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Winnipeg Sun | 31Jan2012 | Tom Brodbeck

Brodbeck: If you build it, they won't come
Human Rights Museum elephant keeps getting whiter

Maybe the three levels of government should have polled Canadians on whether they even want a human rights museum before they decided to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on it.

Because apparently -- at least according to an Abacus Data poll conducted for Sun Media and QMI Agency -- the vast majority of Canadians have no interest in it whatsoever.

According to the poll, only 3% of Canadians said they would “very likely” travel to Winnipeg to visit the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Another 12% said they would be “somewhat likely” to travel here to visit it. So at best, 15% of Canadians might travel to Winnipeg to visit this white elephant.

And at what cost? Well, the cost of building this thing is now at $357.5 million when you include the previously unreleased costs of $6.5 million to finish the museum’s theatre and temporary gallery.

Can you imagine spending that kind of dough on a facility the vast majority of Canadians have zero interest in ever visiting?

And that’s just the current capital cost. It doesn’t include the $21.7 million projected annual operating costs the federal government has agreed to pay.

That’s more than a half-billion dollars over the next 10 years.

At this point, though, the money isn’t even in place to complete this museum project. So I’m not sure when anybody will be able to travel here to see it, or what they’ll see when they get here.

The federal government has said it will not put any more money into the museum. And it appears neither the city of Winnipeg nor the province is prepared to sink another dime into it either. It’s anybody’s guess how this facility will ever get finished or what it will look like inside. I’m not sure most Canadians even know that.

Maybe we should ask Canadians the next time around whether they think spending this kind of money on a human rights museum is a wise use of taxpayers’ dollars. It’s one thing to be in favour of the concept of a human rights museum. But it’s quite another to support one with this kind of price tag.

I doubt there would be much public support to build a $357.5 million human rights museum if it was weighed against other more pressing capital projects.

Especially when Canadian cities are grappling with multi-billion dollar infrastructure deficits. How many people would agree that spending this kind of money on a human rights museum is more important than building new hockey arenas for kids, upgrading our public libraries or just fixing our roads?

And that’s really what this story is all about. The controversy here isn’t so much the idea of building a human rights museum. Sure, we could have a debate about what a human rights museum is supposed to accomplish. And I doubt Canadians would arrive at any type of consensus on it.

But that aside, it’s mostly the lavish price, the massive cost overruns and the gross mismanagement of this thing that has people up-in-arms. At least the people I hear from.

It’s the fact their hard-earned tax dollars are being wasted in this way.

Especially when museum officials haven’t exactly been open and accountable with the public on how much this project is going to cost.

I’d be surprised if 15% of Canadians even make it through this museum, if it ever gets finished at all. That’s just over 5 million Canadians.

If they do, I hope they enjoy it. Because it’s going to cost all of us big time.