August 4, 2020

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Museum faces bumpy road ahead

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/10/2014 (2118 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

After five years of managing a controversial and complex project, Stuart Murray was dumped abruptly and unceremoniously as CEO and president of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. The government had obviously lost confidence in his ability to lead it through the next difficult phase.

The museum has suffered cost overruns, internal morale issues, political controversies over content, staff departures and project-management challenges. The failure to open on time last month was another blunder that would not have inspired confidence in Mr. Murray.

The Canadian Museum For Human Rights


The Canadian Museum For Human Rights

The turning point, however, occurred when the focus on finishing and opening the museum gave way to a harder financial analysis by Treasury Board in Ottawa, which discovered the latest estimate for payments to the city in lieu of taxes could be $8 million a year when it is fully operational.

That means the museum will cost about $30 million a year to operate, including the $21.5 million in operating funds, a figure that was set in 2005 and is unlikely to be sufficient today or in the future.

The government feared it was now dealing with a financial boondoggle, and decided to act quickly to make changes.

The flaws and warts in any business may not be the fault of the CEO exclusively, but ultimately he or she is the one held to account. That's life in the big city.

Mr. Murray was only seeking a one-year contract extension, which the board was prepared to allow, but the government wanted a new person at the helm as soon as possible.

In any event, Mr. Murray deserves thanks for the passion and commitment he brought to the project, which is now scheduled to open on Nov. 11.

The timing of his departure creates a leadership gap just as the museum will face another round of intense scrutiny when all galleries are opened for inspection by the public, media and special-interest groups. The increases in operating costs may also bring unwanted attention to a government that promotes itself as fiscally responsible.

Mr. Murray's appointment as the first CEO was not universally applauded at the time. The selection of the former leader of the Manitoba Progressive Conservative party was regarded as purely political. He was likable, but not dynamic. Smart, but not a historian or philosopher; in fact, he appeared to have none of the skills that might be needed to manage a museum.

For his part, Mr. Murray said he brought leadership, fundraising and administrative skills to the table. The government, however, now needs a wizard who can put on a first-class show -- on a budget.

The museum's board intends to conduct an international search for a museum expert to run the show. It should be a person with intellectual gravitas and a dynamic personality, someone who can speak eloquently and forcefully about the museum's important role in Canada and the world.

As for the budget challenges, the government will only hurt the museum and its own record if it tries to cut corners on programming. The operating budget will have to be increased if it is to attract and keep talented people, and adjust to predictable rising costs.

This is not merely the first national museum built outside the National Capital Region, it is the first museum in the world dedicated exclusively to human rights. It's also the only national museum that wasn't funded completely by taxpayers.

It is the bricks-and-mortar representation of Canada's identity as a human rights champion. If liberty defines Americans, human rights have become Canada's national myth. The Americans would never skimp on maintaining the Statue of Liberty. Canadians should expect nothing less for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.


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Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

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