Hundreds of people were drawn to the first public information session on the location of a new Ottawa Hospital Civic campus on Monday night, a year and four months after the former Conservative government announced a controversial plan to build it on the Central Experimental Farm.
"I want to apologize for the delay to get here," Dr. Jack Kitts, president and CEO of The Ottawa Hospital, told the crowd about how long it took to engage with the public.
The hospital has now short-listed four plans on three sites:
- The site that was put forward in 2014 at the northwest corner of the farm, across the street from the current Civic campus.
- A "reconfiguration" of the 2014 plan to deal with concerns over its impact on the farm's scientific work.
- The former Sir John Carling building at the northeast corner of the farm.
- Using part of the Tunney's Pasture government office complex.
The hospital would also consider any new options that have come available, but Kitts said a central location close to public transit and accessible for vehicles is the priority.
Farm opposition continues
Ottawa Centre MP Catherine McKenna and her provincial counterpart, MPP Yasir Naqvi, both spoke at the presentation about the need for the new hospital to be close to downtown.
"The downtown core continues to grow in population," said Naqvi. "It's getting older as well and people are moving into our community, so it's important that we build a hospital that is centrally located."
But some community members said they will continue to fight against the original plan on farm land as long as it remains on the table.
Members of a coalition of some 50 scientists and heritage advocates set up a booth at the information meeting, which bore a sign saying "Hands Off Farm."
Retired scientist Clarke Topp worked on the farm for 37 years and called the ongoing experiments at the site in question — called Field No. 1 — irreplaceable. Some of the experiments are more than four decades old, he said, and have contributed to the climate science that won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
Topp said he's glad to see the hospital reach out to the community.
"I think we can come up with a solution that helps everyone and we can come out with a win-win situation," he said.
'Politics at play'
Another coalition member, Leslie Maitland of Heritage Ottawa, said the group has come a long way since former MP John Baird first announced the transfer of CEF land to The Ottawa Hospital as a lease in November 2014.
"At that time everybody was saying it was a done deal, but since then there has been a change in government, a change in attitude towards science and a commitment to evidence-based decision-making, so this is promising," Maitland said.
But Progressive Conservative MPP for Nepean–Carleton Lisa MacLeod sees it as a political move.
"I think it's really politics at play," said MacLeod, who also attended the meeting. "My hope is the current [federal] government is not going to reverse everything the previous government did — that's what this appears to be."
MacLeod said she has been listening to the debate over where to put the new hospital since 2008, and
that the community is still no closer to getting the new hospital.
"We're now in a position where we have to fight for very scarce provincial health care dollars, so I would suggest to my colleagues across the city that it's time to encourage this process to unfold and to get this hospital built, because we are in competition for other hospitals across Ontario who are looking for that same pot of money."