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Opponents say museum business case doesn't justify $789M expense

B.C. Liberal leader continues to say he will halt museum project if he becomes premier.
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The Royal B.C. Museum, which first opened in 1968. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

The province’s business case for replacing the Royal B.C. Museum may have been in the works for four years, but it took less than four minutes for opponents to tear into it on Wednesday.

Opposition parties said the heavily redacted documents did little to convince them the 54-year-old museum needed replacing due to seismic concerns, unsafe materials and space limitations.

“The business case released today by the NDP fails to justify such an out-of-touch expenditure at a time where British Columbians are facing the highest gas prices in North America, higher-than-ever rents and housing costs, skyrocketing grocery costs, and one in five people don’t have access to a family doctor,” said Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon in a statement.

“Not only does this business case fail to convince British Columbians of the need for such a project, the most damning information about this billion-dollar boondoggle has been kept from the public, with a third of the plan’s pages featuring redactions.” Falcon noted the business plan fails to disclose construction-cost breakdowns, and says he doesn’t buy the argument that replacement is seismically necessary.

“And the argument they’re trying to make that somehow to seismically upgrade this has gone from $150 million, which their own report said it would cost in 2018, to suddenly costing more than replacing — that is ridiculous,” he said. “I can tell you it can be done for cheaper and it should be done for cheaper.”

Falcon repeated Wednesday that he would cancel the project if elected premier in 2024.

Asked if that might not be too late, given demolition is expected to have started by then, Falcon said he didn’t believe those numbers either. “I doubt they’ll even have a chance to have it torn down at that point,” he said.

The Green Party’s Adam Olsen, MLA for Saanich North and the Islands and a member of Tsartlip First Nation, said the government’s business case does nothing to justify the project when people are struggling with the rising cost of living and accessing basic health-care services.

“The B.C. NDP have framed the new museum as an act of reconciliation and an opportunity for increased repatriation of items, but today’s business case clearly points to the construction of a larger and ‘modernized’ building to house our sacred items and ancestral remains as the primary objective,” he said. “We do not need a new building to house items they intend to return to Indigenous people — we simply need the museum to prioritize their return.”

Reaction on social media was mixed, with some Twitter users in favour of the project, and many asking for unredacted justification for the expense.

Twitter user Chris Alemany said he loved the museum and believes in investing in it, but as an Island rail advocate, he said he wants to cry or scream when he thinks back to the number of business cases for rail that have gone nowhere since 2003.

aduffy@timescolonist.com