People walk up stairs to the entrance of the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, B.C. Premier John Horgan announced June 22 they are stopping their $789-million plan to rebuild the ageing building, and sending things back to public consultation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

People walk up stairs to the entrance of the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, B.C. Premier John Horgan announced June 22 they are stopping their $789-million plan to rebuild the ageing building, and sending things back to public consultation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

Province cancels controversial $789M Royal BC Museum rebuild

Premier says public engagement will now determine the future of the ‘seismically unsafe’ building

The B.C. government is cancelling its highly controversial $789-million Royal BC Museum rebuild project, following significant backlash from British Columbians.

Premier John Horgan made the announcement Wednesday (June 22), saying they are taking the project back to the drawing board for a more thorough public engagement.

“We thought we had it right. Clearly, we did not,” he told media.

The province announced the museum overhaul, along with its hefty price tag, in mid-May. British Columbians immediately pushed back, questioning why such a significant amount of money was being spent on a museum rather than helping to solve the family doctor shortage or housing unaffordability, for example.

In response, the NDP took the unprecedented step of releasing its business case and concept plan on May 25.

In it, the province described the current site as beyond its useful life, citing hazardous materials like asbestos, lead, mercury and arsenic, as well as flooding and backed-up sewage problems. It said it is inevitable that the building be replaced or upgraded soon.

British Columbians still weren’t convinced, however. In an Angus Reid Institute survey published June 16, 69 per cent of respondents said they oppose the project, while just 22 per cent said they support it.

READ ALSO: New Royal B.C. Museum opposed by nearly 70% of British Columbians: poll

Speaking Wednesday, Horgan took responsibility for not engaging with people better throughout the five-year planning process. He added that despite public perception, the expensive rebuild was never going to take priority over more urgent issues.

“It’s not an either/or.”

He said he still supports the province and museum’s proposed plan, but that he looks forward to seeing what other ideas the public now comes up with.

“We can potentially see costs come down as new ideas come forward.”

In their business case, the province revealed five options it was choosing between: maintain the status quo with no new museum ($89 million), build a new museum at a new location ($811 million), build a new museum on-site plus another facility for artifacts ($789 million), just build a new building on-site ($893 million), or retain and repair the existing building ($1.1 billion).

In the Angus Reid poll, 62 per cent of people opted for the status quo option.

Horgan said Wednesday decentralizing or digitizing the museum could present more cost-effective options, too. He noted that of the seven million objects and artifacts the museum houses, only about one per cent are displayed due to limited space. Repatriating some of those items could ensure they are seen elsewhere in the province.

“Everything is on the table,” Horgan said.

He said it will be up to the museum’s board now to run an engagement process with the public, and determine how long it goes on.

Until a decision has been made, the museum – with its reduced galleries – will remain open. Construction of the new collections and research building in Colwood will continue.

READ ALSO: Royal B.C. Museum phasing out galleries that push colonial narrative

READ ALSO: Construction on controversial $789M Royal BC Museum replacement set to start in September


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jane.skrypnek@bpdigital.ca

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