Sarah Leamon: With so many pressing public issues, can BC residents really afford a glorious new museum in Victoria?
A recent announcement from our provincial government is causing a lot of controversy, and for good reason.
Last week, Premier John Horgan and Tourism Minister Melanie Mark unveiled a grand plan to replace the famous Royal BC Museum with a new museum. Horgan said the new, state-of-the-art monument will showcase the experiences and perspectives of British Columbia’s colonial history with a special tribute to Indigenous communities.
Although this sounds great, many people wonder if it is just a performative symbolic gesture.
Some, including BC Green MP Adam Olsen, have even gone so far as to describe the museum as a monument to colonial storytelling disguised as Indigenous reconciliation. Ultimately, a museum does nothing to address the systematic roots of colonial oppression and ongoing discrimination.
The price of the museum is also a major cause for concern. With nearly $800 million of taxpayers’ money earmarked for the project, criticism has turned to outrage.
After all, our province is not short of problems that require immediate attention and funds to address them. Among them is our broken healthcare system, for example.
With approximately 900,000 British Columbians without a family doctor and hospitals operating at bare minimums, we have now reached an undeniable crisis point in this province. Surgeries are cancelled, walk-in clinics are closed, and residents are left without the essential care they need to maintain their health. And all this in the midst of an ongoing pandemic and opioid-related public health emergency.
So far, the province has only firmly invested $3.46 million to find solutions to this problem. This short-term action plan aims to keep only five walk-in clinics in the capital region operational. It is far from sufficient.
Although Horgan says his government is committed to fixing the problem, he has also publicly stated that he expects a “massive injection of cash” from the federal government to do so.
It’s almost as if he doesn’t have close to a billion dollars set aside for something else.
In addition to the health care crisis, British Columbians continue to struggle with some of the highest costs of living in the country. This was only made worse by soaring gasoline prices at the pump.
But the prime minister expressed a flippant attitude about it at a recent press conference. As gasoline prices hit a record high of $2.339 a liter in Metro Vancouver, Horgan told worried residents to “think before” driving. He suggested drivers could simply carpool or use public transport instead.
It didn’t suit many.
Not only does this demonstrate a brazen disregard for the financial hardships facing so many, but it also exposes a political elite deeply out of touch with the ordinary citizen.
Countless people in this province depend on their ability to drive for a living. For delivery people, taxi drivers, real estate agents, shopkeepers and even lawyers, the ability to drive is essential. So while Horgan says he wants to prioritize making groceries more affordable over gas, the fact is that many people rely on gas to put food on the table.
And let’s not forget the immunocompromised.
Although the province has lifted all public health restrictions, including the requirement to wear a mask in public indoor spaces, COVID-19 cases continue to rise. To expect people to take public transit or carpool under these circumstances, which poses a real risk of potential exposure, is simply absurd. Not to mention that public transit options in the Lower Mainland are chronically underfunded and inadequate; something it has painfully in common with legal aid funding across the province.
With nearly a billion dollars in taxpayers’ money at the government’s disposal, one wonders why it wouldn’t focus its efforts on solving at least one of the many problems facing our province rather than funneling it into an empty publicity stunt.
If the government were truly committed to Indigenous reconciliation, this money could go a long way to reducing the many inequities experienced by off-reserve First Nations people (the federal government has constitutional jurisdiction over reserves), including access to housing. adequate transportation and health care.
Perhaps the Prime Minister should take his own advice and “think before” he spends.