The Royal BC Museum Rebuild: A Billion-Dollar Mistake for the BC NDP Government

Dec 29, 2022 | Blog, Governance, Indigenous | 0 comments

The BC NDP’s 7-year, $800 million proposal to re-build the Royal BC Museum ended up being the most explosive issue of 2022 for the government. It demonstrated a major misunderstanding about museums, highlighting how the sacred items of cultural significance stored on their shelves have been reduced to collectables, just curiosities from another time. It was the issue where Premier John Horgan met his political match.

Think back to early Spring. At that time, more than a million British Columbians were stranded without a family doctor, hospital infrastructure and staffing were collapsing, school districts were raising concerns about not getting the funds they need to build new public schools in growing neighborhoods, and their seismic projects were languishing. It was in this context that the BC NDP announced an $800 million re-build of the Royal BC Museum in the Premier’s hometown.

The negative response was immediate and fierce. It left many British Columbians scratching their heads wondering how Premier Horgan was so out of touch and had misread public sentiment so badly. Ironically, the announcement happened on Friday May, 13th, and just like the horror movies it quickly became a nightmare for the BC NDP government. There was no advance notice or briefing by government for the opposition, and at the press event itself the Premier and Tourism and Culture Minister Melanie Mark failed to produce a business case or even back-of-the-napkin drawings to show British Columbians what their nearly billion-dollar project looked like.

The public saw the lack of transparency as arrogant and within a couple of weeks it had tarnished Premier Horgan’s seemingly Teflon image. Throughout May and into June, this issue was red-hot in my constituency email inbox. People were furious and it quickly became the public lens through which nearly every intractable issue facing our province was viewed through.

In numerous media interviews and in Question Period, I offered another perspective of the failed announcement. Horgan repeatedly defended his decision by explaining that a new museum was good for Indigenous reconciliation. He made the same mistake that many have made by overlooking the fact that the deep cultural significance of many items locked behind the museum doors is as relevant today as it was when the item was “collected.” He revealed an ignorance to the sordid history that many of the items (including human remains) in museums got there by grave-robbing, fraud, and collectors preying on impoverished Indigenous communities.

I pointed out repeatedly that a new, bigger, shinier colonial shrine flew in the face of the desire of Indigenous communities who have been working for decades to repatriate their sacred items, and remains of their ancestors, rather than store them in Victoria.

After bearing the brunt of the criticism for more than a month, in the third week of June Horgan cancelled the project, but not before causing tremendous damage to his future as Premier and public support for his BC NDP government.


Photo credit: Found Photo – Canada BC Victoria – Royal British Columbia Museum 1981.tif” by David Pirmann is licensed under CC BY 2.0.


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