North

N.W.T. MLAs asking for audit of new Stanton Territorial Hospital

A majority MLAs voted on Wednesday in favour of a motion asking the Auditor General of Canada to look into the costs and 'long-term financial implications' of the new Stanton Territorial Hospital.

A majority of MLAs voted to ask the Auditor General of Canada to look into the hospital's costs

Stanton Territorial Hospital in September 2019. Northwest Territories MLAs on Wednesday voted to ask the Auditor General of Canada to look into the costs of the new Yellowknife hospital. (Katherine Barton/CBC)

The Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly plans to ask the Auditor General of Canada to examine the costs and "long-term financial implications" of the new Stanton Territorial hospital in Yellowknife.

A majority MLAs voted on Wednesday in favour of a motion requesting an audit. The four cabinet ministers present voted against it — Shane Thompson, R.J. Simpson, Caroline Wawzonek and Paulie Chinna.

Frieda Martselos, the MLA for Thebacha, brought the motion, which asks for a special audit of the hospital and the public-private partnership behind it.

Martselos called the partnership deal, known as a P3, between the N.W.T. government and Boreal Health Partnership, a "very dysfunctional agreement" that could be putting the territory into a financial deficit.

She also raised concerns about the involvement of southern companies in N.W.T. P3s, concerns echoed by Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson.

Finance officials have called the new $350-million hospital the largest building project ever undertaken by the territorial government. It's estimated to cost roughly $750 million over its 34-year lifespan. Accounting for another $140 million in what the government calls "grant in lieu of tax" — essentially property taxes to the city — the total cost is expected to be closer to $900 million.

'It's more of a performance audit'

Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly, who seconded the motion, said the audit should focus on the "actual costs versus the predicted costs," as well as compliance with financial policies. "It's more of a performance audit," he said. 

O'Reilly noted that financial reporting on the project has been clear and transparent.

Responding to the motion, Finance Minister Wawzonek said the auditor general's office was looking at the hospital project's finances throughout the new building's construction and had delivered "only positive reviews."

Wawzonek said the build was roughly $1,000 over budget. "That is a very positive return in terms of the capital costing of the project," she said. 

Stanton Territorial Hospital has been plagued with problems since it opened in May of 2019 including mould, water leaks, birthing tubs that couldn't be used and a shortage of nurses.

The hospital's facility manager is Dexterra, which was formerly a part of Carillion Canada. Carillion was contracted to provide food, laundry, custodial and other services, before it filed for creditor protection in 2018.

Wawzonek said the government is working to ensure the hospital project partners take "responsible action" to deliver services as they're supposed to.

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