People walk up stairs to the entrance of the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, December 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

People walk up stairs to the entrance of the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, December 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

Painful Truth: Reaction to museum plans are out of whack

We don’t get this level of anger for other major projects, including the Olympics

The furor over the announced replacement for a new Royal B.C. Museum took me a little by surprise.

I admit, the nine-figure price is hefty. You can buy a lot of… whatever else you want for $789 million. And when it comes to government, there are always, always people suggesting other ways to spend that cash. Housing and public safety and drug rehab facilities and doctors and nurses and teachers and so on. And they’re not wrong, are they, it would be great to spend that much money on any of those services.

But the fury this time seems especially pointed.

The $808 million price tag for the Golden Ears Bridge was barely discussed, compared to the fact that it would be a tolled bridge, replacing a free ferry.

And although the retractable replacement roof for the BC Place Stadium became a political football (especially after costs swelled from $458 million to $563 million, followed by a series of glitches) it was also not generally greeted with scorn, contempt, and hatred.

What could it be about this particular project that makes people so immediately hostile to it?

It couldn’t be that people just don’t like museums, could it?

Unfortunately, I think that’s at least part of it.

I’m not going to try to defend the price tag for the museum replacement project here, largely because I don’t know how much a new, state of the art museum serving a province of five million people should cost. Neither you nor I have run the numbers of visitors per year, provincial GDP per capita, square footage needed, etc.

But I want to highlight the bile this project draws compared to projects for roads and bridges and yes, to major sports stadiums.

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Remember what we spent on the 2010 Winter Olympics? $1.84 billion in operating costs, another $1 billion just for security? Throw in all the new venues, the roads, the upgrades, the Olympic Village, and the total was $7 billion!

Yes, there was griping and political sniping about the costs, but nobody dared to suggest that a sporting event was less than a worthy reason to spend a whole whack of money.

But when it’s about history or culture or art, people feel very free to suggest that we shouldn’t spend the money. At all.

I like museums, and I like libraries, and lot of people roll their eyes at that. Growing up in this province as a kid who preferred books to hockey was a good way to sometimes get your head slammed directly into a locker door, so maybe I’m still a little touchy on that subject.

So like I said, I don’t know if $789 million is too much, or too little, or just right for this project.

But we do need museums. And the knee-jerk hatred directed at this particular project – a project that will last for half a century, sustain archives and research, and introduce visitors and locals alike to our history – is wildly out of proportion in a province that is already considering taking another swing at the Olympics.


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