The province has decided to hit the pause button on the controversial $789-million Royal B.C. Museum project after public backlash and strong opposition in public opinion polls.
“We made choices based on the best information at hand and we thought we had it right. Clearly, we did not. I’ve heard the people of British Columbia quite clearly that we were making the wrong decision at the wrong time,” Horgan said at a press conference in Victoria. “I made the wrong call.”
Instead of plowing ahead with the rebuild they are heading back a step that was missed, asking the Royal B.C. Museum board and CEO to connect with the public for consultation before deciding on future steps for the building. John Horgan still says the museum is in desperate need of modernization.
He admitted the timing for the project was poor while he claims the government was still focused on the affordability crisis that has left British Columbians struggling to pay for higher gas prices and costs of living.
“With all of the other challenges that they are facing in their daily lives — gas prices, food prices, rent, mortgage payments and the prospect of increased interest rates, challenges in health care — the public felt that we were putting all those to one side to focus on the museum,” Horgan said. “That wasn’t the case but that was the perception. I believe the right way to go is to step back, take responsibility as the head of the government, and see where the consultation takes us.”
The government didn’t hold any public consultation before the surprise announcement on May 13 the museum would be closed and demolished to have a full rebuild completed by 2030.
Premier Horgan has been under immense pressure to scrap the museum project with a common sentiment the public money could be better used else where like fixing health care problems and seismically upgrading schools.
When a reporter asked about his governments decision to rebuild the museum being out of touch with British Columbians concerns. Premier Horgan responded by blaming the online engagement process because of the pandemic which made it difficult for them to get their message out to as many people as they can. The government had to make expectations “based on clicks and screen views. These things are well beyond my capacity to understand” Horgan said.
Horgan said he has been thinking about the negative feedback since a week after the announcement on May 13 and project had “landed with a thud.”. The final decision to pause the project was at a cabinet meeting on Monday.
Although the museum will no longer close on Sept 8, 2022 the province will still go full steam ahead with splurging $224-million on a new archives and collection building in Colwood, a suburb of Victoria.
B.C. Liberal leader Kevin Falcon, who has been calling for the cancellation of the “vanity museum boondoggle”, told reporters the project has been suspended but this is “not a leadership moment” for Horgan.
Kevin Falcon said the Premier suspended the project but removed renovation from the upcoming public consultation.
Falcon believes the existing “boondoggle” museum rebuild project could be an option coming out of the consultation and says it sounds a lot like “lets kick it down the road until the temperature goes down” go through a “sham” consultation process and go ahead with the $1 billion+ museum.
Falcon pointed out that by stating he is against a museum renovation, the premier has already prejudged what the results of any consultation process will be.
B.C. Green MLA Adam Olsen said, “The damage is done.”
Horgan and Mark “made it sound like it was going to fall down and there was asbestos in the air,” Olsen said. “They have to be held accountable to all the things that they said while defending this project.”
The New Democrats were unable to ignore the findings of a recent Angus Reid poll, which revealed that 69% of British Columbians oppose the expensive renovation of the Royal BC Museum and are more worried about inflation, health care costs, and housing affordability.
Taxpayers were shocked by the $789 million price tag, the project was on its way to being the most expensive museum project in Canadian history in straight, non-inflated dollars.
While many critics are voicing there are 250 schools in B.C. awaiting seismic upgrades.
Because of the financial effects of the pandemic and the devastating flooding last year, the Ministry of Education said earlier this month that it is delaying the construction of seven previously promised new schools as well as seismic repairs to existing schools. Horgan had claimed on June 7 that there was no cap on school capital expenditures.