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‘I made the wrong call’: Premier halts $789M Royal B.C. Museum project

"We thought we had it right and clearly we did not," Premier John Horgan said Wednesday. "I'm announcing that we're stopping the project. And we're going to go back to the drawing board."
Premier John Horgan addresses the media during an update on the Royal B.C. Museum on Wednesday, June 22, 2022. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Just over a month after it was announced, the province is putting a stop to the $789-million project to replace the Royal B.C. Museum with a new building, Premier John Horgan said Wednesday.

The decision comes after fierce backlash from critics, who argued the money would be better spent on housing, health care and seismic upgrades to schools and hospitals.

“We made choices based on the best information at hand,” Horgan said at a news conference. “And we thought we had it right. Clearly we did not.”

The museum will remain open indefinitely, Horgan said. The museum’s board and CEO are now tasked with engaging British Columbians in a process that is open-ended in terms of how and when it’s conducted, he said.

The replacement project, which Horgan and Culture Minister Melanie Mark had said was motivated by seismic risks, hazardous materials and a lack of space in the 1968 building, involved closing the museum in September, with a new building at the same site not set to open until 2030.

But a majority of British Columbians, 69 per cent, opposed the project, according to an Angus Reid Institute poll released last week.

“I have heard the people of British Columbia quite clearly that we were making the wrong decision at the wrong time,” the premier said. “It’s my responsibility to say to you today that I made the wrong call.”

Horgan said a lack of in-person engagement made it difficult to gauge public interest in the project.

“We did engage with the public,” he said. “Clearly it was inadequate.”

Adam Olsen, member of Tsartlip First Nation and B.C. Green Party MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, said the government’s announcement missed an opportunity to explain what consultation will look like. “We’re left wanting more information about what the consultation will be about. He is not clearly articulating or outlining what the plan is moving forward.”

Olsen took issue with the premier’s statement that the museum protects B.C.’s collective history.

“It is offensive in the extreme when the premier talks about safeguarding our collective history because it undermines and overlooks that our cultures are still alive,” he said. “Many of these items — the sacred ceremonial items, the cultural items — behind the glass are as relevant today as they were when they were collected.”

Peter Milobar, B.C. Liberal Party opposition critic for finance, questioned whether the premier has a real plan in place. “The real question is whether or not this will be meaningful and real consultation or just a delay tactic to have the illusion of consultation, which will only add to the cost,” Milobar said.

In a statement, Paul Nursey, CEO of Destination Greater Victoria, said the province had made a “prudent decision.”

“Destination Greater Victoria is supportive of tourism-related infrastructure investment in our region, with Belleville Terminal being the number one priority,” said Nursey, adding the previously planned Sept. 6 museum closing left little preparation time.

In November, the museum announced it was closing its third-floor Old Town and European settler displays as part of a decolonization effort.

Those exhibits were removed, Horgan said, and the space is available for new exhibits once the museum begins its engagement process.

Work to build a new research and collections building in Colwood’s Royal Bay neighbourhood is ongoing and expected to be complete by 2025. That 14,000-square-metre building will help to store seven million objects held by the museum.

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