Canadian Museum for Human Rights owes millions after bill battle settled

The City of Winnipeg and the federal government have finally resolved a seven-year fight over the assessed value and bills for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Revised valuation of museum by feds a win for City of Winnipeg

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights has been valued at $108 million by the federal government after years of debate with the City of Winnipeg. (Michael Fazio/CBC)

The City of Winnipeg and the federal government have finally resolved a years-long fight over bills for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

The battle raged on for seven years, as the two sides could not agree on an assessed value.

The city maintained that the massive structure and the land it was built on should be pegged at more than $100 million. The federal government disagreed and instead valued it at $30 million.

In the end, the city got what it wanted. On Friday, CMHR chief financial officer Susanne Robertson said she's relieved the dispute has ended, as both sides now agree the land and museum are valued at $108 million. 

"We are very pleased that this long outstanding issue has finally been resolved between the City of Winnipeg and the federal department of public works. Now we know what the amount is," she said.

But that assessment means the museum will have to cover a $2.7 million payment in lieu of taxes for 2016, and another $6.7 million for the years prior.
Susanne Robertson, CFO of the CMHR, isn't concerned about millions owing in taxes. She's optimistic the issue will be resolved in discussions with Ottawa. (Marianne Klowak)

Robertson isn't surprised or daunted by the bill.

"It's the amount the city has indicated for some time in terms of the tax amount. It is not totally unexpected," Robertson said. "We still have to resolve it. I am not worried. Conversations with the federal government are going well." 

The federal public works department paid the entire $9.4 million owed to the city on behalf of the national museum. Ottawa is exempt from paying taxes to provincial or municipal governments, but in order to give value for the services federal buildings use, such as roads and sewers, it makes what are called payments in lieu of taxes (PILT).

Robertson says it still adds up to what property taxes would be for a building the size of the CMHR in Winnipeg. 

CMHR in deficit

While the museum is still on the hook for $9.4 million that it will have to pay back to the federal government, Robertson isn't concerned. She says $3.9 million has already been put aside through good fiscal management.

In discussions with Ottawa, the CMHR has highlighted that PILT was not included in the budget when the building first became a museum in 2008. 

"So we have highlighted this problem to public works and we are in discussions now that we know the actual amount that is needed to resolve this going forward," she said. 

Robertson is encouraged by the new federal government's support for national museums. It is investing $105.9 million over five years in national museums, with $6.1 million per year to help with operational and capital pressures. She doesn't know how much of that money will come to the CMHR.

"We think this is demonstrating their support to the national museums and we are very pleased with that. We are encouraged a portion of that money will be used to help us with the deficit problem that arose because of the PILT," said Robertson. 

She's hoping to know by the fall what portion of that money CMHR may be eligible for.

Robertson added the CMHR hasn't been given any deadline for when the money has to be reimbursed.