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Winnipeg Sun | 19Dec2011 | Tom Brodbeck

Human rights museum a gong show

I can understand why Arni Thorsteinson has quit as chairman of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Thorsteinson, president of Shelter Canadian Properties Ltd., has resigned as chair effective Jan. 1, 2012.

No reasons were given for his sudden departure. But when you look at what a debacle this museum has become, it’s no wonder Thorsteinson left, or was pushed out.

From chronic cost overruns and out-of-control budgets to fierce controversies over the museum’s hierarchy of human atrocities, this thing has gone so sideways I can’t imagine anyone wanting to take over Arni’s job. Who would want it?

The original price tag for the museum was $200 million. It jumped to $265 million and now stands at $310 million. It will likely exceed that amount once construction is completed.

The museum’s bureaucracy is already spending $11 million a year and the place isn’t even open yet. And despite pledging $21.7 million to the Crown corporation for annual operating funds, the federal government is being asked for even more money. Fortunately, Ottawa has turned down that request.

But now museum officials say they don’t have the money to start tendering contracts for the inside of the museum, which means plans to open the place in 2013 have been scrapped. Museum officials say the opening date has been pushed back to 2014, although it may not be open until 2015.

What a gong show.

It’s as if this organization had no business plan at all when it started. Its spending projections seem to change every six months. And museum officials appear surprised when they can’t make it to the next phase of the project without another taxpayer bailout.

It’s a disaster.

Seriously, didn’t they cost out the high-tech equipment that’s going into this place? Did they not do any homework at all on what it costs to equip their galleries and how they planned to pay for it? Or did they simply assume that taxpayers would cover whatever inflated budget they came up with?

I’m beginning to think it’s the latter.

Supporters of the museum say taxpayers should essentially write the Crown corporation a blank cheque because the project is so important to all Canadians.

These are the same folks who complain that we don’t invest enough money into our city’s infrastructure and that we need more funding for important things like public schools and health care.

Apparently they believe there’s a bottomless pit of money somewhere that governments can use for whatever boutique projects they want.

I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way. Taxpayers are tapped out. Canadians already give governments far too much of their earnings as it is. And to ask taxpayers for even more money for a human rights museum is laughable.

We don’t know why Arni Thorsteinson left the museum’s board of directors or whether he was asked to leave.

But given how screwed up this project has become, I can see why he did.