Liberals Should Come Clean on Costs, Risks & Delays to New Hospital

Last week’s Civic Campus drama shows what happens when politics overtakes reason in choosing a site for a future hospital.

Twenty-five months ago the Civic Campus had a location that was studied, chosen, and approved: about six percent of the big open field right across the street from its current campus. That was the spot the hospital picked after years of study, and the Conservative federal government accepted it.

But when the new Liberal minister for Ottawa, Catherine McKenna, took office a year ago, she would not let the decision stand. She asked the hospital to re-review the locations and specifically to consider Tunney’s Pasture. They did so and again chose the land across the street from the current Civic. Still not happy, Minister McKenna punted the issue to the National Capital Commission, and they said Tunney’s Pasture was the best option.

It took the hospital saying “no” to Tunney’s Pasture three times for the municipal, provincial, and federal Liberals to “compromise” and approve the site at the former Sir John Carling building.

That location is still on the Central Experimental Farm and the Ottawa Hospital says it can work with it. But it was not the hospital’s first choice. In fact, the hospital’s 2008 study ranked the Carling location as the worst of the four options on the farm.

So here we are, 25 months later, and all we have accomplished is moving a hospital about a kilometre down the street, to an inferior location.

The Sir John Carling site is vastly superior to Tunney’s Pasture. By fighting hard, Ottawans were able to secure this improvement. However, the matter is not settled. Many serious questions remain about the suitability of the land for a future hospital and the costs it will engender.

We must now guard against unnecessary costs and delays associated with the Carling site. Beyond the fact that the site is adjacent to a fault line, an Ottawa Hospital report from this year pointed out that the surface is sloped and that land preparation costs will be significant. Who will pay these costs? By forcing the hospital into a location it did not want, the federal government is likely assuming the preparation costs. If not, the money will need to come from patient care.

In the months ahead we can expect engineers and architects to weigh in on the costs, risks, and delays – all of which could have been avoided by sticking with the original plan to move the hospital to the big open field right across the street from its existing location.

Now we all need to do our part to make the hospital a success. Given the incompetence Liberal central planners have shown the Ottawa hospital file so far, the adventure may only have begun.

Pierre Poilievre is the
Conservative Member of
Parliament for Carleton and
the Critic for the National
Capital Commission