The city and the province are teaming up to push the federal government to pay a portion of costs towards a new or expanded Victoria Hospital.
The most recent provincial budget included $2.5 million to advance design work on the project. Speaking to reporters Monday, provincial Finance Minister Donna Harpauer confirmed that is a sign the big investment — construction costs — is coming down the road.
“It is a sign that in a few years you should see something bigger,” she said.
“Right now, along with your mayor, we are having that conversation with the federal government.”
Harpauer said that the new agreement with the federal government surrounding infrastructure funding includes a few new envelopes including one focusing on First Nations.
“The hospital here serves a lot of First Nations and Métis clients,” Harpauer said. “We think that’s something important for northern Saskatchewan, as well as regionally here in Prince Albert, and we’re hoping the federal government will consider being a partner in this project. That decision will be very helpful in moving this project forward.”
Mayor Greg Dionne agreed.
“The federal government is responsible for health care for First Nations people. I believe First Nations people haven’t had a voice in the new hospital, and they’re willing to go to Ottawa with us to get more funding. Why would we turn that down?”
Dionne said he hopes to get to Ottawa within the next two months to plead his case. He thinks it’s important to lobby the sitting government before it breaks ahead of November’s election, even though construction is likely still two years away.
“It gives us some time,” he said, “but there’s still an urgency to get it done.”
Former premier Brad Wall had promised to fully fund the new hospital in Prince Albert. His successor, current Premier Scott Moe, has confirmed that commitment.
That promise is significant. According to Dionne, it could save the city as much as $80 million.
Typically, he explained, cities have to cover 20 per cent of the cost of a new hospital. But since the Victoria Hospital was declared a regional hospital, the province is covering the entire 100 per cent.
“That means every taxpayer in P.A. won’t get, added onto their bill, a levy that would be $500 every year for seven or eight years to pay that off.”
Unlike P.A., Weyburn, the other community to get $2.5 million for design costs, does have to raise the additional 20 per cent. Prince Albert’s exemption is leading some to say the city is getting special treatment, Dionne said. That’s one reason why he has stood firm in his assertion he’s happy with the budget and isn’t pushing publicly for any changes.
“I’m hard-pressed to say give me another 50 for this or give me another 25 for this or this because they are taking heat from other MLAs across the province that P.A. got special treatment by declaring it is going to be a regional hospital,” he said.
“I’m not worried about that, we have proved our case, we are a regional hospital, no question about it. They should fund it. This year and next year I’ve got to tiptoe around with my requests because I’ve already got big savings.”
Whether that commitment will be a full rebuild or an expansion of the current site is undecided. A report is being prepared to set out both options.
“Both are being considered,” Harpauer told reporters Monday.
“I’ve heard that a lot of your hospital is in very good condition, but it needs to be bigger. Both possibilities are being explored as to what is going to be the best delivery as well as the most effective. It may be keeping apportion of the hospital and building new, or just building entirely new. Sometimes entirely new isn’t the only answer, especially if the building has some good life left in it.”