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opinion

The Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria on Dec. 21, 2017.CHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

In its five years in power, B.C.’s NDP government has mostly avoided stepping into a problem of its own making.

But of course, the longer a government stays in power, the greater the odds it will eventually become the architect of an imbroglio that is bewildering, troubling and entirely of its own doing.

Welcome to the new Royal BC Museum project.

If you haven’t heard, the provincial government recently announced that it is tearing down the current provincial museum to build a new one. Okay, that doesn’t sound completely insane. All structures of a certain age have a best before date and it’s not unreasonable to think a museum would have to be replaced at some point.

The Royal BC Museum is not that old, however. It was constructed in 1967. It’s not a particularly beautiful building and it wouldn’t be the worst thing to see it replaced eventually with something more, um, beguiling. Well, the province’s NDP government thinks so too and is proposing the current one be scrapped in favour of something far, far grander.

In fact, when the new one is built, it will be the most expensive museum in the country. Yes, little old Victoria, soon to be home to the costliest gallery in the land, with a (current) price tag of $1-billion.

Not surprisingly, the idea has landed with a giant thud. First off, the plan seemed to come out of nowhere. There hasn’t been any great outcry for a new museum. There have been some previous discussions about replacing the current structure but any public outreach by the government has been below the radar to say the least.

Certainly, you would think that for the amount of money the government is proposing to spend – and it’s no longer a proposal but pretty much a done deal – that it would be offering the public some idea of what it is they intend to replace the current building with.

But there are no renderings. There hasn’t been an architect hired to come up with a concept. The government released its so-called business case for the project this week and critical information was redacted. There were line costs that were blacked out. There were key passages around risk assessment that the public was not able to see.

Imagine the CEO of a company trying to convince shareholders of the need to spend a billion dollars on a project but not being able to show them what it will look like when it’s all finished or what the attendant risks are.

That CEO wouldn’t be in the job for long.

Taxpayers are effectively the shareholders to whom the government is accountable. In this instance, the government has done an incredibly lousy job of making its case for this project.

Culture Minister Melanie Mark, who seems to be in charge of this undertaking, has been particularly inept in selling the project. Yes, it’s a lot of money, she insists, but it has to be done because “we are not willing to take the risk of wiping out our culture, our collective history.”

Really? That is really at risk here? Yes, there are seismic concerns with the existing structure. And some artifacts would be at risk if there was a major flood. But a billion-dollar project is the only answer to those concerns? Come on.

Also, eight years? That’s how long the province will be without a provincial museum: eight years. The existing one will shut down in September and that will be it for eight long years. Civilizations have come and gone in a shorter length of time.

There is also an element of tone-deafness here. I suppose there’s never a great moment to tell the public you plan to tear down their beloved provincial museum and not replace it for eight long years with a building you can’t show them yet because it’s still an idea, but the timing of this announcement seems particularly out of touch.

With inflation at historic highs and interest rates going up, a lot of people are really struggling. The province’s health care system is trembling under a vast array of burdens, including chronic understaffing. A million people in B.C. don’t have a family doctor. The idea of owning a home is a pipedream for a vast swath of the population. Rents are far too high for many.

And here is the government announcing, out of the blue, it’s going to spend $1-billion to build the most expensive museum in the country.

That is what you call out of touch.

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