‘Ottawa’ After Tunney’s Pasture selection, hospital officials left reeling ehind the Scenes
They are not saying much publicly, but behind the scenes sources say officials with The Ottawa Hospital are reeling from Thursday’s selection of Tunney’s Pasture as a potential location for a new Civic Hospital.
Words like gobsmacked, shocked, astounded and angered are being used to describe the reaction of senior hospital managers and board members to the surprise recommendation made — with dissent by board members from Ottawa — by the National Capital Commission board.
The hospital has long favoured locating a $2 billion replacement for the aging Civic hospital across the street at the corner of the Central Experimental Farm — a site promised to the hospital by the Conservative government.
Hospital CEO Jack Kitts reportedly didn’t learn of the NCC recommendation until he received a phone call at 6 p.m. the night before the board was to vote on it.
The hospital issued a terse statement Thursday after the vote, noting that Tunney’s Pasture was never among its top choices for a new Civic hospital.
On Friday, Dr. Jack Kitts, CEO of The Ottawa Hospital, told reporters he was surprised by the choice: “We did have some concerns and it wasn’t our top choice.” Kitts said he wasn’t necessarily disappointed by the selection, but he was surprised.
He said he wanted to meet quickly with federal, provincial and municipal officials. The question of who pays for the demolition of government buildings at the proposed Tunney’s site would be the first order of business. Meetings are being arranged with hospital officials and various government officials as early as next week for further discussions about the site.
It its 2016 report on potential sites, the hospital noted that demolition on Tunney’s would be costly and suggested the federal government would have to absorb the cost. A spokesman for Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, who will give final approval to the NCC’s recommendation, said it was “too early to tell,” who would pay for demolition.
Joly’s approval of the recommended site would mean the federal government has agreed to offer it to the hospital if it wants to use it. It would be up to the hospital to accept it, but, in a city in which most of the surplus land is owned by the federal government, there are few other realistic options.
A hospital spokesman pointed out Friday that its timeline to get a replacement for the Civic hospital is significantly quicker than indicated by NCC officials — 2026, which is 10 years from now, compared to 15 or 20 years, which NCC officials suggested on Thursday. That makes demolition, which could significantly delay construction, a significant issue.
At Thursday’s NCC meeting, CEO Mark Kristmanson indicated he had spoken with Kitts about the proposal and he was “on the whole quite positive about the site.”
Sources told the Sun that as recently as a few weeks ago the hospital was looking more closely at the Sir John Carling site, believing that it might be offered as a compromise. Hospital officials had no sense Tunney’s Pasture was on the table.
Former Ottawa Mayor Jim Durrell, who has publicly pushed for the hospital to be built across the street from the existing Civic, on the site promised by former Conservative cabinet minister John Baird in 2014, said he is hearing from people from across the city “who can’t believe this is happening.”
Durrell criticized the way the decision was made and said he doubts that the hospital will ever be built at Tunney’s Pasture.
“The process was so flawed. On something this critical — we are not talking about a Tim Hortons being built — when you bring someone in (on the NCC board) from Calgary or Vancouver or wherever they are from, there are no real questions and it was approved in under an hour, this is just bizarre,” he said. “I bet half of (the NCC board members) have never been to Tunney’s and have no idea where it is.”
The NCC board includes members from across the country. Nine members voted in favour of the recommendation. Two voted no, both from Ottawa, and three abstained, two of them from Ottawa.
Durrell said there are plenty of questions that need to be answered about the site, notably who will pay the cost of demolition and land remediation. “The hospital doesn’t have the money. The hospital is so caught off guard right now, they don’t have a position.”
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre said he believes a “growing list of community leaders” are talking about how they can oppose the decision in the hopes of reversing it. Poilievre has called the NCC review and selection process directed by Heritage Minister Joly a waste of time.
Supporters of protecting the Central Experimental Farm from development, who rallied against plans to build a hospital on the farm, said they were relieved by the NCC decision.
Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi said he has consistently heard from constituents that the new Civic needs to be in the downtown core and accessible by public transit.
“Over the coming weeks, I look forward to hearing from my community and The Ottawa Hospital on the feasibility and viability of this recommended site.”