David Eby's decision to kill a much-needed BC Lottery Corporation head office project in Kamloops reminds Bob Price of a similar bad NDP decision in the early 1990s.
Remember the words of legendary British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill: Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it!
It was the last day of January in 1992 when then-NDP Premier Mike Harcourt broke a major campaign promise to establish a provincial cancer treatment facility in Kamloops. It did not go over well. “The community has been shafted,” Kamloops Mayor Cliff Branchflower furiously fumed.
Since that fateful day 27 years ago, electing a provincial New Democrat in the two Kamloops ridings has proven nearly as rare as $1.49 day! And yet today’s NDP Premier John Horgan has repeated history by killing a long-planned project to build a new B.C. Lottery Corporation headquarters in Kamloops to replace its outdated, 54-year-old structure converted from a defunct Woodward’s department store.
Understandably, Kamloops officials are not happy. After all, it was just last July that David Eby, the Vancouver-based minister responsible for the B.C. Lottery Corporation, vowed “full steam ahead” for the much-wanted project.
Promise made, promise broken.
To fully understand the importance of the Lottery Corporation’s presence in Kamloops, you need to go back to 1985 when the Social Credit government of the day made a bold decision to locate the BCLC headquarters in the city. Back then, Crown Corporation head offices were automatically located in the Lower Mainland or Greater Victoria region. BCLC bucked that trend, to the economic benefit of Kamloops.
Estimates have pegged the Lottery Corporation head office’s economic impact on Kamloops at as much as $1.5 billion dollars. It’s an eye-popping figure and last week’s decision by the Horgan government to scrap plans for the new building has renewed doubts about the province’s commitment to keep the BCLC head office in Kamloops.
While the current structure is the base for approximately 450 employees, a new complex was expected to raise that number by at least 250.
Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian notes that city officials were keenly interested in a potential partnership as a new BCLC complex was seen as a potential new home for city hall.
Other Kamloops boosters are trying to put a brave face on Eby’s decision. Noting reports that the projected cost of a new BCLC headquarters had soared to well over $100 million, Kamloops Chamber of Commerce president Joshua Knaak says while he too is disappointed by the province’s decision not to expand its footprint in the city, he commends the government for fiscal prudence.
“From the understanding that I had, it was a done deal, but it’s also hard to critique the government for being fiscally responsible if that is what this is,” said Knaak. “The most important thing is that the BCLC head office continues to be Kamloops [new building or not].”
Of course, BCLC turned a $1.4 billion profit in 2017/18 – $89 million more than budgeted, an amount which would nearly cover a new Kamloops headquarters.
In British Columbia, politics is a blood sport. Last week’s decision to shelve a proposed new complex for the Lottery Corporation will most assuredly make life even more difficult for New Democrat candidates in Kamloops.
The party has never come close to recovering from that 1992 decision on a cancer clinic. And yet again, another NDP government has just thrown snake eyes in a city often seen as a political bellwether.
History has repeated, and still the NDP haven’t learned their lesson.
Bob Price is a veteran B.C. broadcaster who anchored the morning news on CHNL radio in Kamloops for the past 30 years. Bob is also a past Webster Award winner whose previous stops included Vancouver and Calgary.