Let’s compare notes.
Statement by the Honourable James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, on the Interim Chairperson of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights
OTTAWA, December 20, 2011 – I am pleased to announce that Eric Hughes, Vice-Chairperson of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights Board of Trustees, has accepted to perform the duties of Chairperson on an interim basis, effective December 31.
“My background primarily has been as a chartered accountant, someone who starts businesses and grows businesses,” said Mr. Hughes, who has been vice-chair of the board for two years. “And so I look at this one as being another business with a lot of challenges because we’re trying to do everything, starting a business from the ground up with an enormously inspiring and very complicated building.”
— Globe and Mail, yesterday
And a third:
“I wasn’t involved in Harper’s tentative leadership preparations until I was invited for late-afternoon drinks on 10 August  at the 400 Club, a downtown Calgary business club that Stephen often used for political conversations. There I met Stephen and Ken Boessenkool, as well as… Eric Hughes, a university friend of Stephen…
“Eric Hughes had no campaign experience, but as an accountant he was prepared to manage our finances. … Hughes applied for credit-card facilities from MasterCard, Visa and American Express…
“[In 2003-2004, for the new united Conservative Party leadership campaign] The core of the campaign team would be much the same as in Stephen’s previous leadership race. I would be the manager… Eric Hughes the financial agent.”
— Tom Flanagan, Harper’s Team
One and the same!
So a Harper friend of 30 years’ standing, who played key roles in both of his campaigns for national party leadership, is now in charge of Canada’s Most Troubled Museum Project.
The natural currents of cynicism will lead some observers to what I think is a false conclusion. I don’t think this is a plum patronage post handed to Hughes by the PM as reward for past services. Running the CMHR is no plum. It should come with danger pay. As the Globe article linked above points out, the whole project is in constant danger of falling apart. And besides, Hughes has been on the board of the thing for two years already. What’s new is that he’s been hustled into the top spot after his slightly-less-connected predecessor resigned suddenly.
I think the connection runs the other way, and constitutes a kind of optimism. If your museum was sliding into a world of trouble, needed maybe $35 million to stay afloat, and hoped to persuade the government of Canada to rethink its decision to stop paying for cost overruns, who would you want running the board?
This museum’s already fascinating and it hasn’t even opened yet.