Business plan

Palmer: Few details, few justifications provided in museum business plan

Opinion: Unrealistic plan for a new Royal BC Museum should never have gone this far

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VICTORIA — On Wednesday, BC New Democrats finally decided to release the business case for their decision to permanently close the provincial museum by Sept. 6 and spend $1 billion on two replacement buildings .

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But by the time the government’s internal censors had finished writing, there wasn’t enough material left to explain why the NDP cabinet had concluded that an eight-year shutdown and exorbitant price tag were the best options.

The master business plan is approximately 100 pages. About a third of these pages included passages completely or partially obscured.

The plan was accompanied by some 34 annexes. A dozen of them were retained in their entirety. Others were subjected to blackout editing, the textual equivalent of the cone of silence.

Yet Tourism Minister Melanie Mark proclaimed the release as proof of the NDP government’s commitment to “transparency”.

In practice, this has proven to live up to the party’s commitment to freedom of information.

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Each of the edits suggested its own story about the government’s motives – some eye-opening, some merely amusing.

They selected strategic communications plans for the Royal BC Museum itself and for Mark’s Department of Tourism, Arts and Culture.

To the right. Given the abysmal ineffectiveness of the NDP’s communications strategy to date, you certainly wouldn’t want these plans falling into the wrong hands.

They also erased the visual representation of what Mark called “the indicative design” of the replacement museum.

Screenshot of the business case to replace the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, as presented to media on May 25, 2022.
Screenshot of the business case to replace the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, as presented to media on May 25, 2022.

Apparently they didn’t want to give people the wrong impression of the project. And yet they have already given people the wrong impression of the project without the help of any visual aid.

Other restraints were more of a cover-up nature.

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According to the risk assessment report: “The project team quantified a total of 21 capital risks.” This was followed by a long table quantifying each of the 21 risks.

But the whole table has been erased. Even the numbering of each risk, from 1 to 21, did not survive the censors.

Planners also identified unquantified risks. For example: “One of the highest unquantified risks is that of the Royal BC Museum (empty).

What precisely is the highest unquantified risk at the museum? Your guess is as good as mine.

Gone is also an entire appendix setting out the proposed working agreement for the project.

Labor agreements with local hiring goals and community benefits are commonplace in NDP-backed projects. But details of the working agreement for the Royal BC Museum are not disclosed.

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New Democrats are offering the successful bidder on the project financial incentives to meet government hiring targets.

Incentives were also retained.

  1. Screenshot of the business case to replace the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, as presented to media on May 25, 2022.

    New Royal BC Museum: Here’s why the government says it will cost $789 million

  2. The Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria will soon be closed.

    Building a new Royal BC Museum is no more expensive than renovating it, CEO says

  3. Prime Minister John Horgan, with Tourism Minister Melanie Marks, announces the new museum on May 13, 2022.

    Vaughn Palmer: John Horgan can only blame himself for museum misstep

  4. A photo on the 3rd floor of the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, November 3, 2021.

    Daily Poll: Has the BC government justified its decision to create a billion-dollar museum?

Some of the material that survived the drafting process borders on delirium.

The business case stated that “an extensive public engagement process has been developed and implemented for the modernization (of the museum)”.

The supposedly extensive process took three months in the spring of 2019. It drew 177 comments online and another 131 people participated in seven community meetings.

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No one has been asked to comment on a plan to close the existing museum, tear it down and replace it with a new building at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars in eight years.

Wednesday’s presentation pegged the total cost of the replacement project at $789.5 million, including $550 million for the design and construction of the new museum and $239.5 million for all other costs, including contingencies, demolition and development of new galleries.

The figures represent an upward revision from the business plan as approved by the cabinet last March. This plan set the capital cost at $774.2 million and the ceiling price for the main building at $530 million.

But it’s not possible to be more specific about the rationale for either set of numbers because New Democrats have removed most of the breakdowns, including numbers for contingencies, consultation, First Nations funding, rental and storage, moving costs, insurance and soon.

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The remainder of the $1 billion budget for the museum project is represented by the previously approved business plan for a new research and collections building.

When the project finally appeared in the February 2021 budget, its cost was $177 million, with a completion date of 2024.

This year, the cost was revised up by $47 million to $224 million, and the construction schedule was extended to 2025.

A 27% budget increase over one year is barely calculated to build confidence in the overall management of the project.

Even without the many deletions, I wouldn’t take any of this week’s business plan numbers to the bank.

One of the plan’s unredacted admissions indicates that the replacement project is already behind schedule.

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The new museum was due to be completed and fully open in September 2029. This has now been pushed back to an unspecified date in 2030.

Wednesday’s presentation included a substantive technical presentation by staff, followed by a formal conference with the Minister.

In the end, it felt like a loose bunch of bureaucrats without a realistic budget or timeline, and a minister carried away by her own rhetoric.

Neither seems capable of selling this to the public.

The plan should never have gone this far.

A tough-minded cabinet would have sent him back to the museum, with instructions to “be realistic” about the price and duration of the closure.

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