By Don Crosby for The Owen Sound Sun Times
Ontario’s Energy and Infrastructure Minister George Smitherman has a message of hope about a proposed new hospital in Markdale.
“The Markdale hospital, as an example, stands as a priority for the government of Ontario. We haven’t yet been able to identify the funding in that community, but no one can quarrel that there’s a need there. As we make infrastructure investments, Markdale as one small example is a place where additional revenue would be required,” Smitherman said in an interview after a turf-turning ceremony for a new recreation centre in Hanover on Friday.
The minister said the next step is to do more detailed planning.
“There’s a very high degree of awareness in our government of the necessity of doing that in Markdale. I’ve seen that facility myself. We did give them some money to get the first bit of planning done, but we know the community is ready to move to the next level. I’m looking, alongside my colleague David Caplan, to find the capacity to do that,” Smitherman said.
Maureen Solecki, the interim president and chief administrative officer of Grey Bruce Health Services agreed that there are more planning steps needed to get to the final approval for the project, and the hospital corporation is awaiting the ministry’s permission to move on to the next planning stage.
“The functional program is with the Ministry of Health and under consideration by them. At this point we don’t have approval of the functional program yet, so we can’t go on to the next step,” Solecki said.
Only about one third of the money promised by Smitherman in 2006 to pay for the planning and design of the new hospital has been spent.
“We’ve only received about $1 million of the $3 million grant . . . that was to get us to submit our functional design program to the Ministry of Health . . . there are a number of phases yet to go . . . in order to be ready for construction,” Solecki explained.
Markdale is fortunate to have a planning and design grant, she said, adding she is encouraged by Smitherman’s commitment to the project.
“There are lots of communities in the province with desires to do major renovation projects or rebuild projects and they have not received approval for planning and design grants and we are very pleased that we have received that. Another huge factor for the rebuild of Centre Grey hospital has always been the huge community support of the project,” she said.
The minister said the Ontario government plans to spend an additional $7 billion in the next two years on hospital construction.
He said that in the last five years the Liberal government has invested more money in hospitals than the last five governments in Ontario combined.
“Yes, as we make infrastructure investments, the Markdale hospital . . . is a place where additional revenue will be required. We’re going to keep building,” said Smitherman.
“It’s a top-of-mind issue. Lots of places can make a strong case for why they need investment and Markdale can make a very, very strong case for that, so we hope to be in a position to show some progress for that community,” he added.
Solecki is aware of the huge pressure and demand on the province for hospital rebuilding plans and other infrastructure projects and recognizes the need to be patient as this one winds its way through a very complex approval process.
“It’s good to know that this project remains well-known to the minister. We’re thrilled with that because you know the community is concerned and anxious that the project go forward as soon as it possible,” she said.
Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MPP Bill Murdoch said he was heartened and surprised by Smitherman’s candor when asked by a reporter about the plans for the new hospital.
“He said it was right up there near the top . . . and as long as he keeps talking about it that way it will get done . . . to my mind he seemed quite genuine. I think it’s all positive,” said Murdoch, who believes Smitherman has a degree of personal commitment to the project.
“I’ve always felt that way. I always felt George was committed to it . . . He has been right there from the start . . . and today just proved it when he spoke the way he did,” Murdoch said.