, one of the cornerstones of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is a funded national student travel program that will bring up to tens of thousands of students to the Museum each year, and interact with thousands more via the Internet and traveling exhibits. No other national museum offers such a program.

It had to be shuffled off to Phase Two of the project when costs of construction went into the stratosphere. But here's all that money just sitting there in a registered charity, waiting to be put to use and no reason not to.

Isn't there?

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