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Fundraising goal jumps for human-rights museum

The Canadian Museum of Human Rights under construction in Winnipeg on Sept. 26, 2011.

John Woods/The Globe and Mail

The fundraising arm of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is setting an ambitious new dollar target to ensure that the museum, now under construction in Winnipeg, opens in 2014.

No official announcement has been made. But on Tuesday evening, after a presentation in Toronto to supporters of the project, Gail Asper, national campaign chair of the Friends of the CMHR, indicated in an interview that the goal is now almost $200-million from private and corporate donors.

That's "quite a bit more," she acknowledged.

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In fact, it is an increase of almost 35 per cent from the earlier capital campaign target of $150-million – and a reflection, it seems, that the CMHR is conceding that it is not expecting new dollars from the federal government.

To date, the museum has raised just over $130-million, in addition to the $100-million promised by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who announced in 2007 that he was establishing the CMHR as the country's first-ever cultural Crown corporation outside the Ottawa region, and a combined $63.6-million from the Manitoba and Winnipeg governments.

"The issue is the cash flow," Asper said. "We can't take our foot off the gas pedal now."

In 2007, the pre-groundbreaking estimated construction cost for the CMHR was $265-million. Two years later, it was $310-million, a 17-per-cent increase. Now, it's more than $350-million – for a soaring, 21,154-square-metre, glass-and-steel structure at the intersection of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, topped by a 100-metre-high Tower of Hope.

Noting that the federal government gave $230-million to renovate the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, the CMHR has been pressing the Conservatives for more than a year for more money – some sources have said as much as $45-million – through an investment, a loan or a line of credit. However, the government has held firm to its original commitments of $100-million for construction and $21.7-million in annual operating support.

However, as the museum's original opening date of 2013 will not be met, the government is allowing the CMHR to "re-profile" to its 2012-13 capital campaign $10-million in savings realized from its 2011-12 operating allocation of $21.7-million.

Meanwhile, the museum awaits word from Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore on whom he intends to appoint as chair of the board. The founding chair, Arni C. Thorsteinson, stepped down on Jan. 1.

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Asper said she was "philosophical" about the near-certainty that no more direct investment will be coming from the federal government, at least for the next while. "[Mr. Harper]is living up to his commitments and we can't complain about that," she said.

It is pretty sure that "we have to borrow money," she added. "And that hurts."

In the meantime, Asper is looking to "spread the pain across the country," partly by trying to persuade the provinces and territories to invest. To date, besides Manitoba, only three provinces (Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) have committed funds to the capital campaign, led by Ontario's $5-million to be spread over 10 years.

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