Nova Scotia

McNeil blasts Baillie's plan to review multimillion-dollar hospital project

Tory Leader Jamie Baillie says if he wins the election, he'd review the full plan for the QEII redevelopment project. Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil says that would create unnecessary delays.

Tory Leader Jamie Baillie says he'd put QEII redevelopment plan 'under the microscope' if elected

The demolition of the aging Victoria and Centennial buildings are two key components of the QEII redevelopment project. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil says it would be "a colossal mistake" for any political party to take steps that might delay the redevelopment of the biggest hospital complex in the Maritimes.

McNeil was responding to Tory Leader Jamie Baillie's declaration earlier this week that if he wins the election, he'd take the redevelopment project for the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre and "put that plan under the microscope."

"This has been dribbled out, piece by piece," Baillie said in a later interview.

"We're going to have to review whatever plan there is before we can provide confidence to Nova Scotians that this project is headed in the right direction."

Project steps already started

McNeil formally announced the redevelopment project a year ago. The work includes the expansion of services at the Hants Community Hospital, Dartmouth General Hospital and the creation of a new outpatient centre in Bayers Lake.

Ultimately, the work is happening so the decrepit and crumbling Centennial and Victoria buildings can be closed and demolished. Most major services offered, such as organ transplants, will move to the Halifax Infirmary, where there will also be more beds and operating rooms.

Baillie said any work that's already started would continue, but everything else would be reviewed. Although he included the Bayers Lake land purchase in that list, the Liberal government approved that sale and signed off on it before the election was called.

Lack of financial info

Work to date on the redevelopment project has remained on time and budget, McNeil said. He accused Baillie of politicizing an issue that shouldn't be part of the campaign.

"There's been a tremendous amount of work done on this capital project, engaging all of our partners and we're going to continue to do so," he said.

A major issue for Baillie is the lack of financial information about aspects of the work, including an overall cost estimate. He's taken particular issue with the $7.5-million purchase of the land in Bayers Lake.

PC Leader Jamie Baillie said under his government, work that's already started on the QEII redevelopment project would continue, but everything else would be reviewed. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

But McNeil said the cost includes servicing the land and having it prepared for construction. When it was announced, the government said the site's primary purpose is serving a growing neighbourhood in Halifax outside the downtown and people who come from outside the city for certain services.

Work estimates broken down in chunks

Breaking down estimates too soon in the planning could result in a miscalculation of the project's total cost, McNeil said.

He gave the example of the Truro hospital that opened a few years ago — more than $80 million above budget — as an example of what can happen if planning isn't done right.

In the case of the QEII project, McNeil said the overall plan includes milestones that trigger certain work. It is easier to keep the project on track and on budget when dealing with components of the overall project.

"We have stage-gated these projects," said McNeil. "We've told Nova Scotians how much it was going to cost them at the time."

Master plan isn't completed yet

Karen Mumford, senior director of the redevelopment project, said there's another reason some costs haven't been announced yet: work on the master plan isn't scheduled to be completed until the end of the year.

Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil has defended the cost of the land purchased to build a new outpatient centre in Bayers Lake. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

"That report allows us to have a long-range look, but it also addresses our immediate needs of how we get out of that Victoria and Centennial building," she said.

Even then overall costs won't be ready, she said, because the plan will still need design details. That's something that comes following extensive consultation with staff and other interested parties, said Mumford.

"As you refine the plan with those details, that then helps us inform the cost at a much better and much more precise level," she said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

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