Vaughn Palmer: The political science of the point of no return


Opinion: The NDP took a page from the Liberal playbook on how to ensure a project is built despite an election

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VICTORIA — Tourism Minister Melanie Mark confirmed this week that despite controversy over the provincial museum’s billion-dollar renovation, New Democrats are moving full speed ahead.

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“We are working as quickly as possible,” she told Simi Sara on radio station CKNW.

Its claim to work quickly is at odds with the NDP’s reckless timeline for the replacement facility: construction beginning in 2026, official opening in 2030.

But the New Democrats were quick to get rid of the existing museum.

They began demolishing the third-floor exhibits earlier this year in an effort to “decolonize” the place.

The whole museum closes definitively on September 6th.

Once the contents are in storage, a demolition crew will begin to dismantle the museum itself.

Demolition begins in March 2024, seven months before that year’s election.

The timing is no coincidence, judging by something else Mark said this week.

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“Government is about making choices,” she told reporters, noting that the BC Liberals failed to replace the museum when they were in power.

“There was a duty to act and nothing was done,” said the NDP minister. “We’re here to say it’s the right thing to do.”

Mark’s comments shed a telling light on Prime Minister John Horgan’s claim to “regret that the museum has become a political football”.

His government is doing what it can to turn it into political football.

BC Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon, who vows to scrap the project if he wins the next election, has no illusions about the NDP’s timing for the demolition.

“The prime minister wants to make sure I don’t arrest him,” Falcon told Harjinder Thind on CKYE radio this week. “Otherwise there’s no reason for them to close it in September…they don’t even have design drawings” on the replacement.

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If the New Democrats decided to speed up the demolition for political reasons, “then shame on John Horgan and the NDP,” said Liberal House Leader Todd Stone.

“British Columbians need to know that if they tear this museum down prematurely, they are essentially creating a big, gaping hole in downtown Victoria that will stay there for 10 years.”

Stone was part of a BC Liberal government that played a similar game with a bigger project: the Site C hydroelectric dam.

A year before the 2017 election, then-Prime Minister Christy Clark vowed to take Site C “beyond the point of no return.”

She also succeeded, as John Horgan had to concede after taking over from Clark in 2017.

In opposition, Horgan said “site C sucks.”

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In government, he continued construction because he did not want to write off the money already spent on the project as well as the cost of dismantling.

“We just couldn’t see spending $4 billion for nothing,” said the NDP premier.

The Liberals also tried to push their Massey Tunnel replacement plan to the point of no return before the 2017 election. They awarded contracts for site preparation, began moving an adjacent BC Hydro line, and launched a tender on their preference for a 10-lane bridge.

Still, New Democrats canceled the bridge, wrote off $100 million in sunk costs, and sent the planning process back to square one.

Four years later came the NDP’s solution: an eight-lane tunnel dubbed “fewer crossings for more money” because it was expected to cost hundreds of millions more than the 10-lane bridge.

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The decision to substitute a tunnel for the bridge also sent the environmental review process back to square one.

As a result, construction of the tunnel will not begin for four years.

Falcon says that gives him plenty of leeway, assuming he wins the 2024 election, to kill the NDP tunnel and go back to the Liberal bridge.

Recently, the New Democrats have tried to cross the point of no return.

This year’s provincial budget includes $137 million for a new interchange and for improved transit and bike paths at the north end of the crossing.

These will be designed to articulate with the eight-lane tunnel. They will also be under construction before the elections.

Or as Transport Minister Rob Fleming recently said, “If Kevin Falcon keeps saying he’s going to cancel this project, he’s going to have to tear up contracts, expose taxpayers to more delays, more liability.”

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This is, of course, exactly what the New Democrats did after taking power in 2017.

Politicians can ill afford a sense of shame when playing the game of pushing projects beyond the point of no return.

The NDP’s handling of the museum and tunnel projects is a devious tribute to how well the BC Liberals played the game with Site C.

But as John Horgan knows from his own experience with Site C, he didn’t necessarily trick Falcon with this approach.

Horgan, in opposition, dismissed Christy Clark’s claim that she had taken the project to the point of no return.

Once in office, he turned around and backed Site C, citing information he didn’t have access to before becoming prime minister.

Falcon could do the same: oppose projects now.

Then, if – emphasizing the if – he manages to win the election, he could reverse his position depending on the “new information” that became available once he was safely installed in office. of the prime minister.

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