Opposition MLAs call for transparency in Halifax Infirmary redevelopment delays

·3 min read
Adding a new emergency department to the Halifax Infirmary redevelopment project is one of the recommendations in a document obtained by CBC News. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
Adding a new emergency department to the Halifax Infirmary redevelopment project is one of the recommendations in a document obtained by CBC News. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

Opposition politicians say the Nova Scotia government needs to be upfront with the public about potential delays to the redevelopment of the Halifax Infirmary and how those delays could change the project's scope and budget.

CBC News reported this week that the tender for the work, which was to be awarded to one of two pre-qualified consortiums in late spring, is delayed for several months. A government spokesperson said the delay is related to "current market conditions."

But documents obtained by CBC News show concerns were being expressed internally last February that the recent population boom in Nova Scotia had made demographic predictions used in the redevelopment planning obsolete.

The documents call for a new emergency department, 144 in-patient beds and four operating rooms to be added to the project to account for the fact that population predictions for 2031 are now 13.5 per cent higher than expectations during the planning process.

'We don't want to delay it indefinitely'

Health Minister Michelle Thompson told reporters Wednesday that she is not directly involved with any potential scope changes to the project. That work, she said, falls to a dedicated health leadership team.

"We don't want to delay it indefinitely," the minister said following an announcement about doctor recruitment efforts.

"Those new facilities are a very important aspect ... not just for attracting new people, but the conditions that people are currently working in."

Opposition politicians agreed the project needs to be built in a way that meets the needs of the public now and into the future, but they also said there needs to be a better flow of public information.

Liberal MLA Braedon Clark said it seems "very, very difficult" that the potential changes presented in the documents could be incorporated into the tender in a matter of months.

"That project is hundreds of individual steps taking place across multiple departments, and so it never moves quickly on that scale," he told reporters.

A need for more public information

Clark said the project merits the "highest level of transparency" in terms of the construction time frame and any cost overrun.

NDP health critic Susan Leblanc said the public needs to understand the reasons for project delays and there need to be public benchmarks to allow for accountability.

LeBlanc said she and her party continue to have concerns about the government's decision to use the public-private partnership, or P3, funding model for the infirmary redevelopment. Using that method, the province owes the company that does the work 50 per cent of the bill upon substantial completion, with the balance paid out over 30 years.

A 2020 report from the province's auditor general determined the P3 model is appropriate for the project, but cautioned it is critical "that good contracts get signed."

The previous Liberal government refused to make tender documents public until the tender is awarded.

Project pegged at $2B in 2018

Although the Tories were critical of that decision while in opposition, so far they are following a similar approach.

The redevelopment of the Halifax Infirmary is the largest component of the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre New Generation project.

Estimated in 2018 to cost $2 billion, the project also includes expansions and renovations at the Dartmouth General and Hants Community hospitals, and the construction of a new outpatient centre in Bayers Lake.

When all the work is complete, it will allow for the closure of the Victoria, Dickson and Centennial buildings that are part of the Victoria General Hospital complex.

A government spokesperson told CBC News this week that a financial update for the infirmary redevelopment would be released "in the future." The Bayers Lake work remains on schedule and budget, while the work at the Dartmouth General and Hants Community hospitals is complete.


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