CORNER BROOK Finance Minister Tom Marshall says it was irresponsible for MP Gerry Byrne to publicly state that plans for the new regional hospital in Corner Brook have been delayed because of the province’s fiscal situation.
In Friday’s edition of The Western Star, Byrne said the province is experiencing “a cash crunch” and that a senior government official has told the Liberal Commons member for Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte that construction tenders for the building are on hold because the province needs to reserve as much money as it can for the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.
On Friday, Byrne told The Western Star that he has heard the same thing from a minister in the provincial cabinet and that local hospital staff involved with committees working on the design and needs of the new facility have not met in months to resume that work.
Marshall fired back, saying Friday that he has some senior government sources of his own, namely Premier Kathy Dunderdale and Health and Community Services Minister Susan Sullivan, that say Byrne is wrong.
The finance minister, who is the Tory legislature member for Humber East, agreed that the province is expecting to have less revenue in coming years because of the expiration of the Atlantic Accord agreement and reduced offshore oil production, but said those things have already been factored into the province’s financial planning for the hospital.
“There is money in the fiscal forecast for the hospital and our government remains 100 per cent committed to the new hospital in Corner Brook,” Marshall said Friday. “Officials with Western Health and the Department of Health (and Community Services) are engaged in the planning process and have made significant progress.”
Work to prepare the site on the outskirts of Corner Brook has already been started. Byrne said Friday that, until a firm date has been set for the start of the construction phase, then there is no solid plan for how the project will develop.
Byrne said the province had previously stated the hospital would open in 2015, then that date got pushed to 2016 and it now appears it will be two years later than that.
Marshall, who said Friday he expects the new hospital to be commissioned in 2018, said the province and Western Health are still in the process of figuring out the programming that will go into the hospital and those details could affect the overall design of the facility.
“This does not in any way impact our commitment to the Corner Brook hospital,” said Marshall. “In fact, I think people of the area should be encouraged that we wait to make sure our approach is the right one and meets the future needs of the region.
“I think it is irresponsible for people to try to create doubts in the minds of the public without the facts. Our commitment to this project has not and will not waver.”
The hospital is expected to cost around $750 million and is the largest capital infrastructure project to be taken on by the provincial government.
Marshall said delays are to be expected when planning such a major project.
He noted there were similar delays with Corner Brook Regional High School, the result of which was the inclusion of a new industrial arts suite, and with Corner Brook’s long-term care facility, which resulted in an extra floor being included in the construction.
“With a project of this magnitude, I would expect that, from time to time, they will identify improvements and things they want to redesign and they will do that,” aid Marshall.