2 stalled hospital units back on list of provincial capital projects

The Higgs government unveiled more details of its capital spending plans Wednesday, including funding for new hospital units in Moncton and Saint John.

Health Minister Ted Flemming said after the decision last year to put them on hold, "we are releasing the pause button today on these projects."

Flemming's spending estimates included funding to start a $40-million coronary care unit at the Moncton Hospital and a $91-million addition and renovation at the Saint John Regional Hospital.

The Saint John work will include a new medical and surgical intensive care unit and an oncology unit. It will also improve the New Brunswick Heart Centre, a provincial facility that serves patients from around the province. 

Flemming also said he'll make an announcement soon on a half-finished youth mental health centre in Campbellton that the government put on hold earlier this year.

Work was halted after the New Brunswick ombud questioned the wisdom of locating the centre there, part of a scathing report into mental health services at the nearby Restigouche Health Centre.

Flemming said Wednesday that his capital budget includes $10 million for the centre, and that the amount is enough to finish the work, but he stopped short of confirming that construction will be completed. 

Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure will spend $279.3 million on highways, roads and bridges, including continuing work on major projects such as the Centennial Bridge in Miramichi and the Petitcodiac River bridge between Moncton and Riverview. 

It will also revive the twinning of a section of Route 11 between Cocagne and Boutouche that was cancelled last year. 

Transportation and Infrastructure Bill Oliver said the list required difficult decisions. 

"We need to focus on maintaining our public assets that we use every day," he said in the legislature. "Our existing highways, schools and hospitals must be addressed before we can embark on new projects.

"We do not have the resources to fund every project. There were some difficult decisions that had to be made." 

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Oliver portrayed the lack of major new road projects as a virtue, saying four-lane highways bypassing communities would contradict the goals of the government's tourism strategy.

Work on the $61.6-million bridge over the Petitcodiac, a controversial project launched by the Liberals to replace a causeway that was choking off the river, slowed down over the last year to spread the cost over a longer period. 

The delay pushed back the closure of the causeway and completion of the new bridge to 2021. 

Education Minister Dominic Cardy also released his department's estimates and said work would continue on previously announced projects.

He didn't provide any list of new school projects starting in the coming year. 

Opposition questions delayed spending

Two opposition parties accused the Progressive Conservatives of injecting politics into some of their decisions.

Dieppe Liberal MLA Roger Melanson said the cancelled Route 11 twinning didn't seem important to the Tories last year, but now that has changed.

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"Why stop for one year, and now this year they say it's a good project?" he said. "Is it because we're getting closer to a provincial election?" 

And People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin questioned the $1 million to start work on a new bridge between Shippagan and Lameque in the riding of deputy premier Robert Gauvin.

Gauvin announced it Tuesday, ahead of Wednesday's detailed listing of projects.

Austin said there is a bridge in his Fredericton-Grand Lake riding that needs work but that doesn't seem to be on the list.

"Is the money going to proper asset management or are we spending money for political reasons?" he asked.