Hastily prepared in the final months of Premier Ed Stelmach‘s term in office, the construction of the new Royal Alberta Museum had political legacy project written all over it. This is why it should not come as such a shock that the funding for the project is in jeopardy since Mr. Stelmach left office in early October.

Announced on April 7, 2011, the new museum was expected to cost $340 million, including $180 million over the first three years of the project which was expected to include $30 million in previously committed federal dollars (see below).

On June 6, 2011, the Government of Alberta began to search for designers and builders for the new museum. Submissions for design concepts were officially opened on July 4, 2011, and on August 18, 2011 the provincial government announced that four designs had been submitted.

In the August 18 media release, then-Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett said “the exterior design of the new Royal Alberta Museum must be such as to compel Albertans and our guests to visit and experience the facility for the first time.

On September 14, 2011, the winning design of the new Royal Alberta Museum was chosen. Despite near universal criticism of the uninspiring design, Infrastructure Minister Ray Danyluk said the design “expresses our province’s history, landscapes, and potential.”

The winning design had all the aura and sophistication of a prairie warehouse.

On October 1, 2011, members of the Progressive Conservative Association selected Alison Redford to replace Premier Stelmach as their leader. The Tories selected Alberta’s new Premier and with a new leader came new priorities.

Politically, it is easy to see why  both the new provincial administraion and the federal government are not especially excited about funding the project and neither want to look like the bad guy by cancelling it. The uncertainty of a portion of the funds may have made this situation a political inevitability, and an easy way out of putting the project on the backburner.

What federal funding?
The Edmonton Journal‘s Karen Kleiss has written a quick and easy to read explanation of where the the federal funding for the new museum was expected to come from.

The first envelope included $30 million from $55.2 million that had been allocated by the federal government to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the province of Alberta in 2005. The envelope was announced by then-Edmonton MP and Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan in a media release from Western Economic Diversification Canada:

WD will deliver the $55.2 million in federal centennial funding allocated to capital legacy projects that Albertans and visitors alike can enjoy. Projects selected for funding include the Provincial Museum of Alberta, the Edmonton Art Gallery and the Glenbow Museum.

The funding source that may cause the mothballing of the new museum project was expected to come in the form of $92 million from the Building Canada Fund, which was apparently a not very reliable source of funding (which perhaps should not be surprising considering how rushed the process was).

Tomorrow morning, I will be participating in Mayor Stephen Mandel‘s Arts Visioning Committee Recommendation Review Session. I am sure that the funding for the new Royal Alberta Museum will be a topic of discussion among the participants (as well as City Council’s vote to allocate more than $450 million to support the proposed Katz Group Arena – more on that later).