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Gail Asper


Ed Shinewald, Jewish Foundation of Manitoba President with Joyce Rosenhek, honoured for her commitment to philanthropy


Ed Shinewald, Jewish Foundation of Manitoba President with Sandi Promislow of Investors Group, honoured for their generous support of the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba and their demonstrated commitment to philanthropy


Ed Shinewald, Jewish Foundation of Manitoba President with Marcia Cogan, honoured for her commitment to philanthropy

 
GAIL ASPER AT JFM LUNCHEON: DEVELOPING THE MUSEUM BY THE AGITATIONS OF A SINGLE ISSUE SPECIAL INTEREST GROUP IS WRONG -HEADED

Women's Endowment Fund almost at 1 Million Dollar Milestone

by Rhonda Spivak, May 12, 2011

 At the Jewish Foundation's  11th Annual Women's Endowment Fund Luncheon, Gail Asper delivered a  hard hitting speech in support of the original vision of the  Canadian Human Rights Museum to feature a permanant Holocaust gallery in the Human Rights Museum, and refuted the position of those in the Ukrainian community seeking to undermine that vision. She refered to the Animal Farm postcard sent out by the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association as having an "anti-semitic" nature.

Asper, a lawyer, President of  Can West Foundation, the Asper Foundation, and the driving force behind the establishment  of  the CMHR said on the subject of the Holocaust Gallery:

 

As most of you know, recently the Museum’s plans for a permanent Holocaust Gallery have come under attack. The original vision of this Museum also included plans for a Holocaust Gallery and that vision has been supported by three different Prime Ministers, two Premiers, two Mayors and over 6,000 donors.  It is part of the vision that has been the foundation of over 10 years of support and hard work. 

The clear understanding between the Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and the Museum’s Board is that the money raised by Friends has been raised based on the Museum delivering Ralph Appelbaum’s vision, which has been presented to over 1,500 individuals, groups and corporations and which donors expect to see.

In three days, on May 8th, the world will recognize the 66th anniversary of the day the Holocaust ended in 1945.  

The Holocaust represents a singular, unprecedented event in human history that prompted the birth of the modern human rights movement and whose impact is felt by Canadians every day through our Criminal Code, Broadcast Act, Human Rights Commissions and Charter.  The lessons of the Holocaust are universal and relevant today, both in general terms and in relation to global anti-Semitism today.  

And yet today, like before, resistance to recognizing the Holocaust in Canada continues.  In 1998, efforts to place a permanent Holocaust gallery into the Canadian War Museum were met with loud, relentlessly open and aggressive protests, and finally abandoned.  Currently, there is troubling controversy surrounding the plan that includes a permanent, dedicated gallery for the Holocaust, especially as it relates to the Holodomor or Ukrainian famine.  Many of the same voices that were involved with attacking the War Museum’s Holocaust Gallery are being heard again, protesting this Museum’s Holocaust Gallery.

I want to be very clear - the struggles of Ukrainians, including the Holodomor, are stories and lessons that the Museum will feature.    The Holodomor is a horrific event that warrants study.  Until recently, it was largely unknown by many Canadians.

One of the Museum’s mandates is to increase awareness and education about human rights and events.  In the last few months, and a full two years before the Museum will even open, the Holodomor has received more exposure in Canada than at any previous time in this country.

The displays, created by the world’s foremost museum exhibit designer, Ralph Appelbaum will only further expand the world’s awareness about this tragedy.  So, it will be because of a $20 million investment by a Jewish Canadian with a dream, these stories will finally be told.  We are very proud of this.  But, this in no way diminishes the role of the Holocaust in our understanding of human rights and in no way impacts the planned Holocaust gallery. 

The tactics by those who oppose this are getting quite ugly and kudos to Catherine Chatterley for highlighting the anti-Semitic nature of the postcard being circulated by the UCCLA.  Such lobbying tactics have no place in Canada.  As John Stefaniuk, Chair of the Friends Board of Directors, said so eloquently in a letter to the Free Press: “I am a Canadian who is proud of his Ukrainian ancestry.  The Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association does not speak for me nor does it speak for many others of all backgrounds (including Ukrainian) who passionately support the Museum and its vision.  Developing the Museum by the agitations of single-issue special interest groups is inappropriate and wrong-headed.”

The entirety of Asper's  passionate speech, for which she recieved a standing ovation, is set out below. It outlines her journey in  fulfilling  the dream of her late father Israel Asper in  building the  CMHR in Winnipeg, its anticipated benefits to Winnipeg, and the challenges that lie ahead.Cowan introduced her  by noting she lived by her father's motto "Never do a little deal." 

Prior to  Asper's speech, Marsha Cowan addressed the packed room at the Fort Gary  Hotel, saying  that the Women's Endowmnet Fund  which was established in 1994 was approaching a  historic "very special million dollar milestone"--with the fund now standing at $968,000.

"We perservered and followed the philanthropic foresight of the original founders and now we are poised to have an even greater impact on the lives of Manitoba women."  

She noted that during the last 46 years the Foundation has distributed over $36 million back into the community. The Foundation received approximately $6.3 million in new donations in 2010--some of which was the result of speaking with portential donors about including the Foundation in their estate plans. Cowan added that the Foundation's investments earned 8.9% in 2010 thanks to prudent investment policies,"and the Foundation distributed $2.7 million back into the community in 2010."

Cowan also recognized  Marsha Cogan, Joyce Rosenhek and Investor's Group for their philanthropic giving to the Foundation. Cogan  has been a community young leadership award winner, an initiator of the "Shoe Box Brigade for  CJA", and designated a significant portion of a special gift she and her husband Lou made to the Foundation to the Women's Endowment Fund. Rosenhek has been involved with  B'nai Brith Women, National Council of Jewish Women, a fundraiser for Cancer Care, ran the pre-natal program at Mount Carmel Clinic and was a committee member with her husband Sid of  the  Foundation's Endowment Book of Life and made her gift through that vehicle. Investor's Group has sponsored the Foundation's Women's Endowment Fund luncheons since their inception, and they have $32,000.  with the Women's Endowment Fund. 

THE COMPLETE TEXT OF GAIL ASPER'S SPEECH

Thank you for the invitation to speak here today.  I was very honoured when Marsha Cowan asked me to speak and I’m especially excited to be here to share my passion for Winnipeg and for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.  I’m also wildly passionate about the Jewish Foundation and believe deeply in the importance of creating a strong permanent fund that will benefit our community in perpetuity and I hope each and everyone of you has signed the Endowment Book of Life!

It’s hard to believe that for over 10 years, now most of my time has been dominated by the Museum project.  But at least it’s one of the most exciting projects in Canada.   As my dad always said:  “Never do a little deal.  It takes just as much work as BIG deals with none of the rewards” and he is right.  Even if this is the last big thing I work on, it will have been worth it.  My other big dream, which I fear will NEVER be realized in my lifetime is to get the darn speed limit changed from 50 to 60 on Grant, but even I am starting to lose hope.

As Jewish women who call Winnipeg home, this Museum should be very dear to our hearts.  2011 marks the centennial anniversary of International Women’s Day.  It’s an important opportunity to reflect on how much women’s rights have advanced even in our lifetime. 

If you think about how our mothers lived both as Jews and as women and compare that to how our daughters will live…the progress is staggering.  Without these tremendous strides, without the tireless work and struggles of champions of women’s rights and human rights before us, we wouldn’t be sitting here today with the opportunities and benefits we all enjoy.

Advances came as a result of people like feminist and human rights champion, Nellie McClung who in 1916, led the fight for the right of women to vote and hold public office and in 1929 fought for Canadian women to be officially declared “persons”.  Now whenever I mention Nellie, people always remind me she was a pretty racist individual.  But I’m willing to recognize she was  a product of her times – just as Thomas Jefferson who wrote the Declaration of Independence was a product of his.  When he wrote “all men are created equal”, he meant all white men of property.  He had slaves, but it was a start.  And besides, I forgive Nellie because she had the best philosophy: "Never retreat, never explain, never apologize; get the thing done and let them howl."  And, that certainly is my philosophy regarding some of the folks who have a problem with having a Holocaust gallery in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.  But, more on that later.

If it weren’t for the efforts of Nellie, we wouldn’t be looking at all the women who have recently run in civic and federal elections and who will be running in the upcoming provincial election.  I’d like to thank Anita Neville for all her great work over the years and I wish Joyce Batement much success in the new government.  I really salute all the women who run for office.  It takes so much work and courage and we need more voices of women in government so thank you for your leadership.  By the way, it was Joy Smith who became the Museum’s champion after Prime Minister Harper was elected, so there’s another woman who has made a positive impact by getting involved in the political world. 

We owe a great debt to all of the women before us who stood up and said, enough - women deserve the same rights and opportunities as men.  And to the men who also stood beside them to support women’s equality.  Those sensitive new age guys, like my husband Michael Paterson, who is here today and without whose support, none of my activities would be possible.

One of those men was also my dad, Israel Asper who encouraged me to go to law school and always told me I should be able to earn my own living and look after myself and my kids if necessary.  “Never be beholden to others for your welfare – not me, not your brothers, husband or sons.”  Those words have stayed with me for 3 decades.

Today, more girls are in school, more women hold jobs and serve in public office, and more countries have passed laws recognizing women’s equality.  More women have meaningful roles in the boardroom, greater equality in legislative rights, and more women own and run their own businesses. 

But… we need to ensure that women and girls here, and everywhere, have the opportunity to reach their full potential.  There are still many countries around the world that actively and officially oppose women’s equality - where women are fighting violence and oppression and struggling to gain the advances and rights we have enjoyed in Canada for decades.

And interesting enough, if there is one group of women who can be relied on to take up the cause of social justice and women’s rights, it’s Jewish WOMEN!  It seems leadership, human rights and Jewish women go together like bagels, lox and cream cheese.  It’s hard not to be inspired by women like Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Bella Abzug, Hanna Solomon, founder of the National Court of Jewish Women. 

Nationally we have leaders like Rosie Abella and Heather Reisman, who recently mobilized hundreds of thousands of people, including Laureen Harper, to protest the stoning of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.

And locally, we have women like Marjorie Blankstein and Yhetta Gold who have worked tirelessly to advance women’s rights, social justice as well as rights of the elderly and disabled.

I have been inspired by the work of all these women and share their belief in the importance of advancing human rights and women’s rights, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch to embrace the Museum project.  Where we hope we will do just that.

The Journey
When it comes to human rights, sometimes it’s hard to know whether to celebrate or work harder.  I think the answer is both, and that’s exactly what the Canadian Museum for Human Rights will do.  I want to remind everyone that this Museum will not be story after story of atrocities – but about how people have risen above them.  It will celebrate the human rights pioneers whose motivating stories lift the human spirit.   It will also highlight current issues and lead to increased awareness and the creation of more human rights advocates who will champion causes and initiate much-needed change.

While the Museum will feature Canada’s stories it will also reflect the global struggle to achieve human rights for all.  And while we are building an international human rights centre, the story of this museum began right here in Winnipeg.

I can ASSURE you I never ever set out to just build a Museum for Human Rights.  The inspiration came from The Asper Foundation’s Human Rights and Holocaust studies program.  As most of you know, since 1997, The Foundation has sponsored one of Canada’s largest and most robust educational initiatives aimed at promoting understanding and diversity while sensitizing high school students to the consequences of racism and the horrors of genocide. 

It has funded close to 10,000 Canadian students and chaperones from 110 cities and communities spanning 12 provinces and territories who participate in a comprehensive human rights course.  The course includes a trip to Washington to see the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and other human rights-themed monuments and museums and requires 20 hours of volunteer work from each participant.  This national program has won 2 provincial awards for excellence in human rights education.  More importantly, the feedback from these participants is absolutely inspiring.

So, my father began to dream:  If learning about another country’s human rights journey could have such an impact, imagine how empowered these students could be if they took this journey right here in their own country!  So, he first thought we would just reroute the trip to Ottawa, until we realized that Ottawa doesn’t have anything like the Holocaust Museum.

As well, there is no place where the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is displayed and the Museum of Civilization doesn’t cover Canada’s human rights journey.  I of course assumed we’d just return to Washington…but that was not dad’s style.  As you know, he was a tremendous entrepreneur and entrepreneurs tend to HALLUCINATE or see things that don’t exist and then work to make them happen!  And, that’s just what he did.

On July 18, 2000 the idea for a human rights centre was first discussed with my dad and Moe Levy, the indefatigable Executive Director of The Asper Foundation, and after meetings and feasibility studies in 2002, we undertook our development activities.

Luckily, even with the devastating, sudden loss of my dad in 2003 due to a heart attack, thousands of individual volunteers, donors and organizations shared this vision, and began to work with us to help make it a reality. 

Well, we are now in our eleventh year preparing for the Museum’s grand opening in 2013.  To get to this point, we truly had to be trailblazers.  We entered into a mega project that had virtually no precedent.  We are the first new national museum to be constructed in Canada in over 43 years –  the first to be identified for location outside of the national capital region –  the first to consider a national student youth program and I also believe, the first human rights centre of this magnitude in the world.

I kept asking myself early on – what the hell are we doing here?  I’m a corporate and commercial lawyer.  How did I end up here – doing this?  But that’s what it was like with dad – a big rollercoaster ride - one adventure after another.  But the great thing was, no matter what we were doing, we always knew that it mattered.  So, even if you failed, you failed doing attempting to do something important.  I can assure you now, as I have reached the half century mark, I don’t regret for a SECOND not spending my days drafting shareholder agreements or closing commercial transactions and I will be forever grateful for the crazy detour my life took thanks to my dad.
 
The Museum
We approached this project with an uncompromising philosophy of excellence that originated from the vision of my father, who stated:  “We Canadians have a tendency to reach for the middle, not for the stars.  With this Museum we are reaching for the stars!”  In fact, the star pin I’m wearing reminds us of that and also reminds us that each of us can be a human rights star and each of us has a responsibility to stand up for human rights around the world.

Reaching for the stars demanded charting new territory. I spoke earlier about our firsts, well, we are also the first national museum to be established with financial contributions from 3 levels of government aided by significant contributions from the private sector.  This is a $310 million project.  The federal government committed $100 million toward an iconic building and most importantly, confirmed ongoing annual support for operations. 

The Province contributed $40 million while the City contributed $23.6 million  Stephen Harper, Gary Doer, Glen Murray and Sam Katz gave their support because they understood how important this is to our future.

And I just want to note that Canada’s other national museums, all located in the Capital region, receive all the funding they require directly from the federal government.  For example, the War Museum expenditures that went $30 million over budget and the Nature Museum renovations that were originally estimated at $80 million and skyrocketed to $230 million, were paid entirely by the federal government.  Yet here in Manitoba, with less than 4% of the country’s population, Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights has been asked to raise $150 million from private sources to complete the Museum’s capital requirements.

Friends’ private fundraising campaign has so far raised $125 million which includes my family’s lead gift of $20 million.  This is more than all the other national museums have raised together.  We continue to work tirelessly to raise the remaining $25 million. 

To illustrate the international scope of this Museum, we’ve received support across the world including England, the United States, China, Italy, New Zealand, Germany, Bermuda, Israel, Switzerland, Portugal, Taiwan, Scotland, Brazil, Singapore, Denmark, and the Netherlands.

And if you have any doubt about the international attention this Museum will attract once it opens - Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip have already visited - the construction site!  The Queen presented us with a cornerstone she hand-picked from Runnymede, where the Magna Carta was signed! 

The Museum will be an international destination of learning, of action, of research and dialogue.  People will come to the museum daily – in person and on-line – to discuss, debate and learn important lessons about human rights history and issues. 

THE HOLOCAUST GALLERY IN THE CMHR

As most of you know, recently the Museum’s plans for a permanent Holocaust Gallery have come under attack. The original vision of this Museum also included plans for a Holocaust Gallery and that vision has been supported by three different Prime Ministers, two Premiers, two Mayors and over 6,000 donors.  It is part of the vision that has been the foundation of over 10 years of support and hard work. 

The clear understanding between the Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and the Museum’s Board is that the money raised by Friends has been raised based on the Museum delivering Ralph Appelbaum’s vision, which has been presented to over 1,500 individuals, groups and corporations and which donors expect to see.

In three days, on May 8th, the world will recognize the 66th anniversary of the day the Holocaust ended in 1945.  

The Holocaust represents a singular, unprecedented event in human history that prompted the birth of the modern human rights movement and whose impact is felt by Canadians every day through our Criminal Code, Broadcast Act, Human Rights Commissions and Charter.  The lessons of the Holocaust are universal and relevant today, both in general terms and in relation to global anti-Semitism today.  

And yet today, like before, resistance to recognizing the Holocaust in Canada continues.  In 1998, efforts to place a permanent Holocaust gallery into the Canadian War Museum were met with loud, relentlessly open and aggressive protests, and finally abandoned.  Currently, there is troubling controversy surrounding the plan that includes a permanent, dedicated gallery for the Holocaust, especially as it relates to the Holodomor or Ukrainian famine.  Many of the same voices that were involved with attacking the War Museum’s Holocaust Gallery are being heard again, protesting this Museum’s Holocaust Gallery.

I want to be very clear - the struggles of Ukrainians, including the Holodomor, are stories and lessons that the Museum will feature.    The Holodomor is a horrific event that warrants study.  Until recently, it was largely unknown by many Canadians.

One of the Museum’s mandates is to increase awareness and education about human rights and events.  In the last few months, and a full two years before the Museum will even open, the Holodomor has received more exposure in Canada than at any previous time in this country.

The displays, created by the world’s foremost museum exhibit designer, Ralph Appelbaum will only further expand the world’s awareness about this tragedy.  So, it will be because of a $20 million investment by a Jewish Canadian with a dream, these stories will finally be told.  We are very proud of this.  But, this in no way diminishes the role of the Holocaust in our understanding of human rights and in no way impacts the planned Holocaust gallery. 

The tactics by those who oppose this are getting quite ugly and kudos to Catherine Chatterley for highlighting the anti-Semitic nature of the postcard being circulated by the UCCLA.  Such lobbying tactics have no place in Canada.  As John Stefaniuk, Chair of the Friends Board of Directors, said so eloquently in a letter to the Free Press: “I am a Canadian who is proud of his Ukrainian ancestry.  The Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association does not speak for me nor does it speak for many others of all backgrounds (including Ukrainian) who passionately support the Museum and its vision.  Developing the Museum by the agitations of single-issue special interest groups is inappropriate and wrong-headed.”

Economic Benefits
Some of this debate has overpowered the spectacular contributions the Museum will be and indeed is making to our economy.  John McCallum, finance professor at the University of Manitoba added that one surefire result will be the "unmeasurable but material" psychological and confidence effects that will impact Winnipeg and its citizens. "It makes people feel good about their local economy when they see a whole lot of stuff happening. That translates into a willingness to borrow money and buy houses and cars. The more confident and optimistic you are, the more willing you are to spend, which makes the economy work."

That was exactly the pitch we made to Stephen Harper when we met with him in 2006 just after he became Prime Minister.  We said – Winnipeg doesn’t believe in itself.  But if YOU show you believe in us, it will be a much needed catalyst to boosting our self-esteem.  And we were right.

Two years from now, McCallum said Winnipeg will not only be seen as a "happening place" but he predicts it will also have garnered a reputation as a destination location for people
within hundreds of kilometres.  For every dollar spent on constructing these projects, part of it is paid out to local workers, who spend it on various goods, such as restaurant meals and refrigerators. The owners of those establishments will then do the same thing and so on. "You can put a multiplier of three or four on every dollar of this type of spending in terms of flow through the economy. It's not just one-shot spending," he said.

One of the latest trends in tourism is visitors seeking out a cultural experience, instead of just lying on a beach.  The Museum is projected to attract 250,000 visitors annually and these visitors will generate expenditures of $25.7 million a year.   These tourists will be looking for places to stay, to eat, to shop and that will lead to the opening of new hotels, restaurants and stores.  The Museum will also dramatically extend the Convention Centre’s ability to attract major conferences. 

We expect an increase in hotel taxes from increased visitor stays, (that’s new cash going straight to city coffers) an extra $75 million in federal and provincial tax revenues during construction alone, and once running, the Museum will spend $27.2M annually in operating expenditures and contribute another $7M a year to federal and provincial tax coffers.

As a federal Crown Corporation, the Museum will also make payments in lieu of taxes to the City, which means we’ll have several million dollars a year going to the City in perpetuity.  So, their $23.6 million contribution will be paid off in a few short years and a guaranteed permanent income stream of taxes will be generated.  That’s money that but for this Museum, the City would never have.  Remember, that dusty old gravel parking lot wasn’t generating any revenue for the City.  That’s money for police, parks, community centres, stadiums.  So, it’s important to understand what a gift this Museum is to the City, which is why we insisted it be built here and not Ottawa.  We need and deserve projects like this!  It will be a HUGE score for Winnipeg and that’s why so many people support this project.

Just a few weeks ago, the Winnipeg Free Press printed another article about the exciting economic prospects the Museum will bring.  It said that the Museum is going to create the biggest tourism boom in Winnipeg in more than a decade.  It also referenced estimates that it will account for $79M a year in additional direct spending in the city – a spike of about 16.5% from the current $480M of tourism spending. A senior representative from Tourism Manitoba said, “We already have more bookings for 2013 than we do for 2012.  I’ve been doing this for 12 years, this is the first time I can honestly say there is such an exciting, positive outlook.”

Why donate?
As women who enjoy the rights fought for by early pioneers, as Jewish women who understand too well the residual damage of hatred and oppression and, as Winnipeggers who will enjoy the considerable economic benefits the Museum has already started to bring, we should be especially motivated to support Museum and I want to thank all of you who have supported us.  Your donations gave us credibility and clout and convinced the federal government to come on board.  I hope you are very proud of what you’ve helped create!

Given the educational impact this Museum will have for women and for minority groups like the Jewish population of Canada, I encourage you all to support the Museum so we can truly reach for the stars.  An investment in this Museum is not just a contribution to bricks and mortar, it’s an investment in our economic future, it’s an investment in our young and old and every one in between who the Museum will inspire to build a better world.  It’s an investment that will yield dividends of a more peaceful and humane world.

People ask me all the time why I’m doing this.  Well, I do it because as a Jewish woman, I never take my rights for granted.  I know how BLESSED I am to live in Canada where, to quote Madame Justice Rosie Abella, I can wear my identity freely and in peace!  I know this Museum will make a difference and provide a transformational experience for visitors that will inspire them to protect and advance human rights.  And I do this because, like you, this is my home.  I love Winnipeg and I think we deserve the best and this Museum should be just the first of many great things.

Last month, we recognized Passover, a celebration of our freedom from slavery in Egypt.    But at Passover we also remember that we cannot rest while others are enslaved.  I like to think of the Museum as my way of fulfilling the mandate of Passover.

Harriet Tubman, the self-described conductor of the Underground Railroad said, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer.  Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”  I knew my dad was a dreamer, but what has blown me away is how many of you were dreamers too and thanks to your vision, Ani veAtah Neshane et HaOlam!  (You and I will change the world)

Shalom!

 

 
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.