Thursday, May 1, 2008

The non-issue of crown donations to the human rights museum

I've been following with some interest the
controversy over four provincial crown corporations and agencies (Manitoba Hydro, the Manitoba Lotteries Corporation, Manitoba Public Insurance, and the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission) each donating $1 million to The Canadian Museum For Human Rights (see story here and responses by Dan Lett and PolicyFrog here).

I suppose eyebrows are raised because the organizations in question are owned by and accountable to Manitobans, and because two of them (MLC and MLCC) pour their revenues directly into those of the government. But are the donations in question unreasonable or inappropriate?

Q. If the crowns were private corporations, would they likely donate?

A. Almost surely, if the Museum's list of major donors is any indication (available in one of the Museum's promotional kits) -- the list of companies reads like a who's who of Manitoba's private sector. If Canad Inns, CIBC, HudBay Minerals, Friesens, Ben Moss Jewellers, and Bison Transport, to name a few, are all leading the way with big donations, is it unreasonable to expect that our crowns might pony up a few dollars? I think not. In fact, given the growing list of big ticket public, private and union donors, the crowns might well appear conspicuous by their absence if they chose NOT to donate.

Q. Are the amounts the crowns are donating unreasonable?

A. Hardly. A million bucks is peanuts for Hydro, which has annual revenues exceeding $2 billion. And if Wawanesa Insurance can afford to be in the $1,000,000 to $4,999,999 donor category, surely fellow insurer MPI can do the same. And MLC and MLCC will directly benefit from the new museum as any additional tourism will boost casino/VLT traffic and liquor sales, so it makes good business sense for them to chip in for the cause. That $2 million that might otherwise have ended up in government coffers doesn't seem like an unreasonable investment.

Q. Is it unusual for the crowns to support the community through sponsorship?

A. Not at all; show up at any event in town and you'll see they do it every day. I didn't see any complaints registered over MLC's sponsorship of the Manitoba Marathon nor of Hydro's support for the Winnipeg Folk Festival. And I've never heard any boos for the crown sponsors at any of the Bomber games I've attended.

Q. Is it inappropriate for the provincial government to direct the crowns to support the human rights museum?

A. Forgive me if I'm wrong, but isn't the very rationale for having crowns that they enable us to achieve social ends that might otherwise not be achieved in their absence? In MLC's case, they advertise very publicly their specific mandate to direct moneys to support the community through donation and sponsorship. In this case, the crowns are supporting a project likely to boost tourism to the city, generate significant economic spin-offs, and educate people about human rights.

The opposition might have had a point if the sums being given were so huge as to threaten the financial well-being of the crowns in question or to risk putting the government in a deficit position, but the donations are entirely appropriate and reasonable. And, to be frank, they might just help to put Winnipeg "on the map" with a much more realistic plan than trying to revive a long-gone NHL franchise.

The saddest part is that, as this same opposition grasps for straws in any attempt to find anything to pin on what's been a fairly resilient administration, it's the Canadian Museum of Human Rights itself that gets caught in the crossfire.

When I contrast the scale of corporate and well-to-do backing for the museum with the provincial Tories' pooh-poohing of crown support for the museum, it makes me think it's probably a good thing the Tories aren't so reliant themselves anymore on corporate donations.

Photo: artist's conception of The Canadian Museum of Human Rights, to be located at The Forks, in downtown Winnipeg.

The Negotiators

Given today’s
news that Canada is talking with Afghanistan's Taliban insurgents and the fact that even suggesting dialogue with Taliban opponents in Afghanistan is enough for Tory MPs and their pals to label a person with the “Taliban” moniker (e.g., “Taliban Jack”), I have just one question:

How will the same Tory MPs and their pals now refer to their own leaders -- will they opt for the more formal, full-titled version, as in the "Right Honourable Taliban Stephen Harper" or the "Honourable Taliban Peter MacKay" or will the more cutesy and informal "Taliban Steve" and "Taliban Pete" be the favoured form of address?

2007 CTV poll

The Globe's Radwanski

Photo: Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay