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Human-rights museum dodges financial crisis

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which is three years away from opening, is still looking for $25-million to meet its capital costs.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights, still an estimated three years from opening its doors in Winnipeg, has dodged a financial crisis, thanks to an accounting sleight of hand.

In its 2008-09 annual report tabled late last week in the House of Commons, the museum announced that the government has approved a request for an advance of $5.2-million to meet its operating budget for the current fiscal year. The money is being "reprofiled" from the $21.7-million the Conservative government previously had benchmarked for the Crown corporation's operations in 2011-12.

Previously, the CMHR, the construction of which began this year, had been budgeted to receive $3.4-million to operate during the 2009-2010 fiscal year ending March 31. The $3.4-million was part of a $6.1-million operating package Ottawa provided for 2008-09 and 2009-2010.

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But in May, the museum announced that inflation and unanticipated "payments in lieu of taxes" were pushing its budget for 2009 to $8.6-million. It subsequently advised the Treasury Board that it wouldn't "require the full $21.7-million" for 2011-12 operations, saying it could manage with $15.85-million if the balance could be allocated to 2009-10.

In the meantime, the CMHR is still looking for $45-million to meet its projected capital costs of about $310-million. Originally, in 2007, the museum estimated that its capital costs would total $265-million, but in May it announced that material costs, a drop in the value of the Canadian dollar and inflation-related hikes made that figure untenable.

The federal government is allocating a total of $100-million, parcelled out in stages, for the museum's construction and has indicated that it doesn't intend to add to that investment.

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