UCP MLA criticized for calling new Calgary Cancer Centre a 'fancy box'

Describing the Calgary Cancer Centre as a “fancy box” in the Legislature has brought a United Conservative Party MLA under fire from the provincial infrastructure minister.

Spokesperson says MLA Glenn van Dijken was questioning why NDP chose a bid $206M above the lowest option

UCP MLA Glenn van Dijken described the Calgary Cancer Centre as a "fancy box" in the Alberta Legislature. (Government of Alberta/Twitter)

Describing the Calgary Cancer Centre as a "fancy box" in the legislature has brought a United Conservative Party MLA under fire from the provincial Infrastructure minister.

During question period Thursday, UCP MLA Glenn van Dijken asked Infrastructure Minister Sandra Jansen to explain why the NDP government had chosen to go with a $1.122-billion bid to build the cancer centre, which was $206 million more than the lowest option.

"At the end of the day, we are building a box — mind you, a fancy box — to do the job of treating cancer patients," said van Dijken.

In an interview with CBC News on Friday, Jansen said she was stunned by the comment.

"You're actually talking about a pretty unbelievable state-of-the-art facility," she said.

"And the idea that someone could describe it thusly was shocking to me. We're talking about a facility that's really going to change the way that we do cancer treatment in Alberta."

This architectural rendering shows what the new facility at the northeast corner of the Foothills campus will look like. It will span more than one million square feet, including a 1,650-stall underground parking garage. (PCL Construction)

Van Dijken was unavailable to comment on Friday, but an emailed statement from party spokesperson Annie Dormuth said the Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock MLA was "drawing attention" to the fact the NDP gave the contract to a firm whose proposal was $206 million more than the lowest bid.

Dormuth said the bid chosen will see construction completed eight months later than the lower option.

"One would think that it would be preferable to spend that $200 million on things like critically needed healthcare equipment, doctors and nurses, as well as having the centre open as soon as possible," said Dormuth. "The NDP is clearly trying to distract from this."

Jansen said van Dijken's comment was insensitive to cancer patients who will rely on the facility — and who helped design the new centre.

"Cancer patients were involved in every aspect of the design of this building, so that it reflects their needs as well," she said.

"It really is remarkable."

Charlotte Kessler, right, co-chair of the Patient and Family Advisory Council for the new Calgary Cancer Centre, with her husband Ryan Kessler and daughter Ashtyn Kessler. (Submitted by Charlotte Kessler)

Charlotte Kessler, co-chair of the Patient and Family Advisory Council for the new Calgary Cancer Centre said her group has been fighting hard for years for a new centre.

"We've put in hours and hours of time helping with the design and coming up with the requirements for the cancer centre," she said.

Kessler says she and other patients have shared their stories and experiences with the design team in order to help them build the best possible centre.

She said van Dijken's comment "cut right through" her heart.

"To say it's a fancy box — they obviously haven't taken a look at anything to do with it," she said. "Even just the quick videos give you that immediate sense of warmth and hope and innovation and opportunity.... We're going to be, with this cancer centre, on the cutting edge."

Apology demanded

John Osler, co-chair of the Concerned Citizens for the Calgary Cancer Centre, said patients in Calgary have "long awaited" a cancer hospital. He said his group was active in pushing for the facility, working with previous Progressive Conservative governments, and the current NDP government, to make it a reality.

"We had promises made and promises broken," he said. "And then we worked with Premier [Rachel] Notley and [Health] Minister [Sarah] Hoffman, who promised a cancer center and delivered."

As a cancer survivor himself, Osler said van Dijken's comment wasn't surprising.

In Osler's opinion, the extent to which UCP "continues to be misinformed" on issues is "truly breathtaking."

"I suggest this fellow, before he starts shooting off his mouth about cancer, ought to inform himself of the facts," he said.

"And here's a fact: this long overdue cancer centre will save lives."

Osler said van Dijken should also apologize to cancer patients and their families for saying "something so hurtful and irresponsible."

Opening scheduled for 2023

​The new facility is being built at the northeast corner of the Foothills hospital campus in northwest Calgary and is expected to open sometime in 2023.

PCL Construction Management Inc. was awarded the contract to build the one-million-square-foot building.

Stantec, in conjunction with DIALOG, will be responsible for the architectural and interior design, as well as structural and electrical engineering. Stantec will also provide civil and transportation engineering services.

The centre will have 160 inpatient beds, 12 radiation vaults, more than 100 patient exam rooms, and more than 100 chemotherapy chairs.