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Premier Jean Charest, second from right, was joined by Health Minister Yves Bolduc, second from left, and Treasury Board President Monique Gagnon-Tremblay at a groundbreaking ceremony for the new University of Montreal Hospital Centre Thursday. ((CBC))

The first phase of Montreal's two new, long-promised university hospital centres will be completed by 2014, Health Minister Yves Bolduc said on Thursday.

Bolduc joined Premier Jean Charest and Treasury Board President Monique Gagnon-Tremblay in launching the construction of the research centre component of the new University of Montreal Hospital Centre (officially known as the Centre Hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal, or CHUM).

The research centre will be built on the site of the former Vidéotron offices on Saint-Denis Street near Viger Street. It will house six research units and 110 teams of researchers from various domains, including cancer, neuroscience and musculoskeletal diseases.

Construction of the hospital portion of CHUM, which will be built on the site of the existing Saint-Luc Hospital, will begin once the research centre has been completed and should be ready by 2018, said Bolduc.

Groundbreaking for the CHUM's English-language counterpart, the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), is expected to take place this spring on the site of the former Glen rail yards and will be completed by 2014, said Charest.

The MUHC is still waiting for the two consortiums competing to build the hospital complex to resubmit their proposals after their initial bids exceeded the budget the government had laid out, he said.

"We're dealing with very complicated projects, but projects that need to be done," said Charest.

The premier deflected criticism from some groups, including the separatist Société-Satin-Jean-Baptiste, about the government's decision to build two university hospitals — one linked to a French-language institution, the other to an English-language one.

"There is no linguistic issue for us," Charest said. "If you walk into any of those hospitals, you will hear a lot of people speaking English or French, no matter what."

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Union members protested the government's decision to build the hospitals through public-private parternships. ((CBC))

Public-private partnerships controversial

Outside the news conference, union groups also protested the government’s decision to build the two hospitals through public-private partnerships, known as PPPs or P3s.

Bolduc defended the government’s plan, saying the move is a guarantee there will be no cost overruns on the projects.

The minister acknowledged, however, that there could be modifications made to the contracts between the government and the private developers.

The construction of the CHUM research centre is expected to cost $470 million — $150 million more than initial estimates — but the government has yet to sign the final contract for that portion of the project.

The total cost of both hospital complexes was initially pegged at roughly $2 billion. The price tag is now believed to have more than doubled, to at least $5 billion.