Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Rights museum left in lurch

Opening delayed; out of money; a top executive quits

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OTTAWA -- The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is now without a board chairman as the institution grapples not only with cost overruns but also delays in its opening.

Winnipeg business heavyweight Arni Thorsteinson's resignation takes affect Jan. 1.

There is no word yet on a replacement for Thorsteinson -- whose abrupt decision to leave the board was met with silence from the federal government that initially appointed him.

Thorsteinson will now rejoin the museum's fundraising arm as a board member instead.

"He has been a tremendous supporter of the project from early days and will continue to focus his efforts on private-sector fundraising as a member of the Friends of the CMHR's Board," said museum spokeswoman Angela Cassie. "We are all extremely grateful for his contribution."

Thorsteinson did not return phone calls Friday.

His is the latest in a string of resignations that have plagued the museum this year.

Last winter, chief operating officer Patrick O'Reilly left his position. Shortly after that Victoria Dickenson, the chief knowledge officer, departed for Ontario.

The project is also plagued with financial woes and time delays. Earlier this year, the museum suddenly announced it would not be able to open in 2013 as planned. This week it admitted even a 2014 opening may be in jeopardy.

Cassie told the Free Press this week while construction of the building at The Forks will be finished next year as planned, the museum isn't issuing contracts for inside work because it does not have the money in hand to pay for the work and materials.

Sources say the museum is as much as $45 million over its $310-million construction budget, mainly because of the rising costs of interior work and the technology needed for the unique exhibits that are planned. One highly placed government official said the CMHR is now looking for bridge financing from Ottawa to help cover that shortfall and Thorsteinson's departure is linked to those discussions.

The federal government originally invested $100 million in capital and $21.7 million annually for operating costs. The Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights are on the hook to raise $150 million from private donors. They are $20 million away from that goal.

The province contributed $40 million in capital and the city offered $20 million.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has flatly refused to provide any more capital grants or operating dollars to the project.

Thorsteinson's term wasn't supposed to end until June 2012. He has been involved with the museum for several years as a fundraiser. He also chaired the advisory committee that consulted across Canada about what content the museum should develop.

Manitoba regional minister Vic Toews, who has local authority for the government's role in the project, deflected questions about the museum to Heritage Minister James Moore.

A spokesman for Moore said the minister had no comment.

The iconic Canadian Museum for Human Rights is coming together at The Forks in downtown Winnipeg. On Friday, Dec. 16, Free Press photojournalist Wayne Glowacki had a sneak peak at the construction.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 17, 2011 A4


Updated on Monday, December 19, 2011 at 12:24 PM CST: Corrects Thorsteinson’s term

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