Contract-tendering process for Halifax hospital to continue with one bidder: premier

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HALIFAX — The contract-tendering process for a major development of a Halifax hospital will continue despite the fact there is only one bidder left, Nova Scotia’s premier said Wednesday.

Tim Houston told reporters that the Halifax Infirmary project remains under “active procurement" after one of two interested parties dropped out.

“The qualified bidders knew the process,’ said Houston. “They’ll make their decisions as they go through the process, but the province is committed to seeing that process through.”

The premier said the government would assess the remaining bid by Plenary PCL Health and determine whether approving it is in the “best interest of Nova Scotians.”

The project is the largest part of the estimated $2-billion redevelopment of the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre.

That cost estimate, however, dates back to 2018 when the project, which is to be largely funded through a public-private partnership, was first announced by the former Liberal government.

In an email, construction company EllisDon said it withdrew from the project on June 16 because of the “unprecedented cost escalation” and the supply chain and productivity issues affecting the construction industry. “That is exasperated by the size and magnitude of the Halifax Infirmary project,” the company said.

EllisDon added that a joint venture involving PCL was discussed at the beginning of the year and was subsequently rejected by the provincial Department of Public Works.

“We fail to understand how continuing on the original procurement model, given the magnitude of this project with today's challenges, is the right decision for the province and the project,” the company said.

However, Houston said the company’s “opinion” on the procurement process would not change how the province proceeds.

The tendering process was supposed to be concluded this spring, but the Department of Public Works confirmed last week that it was delayed for “several months.” That came after the CBC reported on internal documents that outlined a rethink of the project’s scope because of anticipated population growth and escalating costs.

NDP Leader Claudia Chender said the government needs to reconsider how to get the tender done in the most fiscally responsible way given EllisDon’s withdrawal.

“The bidder that dropped out said this was no longer a process that made sense,” said Chender. “I think waiting out this flawed process is not the right way to go.”

Liberal legislature member Fred Tilley said there needs to be better public communication around what’s happening with the project, but added resetting the process isn’t the answer.

“Time is of the essence. This is one of the cornerstones to fix health care,” Tilley said.

EllisDon was awarded a $259.4-million contract to design, build, finance and maintain an outpatient centre as part of the redevelopment on the outskirts of Halifax in August 2020. The Department of Public Works has said that project, which is part of the overall redevelopment, remains on budget and on time.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 30, 2022.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

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