The Globe and Mail came to the rescue Saturday. In a puff piece about the over-budget, overdue, over-hyped Canadian Museum for Human Rights, writer Roy MacGregor gushed that "(m)ore than 75,000 people" have donated money to build the thing.
"It is a striking and memorable building, if rather eccentric."
Which is Toronto-high society-speak for "Yikes, is it ever ugly!"
The punchline of the piece is how wrong MacGregor's awe-inducing declaration of public support for the epic money pit is.
By all accounts, the real number of donors to the CMHR is barely 7500. That's right, one-tenth of what MacGregor said it was. Seven thousand, five hundred. And, to quote MacGregor "some as little as a few dollars."
So the family of multi-millionaires really are cheap panhandlers.
They're bumming a couple of bucks here and a few bucks there to build a monument to their billionaire father while claiming its a sign that the public supports their conceit.
That's the only explanation, other than the usual journalistic incompetence.
Apart from the fake news promoted by the Globe and Mail, there is real news from the CMHR courtesy of museum CEO and chief cheerleader Stu Murray.
He was interviewed on CJOB a couple of weeks ago and dropped a bombshell that was overlooked by all the "professional" reporters in town.
Guest host Richard Cloutier was tossing Murray some softball questions about the cost of the museum ("$351 million. Period. Full stop.") when he asked what the $21.7 million in annual operating costs would cover.
"That pays for (cough) salaries...it pays for operations, lighting, umm, it pays for our PILT, which is Payment in Lieu of Taxes...So it pays for all the elements...to heat...everything that is involved in running an institution or a building." said Murray.
For the first time ever, officials of the CMHR have said that the operating funding it gets from the federal government will pay for utilities and taxes.
As late as 2011 they were saying they needed to "augment operating funds to cover PILT". Prior to that they said they had forgotten to include utilities and taxes in the money they needed each year and would the federal government please cough up more cash to pay those bills.
Obviously the feds have said that the $45 million bailout they gave the museum in 2011 was all the extra money they would get. This is a game changer. Two months ago we wrote that fundraising for the CMHR had collapsed.
Now it appears the prognosis is even worse.
Ever since Gail Asper, chief fundraiser for the Friends of the CMHR, launched her hate campaign against Canada's Ukrainian community in 2011, fundraising has fallen off a cliff. They claim they raised $4 million in 2013, but since much of that is in installments, they're actually pulling in a fraction of that each year.
All the government money has been spent as of the end of December, and they've just started installing the exhibits. The only money to pay for that is what the Friends can raise from outstanding IOUs and new money.
We thought the Friends would be responsible for covering the tax bill, but it looks like the museum itself will pay out of operating funds. That means the Friends will still have to backstop the museum as well. The museum already owes more than $4 million in back taxes (your tax bill could drop by 1 percent if they paid up) and will owe $8 million or more next June. If this was a privately owned building it would already be up for tax sale.
It gets even worse when the CMHR has to start paying back the $45 million advance it got. Starting in 2018 they will have six years to pay off the advance out of operating funds. Say that's $8 million a year (advance plus interest), on top of $4 million, or $5 million or $6 million a year for taxes and utilities and half the annual operating funds are committed.
They'll have to sell an awful lot of t-shirts to make up the difference.
Stu Murray was less than convincing that the museum could do it.
He was asked to address the skepticism about the museum -- "that two...five years from now you'll be back on CJOB doing a fundraiser..."
Well, he said, the museum has spaces to rent out, programming over and above the regular admissions, and "additional events to create additional revenue." Hazy, enough?
The Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature charges $8 for adults and $6.60 for students and seniors for one venue, $21 and $17 respectively for admission to the museum, science centre and Planetarium.
They would need 500,000 single adult admissions to pay off their tax bill each year.
He added: "If you would give us the opportunity to walk through the doors and you don't like what you see, I'll refund your money."
Maybe he didn't realize what he was saying, but Murray actually undermined his own boosterism.
"You can go to any city in the world for a convention and have a great convention centre; we're going to have a spectacular convention centre but the hook is you can't do something around human rights like you can do it in Winnipeg. And that's going to be a great, great angle for us."
"...If you just built a square box and said I hope that people will come and see this because of the subject matter, they wouldn't come. They're gonna come because ... I have taken personally about 3500 people, since I've been on the job, through that building ... the wow factor is palpable. I mean people feel it. In order to bring people to Winnipeg to talk about an educational value around human rights the first thing that has to happen was the right decision -- build an iconic building."
Get it? He knows people wouldn't cross the street to see a museum about human rights, so what $351 million really bought was a fancy building.
Winnipeg is going to get a new convention centre ( 8 blocks away) "and we're the anchor", he said.
So far the CMHR is the anchor around the neck of taxpayers.
P.S. For those who were taught that the plural of roof is rooves---that's now considered archaic.
And for the record, wind chills of -51C like those we had all last week equate to 60 below zero on the Fahrenheit scale. Why don't weathermen say so.