Province buys $7.5M of land in Bayers Lake to build new health centre

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The province is paying $7.5 million for land in Halifax's Bayers Lake retail park to build what it's calling a community outpatient centre.

The services offered there will replace the ones that will be lost when the aging Centennial and Victoria General hospital buildings are vacated in downtown Halifax, as part of the redevelopment of the QEII Health Sciences Centre.

Construction on the new facility is slated to start in the winter of 2018, and is expected to be completed in the winter of 2021. 

The health authority said services including blood collection services, diagnostic imaging, medical and surgical clinics along with pre- and post-operative care could be housed at the new facility. It could also offer after-hours physician care for non-emergencies, such as determining if an ankle is sprained or fractured. 

The centre will be built on vacant land situated behind the Home Outfitters and Marshalls locations in the Bayers Lake retail park. Susie Lake Crescent will be extended to provide access to the new facility, which will overlook Black Duck Ponds.  

Land owned by Liberal party donor

The land is owned by Banc Commercial Holdings which owns most of the adjacent property and will develop it in conjunction with the construction of the centre.

Company president Basim Halef donated $3,000 to the Nova Scotia Liberal Party in 2013. His son Alex is vice-president of Banc Holdings and donated $700 the same year.

Neither donation had any influence on the choice of their land, according to Premier Stephen McNeil.

"It had nothing to do with that," he told reporters at a ceremony Thursday to unveil a sign marking the centre's future home.

There had been a number of search committees that had gone on and they had looked at a number of parcels of land, McNeil said.

"So I'm not even sure who we bought the land from, to be frank. But at the end of the day this is the right site. It came down to making sure that we were having access to [Highways] 103 and 102. And the fact that if you look around this is a growing part of HRM."

QEII Foundation connection

Basim Halef also sits on the board of trustees at the QEII Foundation which raises funds for the Halifax-based hospital complex.

That was news to the vice-president of the Nova Scotia Health Authority when she was asked if that might be a possible conflict of interest.

"No, I didn't even know that this particular piece of property was owned by [Halef]," said Paula Bond. "That was not taken into any consideration."

She also didn't see it as an issue.

"I don't think so. There's many businessmen on the foundation of the QEII. So I don't see that that's a problem at all."

The QEII Foundation told CBC News that five years ago, Halef also gave $250,000 to a campaign raising money for cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy.

NDP raises concerns

NDP Leader Gary Burrill was troubled by the connections.

"It is all a great concern," he told reporters onsite for the unveiling. "It's particularly a great concern in light of the fact that this is being sited in such an incredibly improbable location that is inconvenient beyond belief for people who don't have a car."

"It's troubling from that point of view and troubling from the point of view of the Liberal party's record. They've got a well-established record now of making decisions in ways that are particularly helpful to their inner circle and so this is all a great concern."

'The right decision'

Alex Halef defended the government's decision. He also said he didn't think the donations to the Liberals, which he and his father made three years ago, played a factor in the choice of the land.

"I think at the end of the day they're going to do what's right for the province," he said. "We believe wholeheartedly that the province has made the right decision as far as using taxpayers' money wisely to put a facility [here]."

Before construction starts next year, the Nova Scotia Health Authority needs to complete a study of what services are needed and design work on the actual structure has to be finished.