More options, consultation needed on new hospital site, groups tell officials

Representatives from The Ottawa Hospital, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, as well as staff from MPP Yasir Naqvi and MP Catherine McKenna's offices met with community, heritage and science groups over the future site for the new Civic campus hospital.

Agricultural Institute of Canada organized meeting with stakeholders, hopes it will lead to more consultations

Representatives from The Ottawa Hospital, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, as well as staff from MPP Yasir Naqvi and MP Catherine McKenna's offices, met with representatives from community groups Monday to discuss what consultations will look like for choosing the future site of The Ottawa Hospital's Civic campus. (CBC News)

More consultations and more options for a hospital site. That was the message government and hospital officials heard Monday during a meeting considering the future site of The Ottawa Hospital's new Civic campus.

The Agricultural Institute of Canada (AIC) organized the closed-door meeting at a downtown hotel Monday, bringing together government, hospital and community representatives at one table. 

The original choice for the new hospital, on the Central Experimental Farm right across the street from the existing campus, was put on ice earlier this year after Catherine McKenna, the federal minister of the environment and climate change, questioned the lack of consultation by the previous government.  

We heard there was a need for openness and transparency, and that was unanimous around the table ...- Serge Buy, CEO of the Agricultural Institute of Canada

"We heard there was a need for openness and transparency," said Serge Buy, CEO of the AIC, "and that was unanimous around the table, with everyone, from the representative of Yasir Naqvi's office and MP Catherine McKenna, to the representative from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada."

The goal of Monday's meeting, according to Buy, was to define the kind of consultations that could improve the decision about where the new hospital should go. Several people advocated for more evidence-based study of demographics as well as impacts on the farm if it ends up as the preferred site, Buy said.

He hopes the government will take the ideas heard Monday and move on those consultations. 

"We certainly hope that someone [with the government] is going to tell us, 'Yes we've heard you, and yes it is not too late to have such a consultation, and yes we will take the ball and roll with it,'" said Buy. "If not, our board will probably look at this issue again, and see whether or not we should try to spearhead the consultation before it is too late."

This is a map showing the four potential site plans for the new Civic campus of The Ottawa Hospital. Three of the proposed sites sit on the Central Experimental Farm. (CBC News)

Groups want more than 4 sites considered

It's still not clear, however, whether the number of sites being considered is already set in stone. Representatives from The Ottawa Hospital have told CBC News the hospital has been tasked by the federal government to assess a narrowed list of four sites, three of which are on the experimental farm

The hospital is expected to hand in its assessment later this month.

Paul Johanis is with the Coalition to Protect the Central Experimental Farm, a group of about 50 people including climate change scientists, environmentalists and heritage advocates.

Outside the meeting Monday, Johanis said the coalition would like to see the list of potential sites expanded, and that members of the coalition continue to oppose the use of farm land for a new hospital.

"We think that's too constraining a choice for the federal government to consider," said Johanis, who also sits on the board of the non-profit group Greenspace Alliance of Canada's Capital. He said the federal government manages a vast inventory of lands in the Ottawa area, and that "there needs to be more done on the federal side to look at this process."

Retired agriculture scientist Clarke Topp worked on the farm for more than three decades. He said he felt there was a lot of good will at the table, and hopes it leads to the kind of consultations he said should have happened before the 2014 announcement of the original site. 

"Let's open it up, and let's talk about it," he said.

About a dozen people showed up for Monday's meeting, including representatives from the Central Experimental Farm Advisory Council, staff from the offices of Ottawa city Coun. Riley Brockington and others.