At a turning point

January 28, 2016 – Minister Catherine McKenna expresses concern about the lack of paperwork leading to the November 2014 “gift” of 60 acres of the Experimental Farm.  She agrees that Ottawa needs a new hospital but will look at all the options — CBC News story & video. An overwhelming number of the large number of comments consider this very good news.  More on the Heritage Ottawa web site.

January 29 –  TOH Chief of staff Dr. Jeff Turnbull responds:  He will leave the decision about where to build a new facility to replace the century-old Civic campus “up to the politicians.”

Documents obtained through Access to Information reveal more about the weak basis for The Hospital to conclude that the CEF was the preferred choice.

2 February – Julie Gelfand, the federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, notes that no strategic environmental assessment was done for the transfer of 60 acres of the CEF for a hospital — report by Mike de Souza in the National Observer (with video).

NEWSFLASH – 10 February – Various news media report that The Ottawa Hospital is taking another look at whether the Experimental Farm land across the road is the best option for its new Civic campus. (Ottawa Citizen; CBC Radio).  Said Heritage Ottawa’s Leslie Maitland: “I think what didn’t happen in 2007 was a complete understanding of the scientific and historic significance of the farm.” (More about the basis for preferring that site here.)  “There are other potential sites for the hospital so that we could end up with a win-win situation in which the hospital gets the site it needs, and the farm can continue to conduct the important research that it does,” said Maitland.

Public meetings about a new site for the Hospital are expected to start on March 7.

11 February – The case for Field No. 1 as the site for a new Civic Hospital campus is now unraveling fast:

+ Yesterday, CEO Jack Kitts, seemingly unaware of his failed logic, was quoted as saying: “We’ve listened to those in the community who have asked we study and re-confirm that that choice still remains the best option. As a result, we will review it, and conduct the appropriate due diligence to confirm that the recommended site remains the best option. We will also study whether new options might have become available.” (Ottawa Citizen, Feb 10, 7 a.m.)

+ Withing 12 hours that became a pledge to study four options and that the re-evaluation is just beginning. (Ottawa Citizen, Feb 10, 7 p.m.)

Also today, former Minister John Baird sent an email to the Ottawa Citizen, saying the Hospital “asked for my help as regional political minister.”

The CBC reports, supported by a document obtained under Access to Information, that the failure to consult scientists and the CEF’s Advisory Council was part of a deliberate strategic plan. This comes as no surprise to those who have followed this story from the beginning (Julie Harris, November 2014).

The Hospital story made it on the CBC Television News, starting at the 32:19 mark.  Includes a clip with Pete Anderson.

From Kelly Egan in the Ottawa Citizen, a scathing comment on this and other issues, saying “we are witnessing the Death of Dialogue.”

To round out the day, tomorrow’s editorial in the Ottawa Citizen, “Hospital bosses, heal thyselves,” says it’s a mystery why it took the Hospital so long to arrange for a public feedback session, “since this could have avoided some obvious pitfalls and perhaps even produced a compromise everyone could live with. … Instead, the hospital managed to alarm scientists, annoy local politicians and provoke a group of angry citizens…”

12 February – TOH issued an invitation to various groups today to participate in a Public Consultation Committee.  Key phrase: “We are committed to a comprehensive and meaningful public consultation process regarding the DESIGN [emphasis added] of the new Civic Campus and the engagement process will provide an opportunity for the community to participate in the creation…”   As if yesterday did not happen. The ineptitude is hard to fathom — dilettante planners, deaf communicators.

13 February – Leslie Maitland, on behalf of the Coalition, issued this statement in response:

The Coalition to Protect the Central Experimental Farm has been stating at every opportunity that consultation on design is premature and meaningless until the site selection has been finalized. The actual legal transfer of the land to the Ottawa Hospital has not been made, the whole process and outcome is being questioned, and we are told is being reviewed by the Federal government. Why is The Hospital proceeding with design consultation at this time?

17 February – A speech by TOH’s CEO, Dr. Jack Kitts, at an Ottawa Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting today, began with a self-characterization as “a pretty good doctor, perhaps even a somewhat better than average Hospital CEO” followed by a rhetorical “but politics?” Then came an apology:

I want to start with an apology for allowing the issue of where we build our great new hospital to overshadow the far more important question of how the new hospital will transform peoples’ lives.

His appearance spawned four news stories, which all headlined or noted the apology: The Ottawa Business Journal, CBC News, the Ottawa Citizen (with video excerpt) and the Ottawa Sun.   In the Citizen’s story Elisabeth Payne writes: “Meanwhile, groups that oppose building on the Experimental Farm say they are still getting mixed signals about how serious the hospital is about considering other sites than the farm. Some representatives of Heritage Ottawa and other groups have been invited to a “comprehensive and meaningful public consultation process regarding the design of the new Civic campus,” with no mention of consulting about the hospital’s location.”

Excerpts from Dr. Kitts’ speech are here (in the Feb 21 Ottawa Citizen). They outline his vision for a new hospital.  Julie Harris comments on-line:

The Civic occupies an outdated building, but the adhoc nature of the additions and new buildings has added to the institution’s woes. Those decisions rested on a powerful illusion, possibly stoked by other interests, that the federal government would eventually hand over federal property. The hospital made many plays for land on the Central Experimental Farm, but it was rebuffed time after time, with the only wins being the widening of Carling Avenue, which affected the Farm more than the hospital, and the installation of the helipad on Farm land. But, the problem doesn’t rest entirely with the hospital. We are a city of nearly 1 million people that hasn’t planned for the siting of a new hospital. That’s a reflection on us, more than the Civic.

The CBC News story reiterates the four options TOH is now considering that were already described by Elisabeth Payne in her Ottawa Citizen story of February 10: Tunney’s Pasture | the Central Experimental Farm at 930 Carling Ave, the site of the Sir John Carling Building (demolished in 2014) | The current site of the Civic hospital | A reconfigured spot on the Central Experimental Farm west of the original proposal, “to minimize impact on research soil.”

19 February – In a meeting with the editorial board of the Ottawa Citizen, Minister McKenna stated that she would like to see some formal protection for the Central Experimental Farm — something that mere Heritage status does not provide.  On the Hospital’s proposal, she said “she wants the hospital’s executives to go right back to the beginning and justify the need to build a hospital at all” (as reported by David Reevely).  Her office later confirmed that the formal land transfer had not yet taken place.

Elisabeth Payne reports that Lisa MacLeod, MPP for Nepean-Carleton, has opined that the government is playing politics with the issue, claiming that the provincial timelines are being interfered with.  Comments on the Citizen’s web site point out her failure to deal with the evidence.

Susan Sherring in the Ottawa Sun also writes after McKenna’s encounter with the editorial board.  While the thrust of her column lies elsewhere, she does also write: “In speaking about The Ottawa Hospital and its plans for Experimental Farm land, McKenna is quite clear what happened. “Unfortunately there was a poor process. There was a government that for some reason didn’t consult with community and that ended up with a poor process.”  It’s also clear that, in her mind, McKenna has ruled out the Experimental Farms for hospital development though, of course, she won’t say that exactly. “I do have concerns about the farm as a location,” she said.”

20 February – The Coalition wrote to Jean-Pierre Boisclair, Chair of the Champlain LHIN Board of Directors, drawing attention to the issues surrounding CEF land as the location for a new hospital.  Within days the Coalition received a letter from Chantale LeClerc, CEO of the LHIN, stating that everything is still in the early stages but also noting that “It is not within the ministry’s mandate to weigh the significance of institutions that do not deliver health services, in its review of siting options.”  A month later came a reply from the Board Chair.  It quoted CEO LeClerc stating in the Ottawa Citizen of 10 February 2016 that “…we would be open to any feasible site in central Ottawa.

21 FebruaryElisabeth Payne reports in the Citizen that, besides Ottawa, also looking for funding to build a new hospital are Windsor, the Niagara region, Vaughan, Scarborough, Durham and Muskoka.  Windsor and Niagara appear to be most advanced in their planning.  In an on-line comment Peter Anderson writes:

We would have been laps ahead of Windsor if the Ottawa Hospital did a complete site assessment, with public consultations as they only want public lands at nominal leases, back in 2007. Unfortunately they skipped entire steps in that process nine years ago. Then seemingly sat on their hands for 8 years between when they were told they couldn’t have the land they wanted in January 2008 and when Baird gave it to them in November 2014 without performing any due diligence–at least nothing that got written down.

And in a letter to the editor (published on Feb 25) Leslie Maitland writes:

There are two significant differences between how Windsor is handling its hospital project and how The Ottawa Hospital is.

Windsor held public consultations on the choice of site, and its citizens are paying for the land. The Ottawa Hospital started its site selection process nearly nine years ago. If it had been willing to hold public consultations, the hospital would probably have a site by now. 

The hospital also has been holding out for free public land. Land that is free to the hospital is not free to the taxpayers, who are asked to subsidize a municipal hospital through the loss of public property, which has other values.

The hospital wants a world-class medical facility, but on land that is already a world-class research institution, which is a significant public benefit to the citizens of Canada. We can get a win-win if the hospital agrees to build its world-class medical facility elsewhere.

(Note: Several on-line comments from Windsor residents call the consultation process there a sham, however.  For more on this, go here.  Go here for a media release from the citizens’ group CAMPP.)

29 February – “Stop Coveting the Farm” says Peter Anderson in today’s Citizen.  Have “real consultation on the pros and cons of various alternatives,” responds Gordon Vachon in a letter to the editor (March 2), don’t take any off the table.

3 MarchMark Sutcliffe, in the Ottawa Citizen, opines that getting a new Hospital dwarfs Lebreton Flats and the LRT in importance for the city. He writes:

If we send a message to all levels of government, through our words and our philanthropic dollars, that we want to be leaders in health care, we can have the hospital we want, not the one that Queen’s Park thinks we deserve.”  However, this opportunity ” has been overshadowed by a debate over location.

He continues:

A bit more public consultation would be welcome, of course, but ultimately if a fair process determines the best place for the hospital is the Experimental Farm, let’s not let politics get in the way. The facility would use only a small percentage of the farm. Perhaps the current site of the Civic campus could be converted to green space to offset the development.

Erwin Dreessen comments on-line:

Fully agree that a modern hospital is a very important, if not the most important project for Ottawa (and let’s not forget it is to serve all of Eastern Ontario).  Also agree that politics should not get in the way.  But that’s precisely what went wrong with the decision to choose the Experimental Farm as a location.  The Ottawa Hospital had the most powerful local politician in the bag and figured that was good enough. The decision ignored the long term and by its nature immovable research that is ongoing at the Central Experimental Farm. … After having been told in 2008 in no uncertain terms that the CEF’s land was not available, TOH’s leadership did nothing to look for alternatives.  Instead, seven years later, it trotted out the same shoddy analysis to justify its preference for Field No. 1. They are now the victims of their own incompetence and reliance on backroom deals. Let’s settle the location issue first, then start dreaming about the hospital Ottawa deserves.


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