B.C. Premier John Horgan faced a barrage of questions Wednesday about the decision to shut down and replace the Royal B.C. Museum, as opposition critics reminded him of the rebuilding of fire-ravaged Lytton and a list of other urgent priorities.
B.C. Liberal leader Kevin Falcon asked Horgan in question period May 18 about the impact on post-pandemic tourism recovery in Victoria when one of its main downtown attractions is replaced with “giant gaping hole with a chain link fence around it” after it closes in September.
Horgan replied that the museum replacement project is part of the biggest capital construction program in B.C. history, including new hospitals in the Cowichan Valley, Terrace, Fort St. James and Williams Lake. The need for an earthquake-safe museum came to the B.C. Liberal cabinet in 2006 and several times after that, and the NDP government began deal with it when it was elected in 2017, Horgan said.
“I hope that the members on the other side will listen up, because they ignored advice from the facility managers over at the Royal B.C. Museum for a decade and a half,” Horgan said.
B.C. Liberal MLA Peter Milobar quizzed Finance Minister Selina Robinson about the decision to close the museum on Sept. 6, when there is no money in the current budget to begin a replacement project that is expected to take until 2030. The $56 million in the provincial budget is to work on a new collections and research building for the museum in suburban Colwood, which isn’t expected to be finished until 2025, he said.
Robinson said the current budget does not contain any funds for demolition: “The next day I imagine the wrecking ball is not showing up.”
B.C. Liberal education critic Karin Kirkpatrick said the price tag for a new museum would cover the costs of rebuilding the Fraser Canyon community of Lytton, mostly destroyed by fire in June 2021, and would cover the costs of seismically upgrading half of the B.C. schools that need it.
Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said the government’s seismic upgrade program for schools is proceeding as planned, and is not affected by the museum project announced by Horgan last week.
In one of his first jousts with Falcon in the legislature, Horgan noted that Falcon wants to scrap the museum project and the eight-lane tunnel replacement of the Fraser River between Delta and Richmond.
“The guy that gets big things done is now for dismantling big things,” Horgan said.