A new bridge and a new hospital in Prince Albert are on the agenda if the NDP win power this fall.
NDP leader Ryan Meili and four of his party’s regional candidates — Nicole Rancourt for Prince Albert Northcote, Troy Parenteau for Prince Albert Carlton, Lon Borgerson of Batoche and Lyle Whitefish of Saskatchewan Rivers — gathered for a press conference just south of the current hospital Wednesday to announce the two big-ticket promises for Prince Albert.
The announcement was Meili’s second of the day, as he unveiled a platform policy of increasing tax on everyone worth $15 million or more by one per cent during a stop in Saskatoon earlier in the day.
“It’s the second day of a very important election campaign … that gives people a very clear choice,” Meili said in Prince Albert.
“What we will do is put people first. We will put people first right here in Prince Albert. We’ll build a new bridge for Prince Albert and a new hospital, not just a glorified renovation as Scott Moe has promised.”
Meili said the projects will be built under the party’s Sask. First promise, which will prioritize contracts that are awarded to and built by Saskatchewan companies hiring Saskatchewan workers. He also said that those Saskatchewan workers will be making at least $15 an hour, his promise for the province’s new minimum wage, and not the lowest minimum wage in Canada.
In March of this year, the Saskatchewan Party announced a project in excess of $300 million to build a new tower onto the existing site of the Victoria Hosptial in Prince Albert and to renovate the existing building.
The project will be 100 per cent funded by the province, a promise Moe made when seeking Saskatchewan Party leadership in 2017.
The hospital project will see a 40 per cent increase in the number of beds, a newer, bigger emergency room, a rooftop helipad and an MRI machine.
Moe said during the announcement that the new and expanded hospital will include more space for ambulatory care, diagnostics and inpatient services. It will also have a new space for the delivery of mental health services and enhanced medical imaging.
“We know these improvements are required,” Moe said.
“They’re needed because this hospital is running at full capacity. It’s often running at more than full capacity. The people of Prince Albert, this region and the northern communities in this province will now have a hospital we all deserve.”
The multi-story addition includes a new acute care tower, replacement of the existing adult mental health space and renovations to the current facility. It’s expected to increase the number of beds to 242 on opening day, 69 more than the current 173 beds, with space to expand further as needed.
In March, Moe also rejected any notion that the addition was anything but a new hospital for Prince Albert.
“It is a new hospital,” he said. “There is a new hospital being built here and it’s expanded in its scope, it’s expanded in its capacity, it’s expanded in the services being provided. There are some bones of the existing hospital that will remain for the acute care portion … and we will be renovating that area as well so it will be like new.”
When the hospital was announced, Moe said that the current building is structurally sound. It’s smaller than what the city needs, but still serves its purpose and can still be used, he said.
Mayor Greg Dionne agreed.
“We do have a new hospital,” he said.
“It’s going to be a brand new building. It’s connected. I didn’t want this one to go with the fate of Holy Family. I’m into reusing and recycling because otherwise, it would have gone to our landfill. I’m really pleased they incorporated both.”
The NDP, though, says the project isn’t enough because it’s an expansion, not an entirely new hospital.
“It should be a new building, not just a renovation,” Meili said Wednesday.
“(Prince Albert citizens) don’t want this just fixed up. They want a new hospital that will meet the needs of Prince Albert and all of northern Saskatchewan.”
The area’s only NDP incumbent, Nicole Rancourt, said the 69-bed increase in capacity is far from sufficient.
“The people of Prince Albert have been saying that they want a new hospital,” she said.
“The renovations will not meet the needs of the capacity we have to have and a new hospital needs to be built in Prince Albert.”
In addition to serving surrounding communities, the hospital also has to accommodate future growth in the city, she argued. When pressed, the NDP did not give a number of beds they believe the new project should have, saying only that the determination should be made by speaking to local front line workers.
“We need to meet with those folks to decide what we need to have established here,” Rancourt said. “They’ve indicated that 60 additional beds are not going to meet the needs here.”
As for a second bridge crossing the North Saskatchewan River, Meili said a government led by his NDP would “put the resources in and get it built.
“This is essential infrastructure for the economic development of the area, for safety as people travel. We know that bridge is needed.”
He referenced the dozens of times Rancourt has stood up in the legislature to read petitions calling on the province to fund a second bridge in the city.
“We need to stop talking about it and get it built with Saskatchewan workers and Saskatchewan companies on the job.”
The estimated cost of such a project will be available once a costed platform is released, Meili said.
Several studies have been conducted scouting new locations and options for a second bridge in the city.
A Prince Albert and Area Second Bridge River Crossing Study released in 2013 gave two possible options for constructing a second bridge. The first would have cost a minimum of $120-million, while the second would cost around $153-million.
In a statement issued late Wednesday, the Saskatchewan Party responded to the NDP announcement.
“The NDP just made $650 million worth of spending promises with no disclosure of the costs and no explanation for how (they) are going to pay for it. This is on top of over $400 million of pre-election promises, driving their spending promises to well over $1 billion on day one of the campaign.”
The Sask. Party said a new hospital would cost about $500 million and a second bridge about $150 million.
They added that they have committed to funding a second bridge in the city if the project is cost-shared by the federal government.
The NDP has been anticipating attacks that their promises are too costly.
Speaking in Prince Albert to kick off the local campaign last week, Meili dismissed those concerns.
What Moe is really saying when he says the province can’t afford the Sask. Party, Meili said, is “he’s telling us we’re not worth it. He’s wrong. We are worth it and we can and we must invest in Saskatchewan people right now.”
Sask. Party and NDP propose tax changes
Both the Saskatchewan Party and NDP proposed tax changes during campaigning events in the province Wednesday.
Wednesday morning the NDP said they would introduce a wealth tax of one per cent on those with a net worth of over $15 million, a measure that would bring in an estimated $120 million annually to the general revenue fund. The party said the funds would be used to help pay for health care, smaller class sizes and expanded home care along with long-term care fixes.
The NDP said the proposal was endorsed by economist Angella MacEwan, a labour economist with the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
Meanwhile, the Saskatchewan Party promised a new Saskatchewan Home Renovation Tax credit that would allow homeowners to claim a 10.5 per cent tax credit on up to $20,000 of eligible home renovation expenses incurred between Oct. 1 2020 and Dec. 31, 2022, saving up to $2,100.
Eligible expenses would include permanent additions to the home, but not items such as furniture, appliances, hot tubs, tools or maintenance such as carpet and furnace cleaning.
The program has an estimated cost of $124 million over two years.
“That’s $124 million of direct savings to Saskatchewan people,” Saskatchewan Party leader Premier Scott Moe said. “It’s an incentive to spend, build and hire, which helps drive a strong recovery. This is on top of $7.5 billion in infrastructure investments over two years to build hospitals, schools and highways and support over 27,000 jobs in Saskatchewan. A strong economic recovery, more jobs and making life more affordable for Saskatchewan homeowners – it’s part of our plan for a strong Saskatchewan.”
The provincial election is set for Oct. 26.
- With files from Jason Kerr and Lucas Punkari