Government set to cede Sir John Carling site after politicians unite on hospital move

Heritage Minister Mé​lanie Joly says the federal government will make the former Sir John Carling site available to the Ottawa Hospital for its future Civic campus, according to a statement from her office.

Plot at northeast corner of Experimental Farm will be made available for new Civic campus, minister says

The Sir John Carling site was announced as the preferred site of a new Civic campus of the Ottawa Hospital. Ottawa city councillors and the mayor, along with federal and provincial Liberals, are backing the plan. (CBC)

Heritage Minister Mé​lanie Joly says the federal government will make the former Sir John Carling site available to the Ottawa Hospital for its future Civic campus, according to a statement from her office.

The news came moments after Liberal MPs and MPPs joined Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and hospital officials to call for the Civic hospital to be built at the site at the northeast corner of the Central Experimental Farm.

At a news conference outside the mayor's office on Friday morning, flanked by more than a dozen other politicians, Watson said there has been "a lot of dialogue and collaboration over the last few days."

"Together, we believe that the Sir John Carling site provides the best location to build the hospital of the future," Watson said. "The site addresses issues that are critical for a hospital's success, such as its central location, providing easy access from the Queensway, Carling Avenue and Prince of Wales. It's also within 100 metres of the Trillium Line's Carling station.

"Overall, the Sir John Carling site is a win for the patients and for the residents of Ottawa."

MP Catherine McKenna and MPP Yasir Naqvi — whose Ottawa Centre ridings include both the National Capital Commission's preferred site, Tunney's Pasture, and the Sir John Carling site — are backing the plan, along with MPs David McGuinty and Anita Vandenbeld, MPPs Marie-France Lalonde, John Fraser, Bob Chiarelli and Nathalie Des Rosiers, and city councillors Jan Harder, Jeff Leiper, Riley Brockington, Marianne Wilkinson, Stephen Blais and Keith Egli.

Ottawa Hospital president Jack Kitts and Ottawa Hospital board chair James McCracken also attended.

Hoping for agreement before holidays

Naqvi said the location needs to be secured "as quickly as possible," ideally before Christmas.

Part of the Sir John Carling site, which includes existing buildings and original pathways from the Central Experimental Farm. (Roger Dubois/CBC News)

"I, along with my provincial colleagues, call on all parties to reach a final agreement before Christmas of this year. It's an ambitious timeline, but it can be done and it should be done," he said, adding that it's time to be focusing on what the hospital will look like and provide.

That next step will involve another two to three years of planning and consultation, said Kitts, adding he's confident the hospital can be built by 2026.

Watson, McKenna, Naqvi, Chiarelli and McGuinty wrote a letter to Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly with their recommendation.

"Not only does this site bring all the parties together, it addresses the views of the community that the site be located in the downtown core and easily accessible by public transit, while also protecting the green space of the Experimental Farm," the letter reads.

It goes on to say the site addresses key concerns about access, costs and timelines.

A spokesperson from Joly's office responded saying the government is pleased to see a strong consensus emerged in support of the Sir John Carling site.

"We will be requesting federal officials to make all the necessary preparations to make this land available as the future location of Ottawa's Civic Hospital." the statement said.

Politicians praise NCC consultation

Two years ago the Ottawa Hospital was offered 24 hectares of land at the Farm — across the road from the current location — by then cabinet minister John Baird, but critics complained that decision endangered scientific experiments at the farm and was made behind closed doors without public consultation.

This is the Sir John Carling site, which Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says he prefers for a new Civic campus of the Ottawa Hospital over Tunney's Pasture. (National Capital Commission)
The Sir John Carling site is near that location but doesn't have the same issues concerning research. The site was the home of the Sir John Carling building, the former headquarters of Agriculture Canada, which was demolished in 2014.

The property is on a fault line, but high-level geo-technical studies conducted on behalf of the NCC and the hospital, show it's a moderate risk. A hospital can be built to withstand any risk of an earthquake, but that will likely add more costs to the construction.

A week ago the NCC board voted to select the western half of Tunney's Pasture as the parcel of land the federal agency would offer to the hospital for the Civic campus.

But the hospital board made it clear this week it has never had any interest in the land and would prefer the new campus be located close to its current campus on Carling Avenue.

Federal Conservative and provincial Liberal politicians also joined in the chorus of critics questioning the Tunney's selection.

When asked what Friday's announcement means for the NCC decision, McKenna applauded the NCC's work consulting 8000 people.

"I think we are now looking at what is a great solution for the residents of the national capital region," McKenna said.

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre called Friday's announcement a political rescue mission that wasted time and money. 

"The hospital had already performed a very thorough study through an expert panel that had selected the big open field right across the street as the preferred option," Poilievre said.

"The previous Conservative government simply accepted the hospital decision of the hospital. Then the federal Liberals interfered, delayed, tried to strongarm the hospital into the wrong location, and now today they're trying to save face."