On May 13, 2022 when BC’s tourism minister announced The Royal BC Museum in Victoria will be rebuilt with a price tag of $789 million the minister really tried to drive home at great lengths to suggest all the people who will benefit from the change.
“Today, we are making true on our promise to bring the people’s museum into the 21st Century,” Melanie Mark said, at Friday’s press conference.
“This will be the people’s museum in all corners of the province.”
Shortly after the announcement critics quickly spoke out suggesting the opposite. Late last year after the governments sudden decision to declare many of the museum’s popular exhibits inappropriately colonial and rip down attractions like Old Town, singley close the doors to the museum for more than seven years for an unknown facility rebuild, all without consulting the public. A move that has led to further divide the community.
“It’s been a slow-moving disaster as far as I can see,” said Adam Olsen, the BC Green MLA for Saanich North and the Islands.
Both the Songhees and Esquimalt nations welcomed the closure and rebuilding of the Royal BC Museum, saying they look forward to constructing a provincial monument that better reflects all peoples’ shared heritage. Representatives from Greater Victoria and BC tourism, as well as local mayors, hailed the move’s potential long-term advantages.
What critics are saying
The $1 billion price tag comes at a time when the BC government is begging Ottawa for more money to keep the healthcare system from collapsing, and informing British Columbians that it can’t afford to provide any more immediate financial assistance due to rising gasoline prices or inflation.
“What we saw was a visceral response from locals,” said Liberal finance critic Peter Milobar. “At a time when it appears clinics and family doctors are not being funded appropriately to enable people to have access to healthcare, the priority of the premier seemed to be a billion dollars on a museum project.”
During a conference for the museum rebuild Premier John Horgan spent half the time getting blasted for high gas prices, before spilling another disconnected from society line telling British Columbians if they can’t afford gas or an electric car then beg a neighbour for a ride. Critics slammed that statement and Milobar called it a “slap in the face” to everyone that have already made adjustments to their budget to accommodate increased prices for food, fuel and other stuff. In March when prices first started setting records over $2/L one of John Horgans solutions is, if you can’t afford gas or an electric vehicle, shut up and take the bus.
Then there’s the issue of whether a provincial government can deliver a $1 billion project on time and on budget over seven years – when governments of all stripes routinely end up late and over-budget on highway, bridge and other infrastructure projects.
Then there’s the question of whether a provincial government can complete a $1 billion project on time and on budget over the course of seven years, when governments of all shades typically finish projects late and over budget highway, bridge and other infrastructure projects.
“We have gone through the due diligence that governments must do when making massive investments like this,” said Horgan. Mark added that “the business case informed that this is what it’s going to take” to do the work.
How ever the business case is hidden from the public. There is no architectural drawings, designs of structures, no description of any new attractions and displays and no procurement process. Not even one concept drawing of what to expect the museum to look like on the outside or inside.
One can only wonder how the province came to a specific budget of $789 million for a giant project with a “just trust me” plan will keep the question unanswered.
In the end, Horgan insists it will be worth it, no matter the cost.
“It is a significant amount, but this is the place that will house the history, the collective history, of all British Columbians,” he said. “Those who have been here for thousands of years and those who are just arriving. And that really is priceless.”
“I don’t know of another project where the announcement of the closure of the museum is made without some announcement of the vision for the new building,” Willis said. “It’s almost as though a giant birthday present was given to the people of the province without any sense of what’s inside the package.”
“So two years from now, when a new government is elected, possibly, or when inflation of building materials is even higher than it is at the moment, and the project stops or is stalled, what’s the fallback? There is no fallback,” Willis said. “And so my nightmare is that it — if it happens at all — it takes longer than eight years. A whole generation of British Columbia children will never get to visit their provincial museum, and Victoria is sitting with a gaping hole in its downtown tourism core.”
“Part of the reason that British Columbians are as angry as they are about this $1 billion vanity museum project, which the premier has announced for his backyard, is because there are so many other worthy projects that $1 billion could be used for and people are relating this to the challenges in their own lives,” Stone told reporters Wednesday. “So for example, the government could seismically upgrade pretty much 100 schools across the province for a billion dollars.”
What we know about the design
Mark said the government has a preliminary design for a mass timber structure but public input will determine the final design.
“What I can tell you is the business case is an extensive process,” Mark said Wednesday. “Now that this is public, we can go out with the procurement and the architects are going to get hired and they’re going to start showing the public what does the design build look like.”