Premier Tim Houston says his government turned down a proposed joint venture for the Halifax Infirmary redevelopment because the preference was to have multiple bids.
"For me, I think any action by the province to immediately consolidate the bids down to one and make it so that there could only ever be one, I don't think that was in the best interest of Nova Scotians," Houston told reporters in Halifax on Thursday.
"I didn't think it was at that time and I wouldn't say that it is now."
A spokesperson for EllisDon revealed this week that it and Plenary PCL Healthcare, the other company pre-qualified to bid on the massive health-care infrastructure project, made the joint venture proposal to the province earlier this year that was rejected.
Bidders knew the process
EllisDon pulled out of the bidding process earlier this month, citing the project size and scope combined with ongoing industry challenges related to labour availability and "unprecedented cost escalation."
The company's spokesperson said at the time that it would consider getting back into the bidding process if the government reconsidered its position on the joint venture proposal, but Houston said Thursday that will not happen.
"The qualified bidders knew the process," he said. "They'll make their decisions as they go through the process, but the government — the province — is committed to seeing that process through."
That leaves the government in a position it was hoping to avoid in the first place: dealing with only one bidder on a project likely to top $1 billion.
Internal documents show concerns earlier this year that the project scope is no longer big enough for the province's growing population projections. The documents recommend more beds, operating rooms and a new emergency department be added to the project scope.
Houston said his government remains committed to seeing the project through and would determine its next move after it reviews the final bid from PCL, which is likely to come sometime this fall.
"We'll see how that bid looks. We'll see if it's in the interest of Nova Scotians and then we'll act accordingly."
Opposition politicians say what's in the interest of Nova Scotians is more information about what's happening with the project so they can be reassured it will be the right size and constructed in the most affordable way.
To date, the public has not seen the tender documents for the project or a report commissioned by the former Liberal government used to justify a public-private partnership approach for the infirmary redevelopment.
NDP Leader Claudia Chender said the government needs to rethink the procurement process now that it is left with a one bidder.
"Waiting to see what this single bidder comes out with and whether that bid works for the province is delay," she told reporters, "and it's delay that doesn't need to happen."
More communication sought
Liberal MLA Fred Tilley said the government is faced with only one bid for the project whether it sticks with its existing process or pursues the joint venture. For that reason, he said, the public needs a clear explanation for why the government is using the approach that it is.
"Maybe it is a good idea to reject a joint venture, but we don't know why," he told reporters. "So the premier should communicate why he won't go down the road of that joint venture."
The infirmary redevelopment is part of the larger Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre New Generation project, which includes a new outpatient centre in Bayers Lake and renovations and expansions at the Hants Community and Dartmouth General hospitals.
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