Invest in a National Asset

The following appeared as a guest column in The Peterborough Examiner.


I have followed the deliberations of City Council regarding the requested $4 Million investment in the Canadian Canoe Museum relocation project. In the interests of disclosure, I am a partisan observer. I am a director on the Museum Board and have been a member of the organization for over 20 years. I am also a residential and business taxpayer. It is from my taxpayer perspective I encourage our Council members to reconsider their early and preliminary decision to invest only 50% of the $4 Million recommended by City staff for ‘inclusion’ in the City budget.

I respect the stewardship of municipal resources by our Councillors and do not envy the difficult choices they must make among numerous competing, often compelling, and meritorious requests for funding, not to mention meeting the service and infrastructure needs of the community. At the same time, we expect the investment of tax funds will be well considered, provide tangible and intangible returns and build capacity, opportunity and profile for our community. With these investment objectives in mind, how do I, a taxpayer, view this particular investment?

First, consider the investment. A facility built in partnership with Parks Canada that will house and exhibit the finest and most extensive collection of watercraft in the world. A facility that will continue to attract national and international focus in terms of education, historical, and cultural learnings; a convening and gathering space for all of our Communities, Indigenous, Ethnic and other; a construction project contributing $86 Million of economic betterment to our city in a five year construction and development program, creating 820 full time equivalent jobs over these five years; an organization that will, as a destination, contribute ongoing visitor/tourist revenue to the region of at least $5-6 Million per year; and a national and provincial asset already endorsed by the two senior governments. As a citizen “investor”, I consider these ‘returns’ to represent a significant opportunity.

As a taxpayer, what are our costs to make this investment? On a population base of 81,032, the $4 Million requested investment is $49 per person; and if invested over four years, it is $12.34 per person per year ($9.87 per person if paid over five years). On the same population base, what is the tangible return (dollars and cents) on this investment. The overall economic benefits of building and operating

the new facility over the first five years, will generate revenue of $1,061.00 per person (for the cost $49). The ongoing operating return after five years of at least $5-6 Million annually is $69 per person per year (more than my initial per person cost). In summary, a Peterborough resident will make a one-time investment of $49 in the new Museum for a return of $1,061 over the first five years and $69 per year thereafter. From a cost/return analysis, most would agree this is an exceptional investment.

Are there risks? Certainly, but any risks are widely shared. Both levels of government, the private and public sectors, business community and national foundations across Canada, all who collectively are contributing the other $61 Million to the project, would not invest if not convinced of the need and benefit of what they consider to be a national iconic asset. We should take some considerable comfort in these diverse, generous and considered investments by others.

While all communities struggle to differentiate themselves in the competitive world of job creation, visitor attraction and destination attractiveness, it is interesting to see how municipal leadership in other Canadian communities is approaching investment in similar cultural facilities/projects. Saskatoon invested $30.2 Million in their new $83.0 Million Remai Art Gallery (36% of project). Thunder Bay - $5 Million in the New Art Gallery ($15% of project); Winnipeg – Inuit Art Centre - $5 Million (8% of $60 Million). The $4 Million requested of our City is 6% of the project. Of the numerous recent investments by the City in public/private partnership developments (YMCA, YWCA, Hospice, Humane Society) the municipal contributions/investments have all exceeded 15% of project costs. These investments have brought significant benefit in infrastructure, services and programming to taxpayers. The Canoe Museum will be no different. It will be a national asset, built by Canadians from across Canada, and few communities in Canada can make that claim.

Will the reduction to a $2 Million investment adversely affect the project? In absolute dollar terms, perhaps minimally (although all money is important). It will however, raise significant questions among the national and provincial government partners, and public and private donors. The first question donors always ask is “Does the municipality support, endorse and financially contribute to the project?”. Our Council professes ‘full support’ for the Museum project, yet has reduced its staff recommended investment by 50%. If I was another investor, would that bring a seed of doubt to my mind? The cost of this decision to the project will not be $2 Million in reduction, it will be the unknown dollars not contributed because we lack a satisfactory answer to the donor question and perceived lack of municipal commitment. With respect, “full support”, in the face of the recommendation, is not shown by a 50% reduction.

Personally, as a taxpayer, I am a consistent supporter of what I call public/private investment and partnerships. It is a concept we encourage and practice in our business. It takes courage to collaborate, supported by a mutual willingness to make investments that will benefit all sectors of our community. It takes strong municipal leadership to send the right message. I remember, “Peterborough – Open for Business”. If we really are, and we are astute investors, we will partner with the others who are willing to contribute $61 Million with the City’s $4 Million to give us this national asset. Wearing my “taxpayer” hat, this is a good investment, a unique opportunity – not to be missed!