It's official: Alberta government cancels Edmonton superlab

The Alberta government has cancelled the $595-million Edmonton superlab project, saying it plans to invest health-care dollars elsewhere in the system.

$23M had been spent to date on $595M project brought in under previous NDP government

The Alberta government has killed Edmonton's superlab at the University of Alberta South Campus, it said Thursday. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

The Alberta government has cancelled the $595-million Edmonton superlab project, saying it plans to invest health-care dollars elsewhere in the system.

The United Conservative Party, which formed government in April, had promised to cancel the project as part of its election platform.

It had been spearheaded by the previous NDP government.

Construction started early this year on a site at the University of Alberta South Campus.

The new government put a halt on construction three days after the April 16 election.

The project would have consolidated medical laboratory services for Edmonton under a single roof and put it under the control of Alberta Health Services.

The previous government also planned to pay DynaLife, the current service provider, $50 million when its contract ended on March 31, 2022.

"We're standing by our commitment to cancel the expensive and disruptive superlab project and the ideologically driven plan to nationalize DynaLife," Health Minister Tyler Shandro said in a news release Thursday.

"We're going to put patients at the centre of the health system and invest health-care dollars where they're most needed to strengthen our publicly funded health system and deliver better results for Albertans."

The government acknowledges the need for more investment in lab services, Shandro told reporters later Thursday.

"We're going to continue to work with our stakeholders and be able to continue to look at ... what the next steps are and how we invest in that infrastructure," he said.

The government said $23 million of the $595 million capital budget for the project has already been spent.

It said $50 million will be saved from the cancellation of the planned buyout of DynaLife.

Vendors will be compensated for the termination of contracts as required, Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda said in the news release.

Panda's statement said the site will be "restored" but Shandro said no firm plans are in place.

"We don't have any plans for this site at this point, so it's going to involve engagement with stakeholders and a new capital plan for that site," Shandro said.

NDP health critic David Shepherd said Thursday's announcement was a disappointment but not a surprise.

He said the NDP government relied on a report from the Health Quality Council of Alberta that recommended integrating DynaLife and other lab services under the umbrella of Alberta Public Laboratories.

"We moved forward with that," Shepherd said.

"The next logical step was to address this infrastructure need that Albertans have had for some time. So we moved ahead, we had that [superlab] project in place, and it's disappointing that this government is choosing to go with ideology and a false sense of savings by neglecting to build infrastructure that Alberta needs."

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees described the government's decision as an attack on the province's public health-care system.

"The UCP just couldn't stand the idea that experts had determined that an integrated, publicly owned and operated lab system was best for patients," AUPE vice-president Bonnie Gostola said in a news release.

"This cancellation won't save money because a new lab is desperately needed and will have to be built soon and Albertans will have to pay for it."

Alberta's health system spends $770 million each year on laboratory medicine. About 2.3 million Albertans get lab tests annually, the government said.

With files from Kim Trynacity