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Les Leyne: RBCM half-truth is wholly misleading

Doing the math on how much more the Royal B.C. Museum’s Colwood archives building will cost.
The lobby of the Royal B.C. Museum. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

The phrase “half-truth” has always been a vague cliché in political rhetoric. But the NDP government rolled out an ­exquisite example of one this week.

A completely accurate fact was presented that is also ­completely misleading. The striking thing is that it’s almost arithmetically perfect. It is within a fraction of being exactly half-true, which makes it next-level work in the field of bafflegab.

It deserves recognition as the highest representation of the art of government-political communication; such a perfect example of precision weapons-grade obfuscation that you can’t even get annoyed about it. You just have to nod your head in respect to the team that put it together.

A half-truth is commonly understood as a deceptive ­statement that might be partly true, or totally true but only part of the whole truth. They crop up every day in the legislature. They’re part of the game and everybody gets that.

The government’s update of the Royal B.C. Museum’s new collections and research facility in Colwood is a special example. The news was that a $204.8 million contract has been awarded to a contractor for the project, and work will begin this ­summer.

Total capital project costs are now expected to be more than $270 million. That figure is brand new and shockingly-high. To their credit, they didn’t try to hide it. They also forthrightly stated that it’s a $45.6 million increase from the June 2021 budget estimate.

But after going deeper into the back story, you realize the new higher price is ­acknowledged the same way magicians roll up their sleeves to show there are no tricks — just before they trick you.

Yes, it is $45.6 million higher than the June 2021 estimate.

But it is $93 million higher than the original estimate that was put out earlier that year.

The first estimate for the ­collections and research facility in 2021 was $177 million. Then it was hiked to $224 million. Now it is $270 million. That kind of increase comes under the heading of bad news. So they made almost half of it disappear, by comparing the new price to the second estimate, not the first.

The explanation for what they prefer to think of as a 20 per cent overrun, rather than a 52 per cent overrun is as follows: “The new budget reflects the hot construction market during the pandemic, along with global inflation, which has caused significant pressures to projects around the world.”

The government said the increase is primarily due to “escalation on the design-build contract and the extended schedule, increased planning, procurement and implementation costs.”

The original announcement said the government “expects to break ground in summer 2022 and complete the project in 2025.” Now work is expected to start this summer and conclude in 2026.

The “escalation” refers to the scope creep on the project. For example, the size was originally pegged at 14,400 square metres. The announcement hiked it to 15,200 square metres.

The project was launched on the basis that the millions of exhibits now locked away in the archives building next to the existing RBCM needed a safe modern storage facility. The update was also notable for the increased emphasis on making them publicly accessible.

Tourism Minister Lana Popham said she was confident it was the right step to secure B.C.’s history and “ensuring more access for people.”

The facility is described as a state of the art home for collections, archives and research departments, with dedicated labs and learning spaces, as well as improved access to the collections for everyone. Museum CEO Alicia Dubois said it will be a dynamic and welcoming community space. “We hope to inspire future paleontologists, entomologist, botanists and historians through greater learning opportunities by enhancing public access to our work.”

The existing RBCM is still partially closed and in an extended limbo while officials consult on what to do after last year’s $780 million replacement project turned into a debacle and had to be cancelled. A media tour of the closed-off Old Town exhibit is scheduled for Monday, which suggests the shutdown is being rethought.

In the meantime, it’s starting to look like the Colwood facility could play a bigger role than first thought.

Here’s hoping the facility will be as breathtaking as the eventual final price tag, and the RBCM’s plans become a lot clearer than their budgeting explanations.

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