The provincial government is abandoning its $789 million plan to replace the Royal BC Museum.
B.C. Premier John Horgan announced Wednesday that after hearing the concerns of the public, the government will not be moving forward with the multi-million teardown and rebuild of the museum.
Instead, the province has tasked senior leadership at the Royal BC Museum to hold consultations with the public on its future.
The museum, which had been slated to close at the end of the summer, will remain open into the fall. The IMAX theatre will also remain open as will the food trucks and gift shop. The province is still moving forward with a $200-million collections and research building for the museum in Colwood.
“We are stopping the project and we are going to go back to the drawing board,” Horgan said on Wednesday.
From the moment the $789 million replacement of the Royal BC Museum was announced a little more than a month ago, the Horgan government faced fierce and unrelenting criticism for planning to spend hundreds of millions of dollars at a time of soaring inflation, chronic doctor and affordable housing shortages. It also became a rallying point for opposition parties, including the BC Liberals, who said they would cancel it if they were to win the next provincial election.
“I have heard the people of British Columbia quite clearly that we were making the wrong decision at the wrong time,” Horgan said.
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Under the $789 million plan, the existing Royal BC Museum building was to be torn down and a new facility would have been rebuilt on the same location in downtown Victoria, across the street from the B.C. Legislature. The new building, which had not been named, was planned to open in 2030.
The provincial government claimed the new museum would be state-of-the-art, seismically sound, and a “flagship destination” for Victoria. They also claimed the new museum would create thousands of jobs and backed up their argument for a new building by releasing thousands of pages of documents that supported plans for a rebuild.
Yet, recent Angus Reid polls found that nearly 70 per cent of those surveyed opposed the government’s plans to rebuild the museum and that Horgan’s approval rating has dropped to its lowest level in more than two years following the announcement.
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Horgan explained Wednesday that his government was working with the “best information” and thought they were making the right decision at the time.
“We thought we had it right. Clearly, we did not,” he said.
As premier, Horgan said he has always tried to put the best interest of British Columbians first and listen to their concerns and admitted that announcing a multi-million rebuild of the museum at a time when many are concerned about soaring inflation, primary care, education and other issues was wrong.
“I made the wrong call,” said Horgan. “That is not to say that the work that needs to be done at the RBCM should be suspended indefinitely, what it means is that I made a call at a time when British Columbians were talking and thinking about other concerns.”
However, Horgan explained that at the time of the announcement, he felt his government could address the daily concerns of British Columbians while moving forward with a new museum that would better protect and preserve “our most important” cultural items.
“We saw an opportunity to highlight our collective history, we saw an opportunity to continue the work on repatriation of Indigenous artifacts, we saw an opportunity to create a modern state-of-the-art facility for the future and generations to come,” he said. “But most importantly, of course, we have to make sure that we are in tune with the public and the sentiments of the people of British Columbia and for that, I take full responsibility.”
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Horgan said his government has been working on plans for a new Royal BC Museum for five years and that the $789-million vision wasn’t created over a weekend. He also reiterated his support for a new facility, calling the existing building one that has “massive amounts of asbestos” within its walls, but acknowledged that the government came up short in communicating with the public.
“We felt it was the best possible outcome, what we miscalculated and what I take responsibility for is that the public did not come on that journey with us,” he said.
The premier also said he doesn’t want the public to believe his government doesn’t care about other issues and didn’t want the nearly $1-billion museum plan to become a running joke at a dinner party.
“With all of the other challenges that they are facing in their daily lives, gas prices, food prices, rent, mortgage payments, the prospect of increased interest rates, challenges in health care, the public felt that we were putting all of those to one side just to focus on the museum,” said Horgan. “That wasn’t the case but that was the perception and I just did not want this very important institution to become something to be kicked around as part of a laugh line at a dinner party or at the soccer field when it needs to be embraced as something important to all British Columbians.”
Horgan said he’s taking responsibility for what has happened and now the government will “step back” and see where public consultation “take us.”