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Winnipeg Sun | 29Nov2011 | Tom Brodbeck

Human Rights Museum not getting another dime: Gov’t

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights was hoping to dig its hands deeper into taxpayers’ pockets to cover projected cost overruns when it’s slated to open its doors next year.

Well, it’s not going to happen.

The CMHR will not be getting an extra dime in operating funds from the federal government, the Winnipeg Sun has learned.

The Department of Canadian Heritage says it will not increase the museum’s annual operating grant and that museum officials will have to make do with the $21.7 million already allotted to them.

“Our government’s commitment to the museum is unchanged -- $100 million to build the museum and $21.7 million per year to operate it,” said James Maunder, spokesman for Heritage Minister James Moore. “That is our commitment, and there will be no new funds to the museum.”

Well, that puts the kibosh on that one.

Museum officials have already been spending lavishly over the past two years, including the hiring of 50 full-time staff and plans to hire another 35 this year, even though the facility isn’t even open yet.

The Crown corporation expects to spend the full $21.7 million in operating funds this year and had planned to ask Ottawa for more money when it opens its doors next year.

“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,” the CMHR’s most recent annual report says.

Museum officials forgot to include payments-in-lieu of property taxes to the City of Winnipeg in their original cost projections. Now they want the federal government to cover those costs -- and others -- through an increase in annual funding.

We now know, thankfully, that will not happen.

Instead, museum officials will be forced to learn the concept of operating within a budget.

You can’t really blame the Harper government for turning down a request for more money from the CMHR. Ottawa is already deep in the glue and will struggle for years to get out of the deep deficit it’s now in.

Spending on a human rights museum is as discretionary as it gets, especially when there are cost pressures in high-priority areas like health care, education and infrastructure. Besides, $21.7 million in annual funding for a human rights museum is already excessive.

I’m amazed museum officials had the gall to even consider asking for more money.

It’s obvious, though, these guys live in some kind of fantasy land where they think they should be shielded from the fiscal realities of the world.

Well, it’s wake-up time folks. The party is over. And museum brass should consider themselves lucky Ottawa hasn’t reduced their existing $21.7 million operating grant given the state of the government’s finances.

The upshot is museum officials will now have to figure how to raise more revenue from operations, including through admissions, rentals, corporate sponsorship, retail sales, etc. And they will be forced to review costs, including finding more efficient ways of doing business and reducing travel expenses.

No longer can they expect taxpayers to bail them out at every turn.

Welcome to the real world, CMHR.