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Blogspot | 09Dec2011 | blackrod

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 Post
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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