the new royal alberta museum – a political legacy project that was doomed to fail.

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).

8 thoughts on “the new royal alberta museum – a political legacy project that was doomed to fail.

  1. The Invisible Hand

    Good post, Dave. As you say, it was clearly a rushed legacy project, so it’s unsurprising the funding went off the rails.

    What’s becoming increasingly clear is that the Alberta PCs saw this train wreck coming, and attempted to throw the Harper Conservatives under the bus (pardon the mixed metaphor) in order to save their own political skins. Alison Redford criticized the RAM plan during the leadership race, and now it appears she and her team are trying to blame the feds for a decision they were planning to make anyway.

    FWIW, I agree that now is the wrong time to built it, and the process Stelmach started was fatally flawed. But c’mon, Premier Redford, have the guts to stand up for yourself and don’t pass the buck off on somebody else.

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  2. Monk Chanan

    It appears that hockey is more important than civilization, and UFC fighting more important than hockey, so why don’t we just go for broke and turn the province into what everyone wants – a big drunken cowboy brawl like the kind on the old classic “bonanza” where they’d bust up the whole saloon with their fisticuffs, destroy the bottles and the mirror behind the bar, the floosies pouring beer on the heads of the cartwrights from the balcony above. Yahooo! Did someone say, “museum?”

    Reply
  3. Darren

    We can spend money on arenas and museums when’re not up to our necks in red ink and actually have money to spend intead of spending money we don’t have.

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  4. why_knot1

    Interesting mention in Paula Simons blog that raises more questions in my mind “…the Alberta government’s July grant application to the Building Canada fund failed…”

    http://blogs.edmontonjournal.com/2011/10/28/snappy-sexy-grippy-julian-martin-on-how-to-write-a-winning-grant-application/

    However, the government announced the RAM in the early spring of this year…months before this grant application was even written, if the Simons blog is accruate.

    Is this a case of backroom deals where the follks in the backroom changed, and changed the deal?

    Sure sounds like it to me with all the mud slinging.

    Another investigation, which will never happen, required here.

    Reply
  5. jerrymacgp

    Reading that Calgary Herald story from back in august makes one wonder… is the next shoe to drop going to be cancellation of a hospital project, like the new Regional Hospital in Grande Prairie (on which site dirt moving has already begun)?

    Reply
  6. Pingback: The Mystery of Alberta’s Missing Museum: What Edmonton needs to tell the Tories | Broddy Olson

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