While the Aug. 24 announcement from Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews is encouraging news for redevelopment of St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital, it has led to some confusion for area residents in the countdown to the Oct. 6 provincial vote.
Several readers have contacted this corner to question whether the project will proceed should the Dalton McGuinty government be shown the door in three week’s time.
In other words, is the $100-million-plus undertaking a go, no matter what?
City Scope went right to the source this week and talked with the main contenders running in Elgin-Middlesex-London.
The general consensus? The funding announcement has been met with a heaping dose of collective skepticism.
PC hopeful Jeff Yurek advises while party leader Tim Hudak has no concrete plan to match the Liberal largesse at this point, he will make the hospital a priority if elected and the Tories unseat McGuinty.
“I can’t really commit to anything, but we’ve talked about our $35 billion infrastructure program in the first three years and the hospital is eligible to go after some of that money,” Yurek notes.
“Dalton has promised a lot of funding throughout the province, including new hospitals and additions,” he adds. “He’s got a lot on his plate to spend money on and he’s either going to start raising taxes or putting off projects. He didn’t really care about St. Thomas over the last few years and I don’t think he’s going to start.
“We’re going to prioritize everything and I think I have an excellent argument that we’ve lost so many jobs and the hospital is going to be the second highest employer, so we definitely need to keep this hospital going.
“I’m a healthcare professional and that’s going to help with my argument. October 7th is when I start to work to get this funding going.”
NDP candidate Kathy Cornish admits the party has not looked specifically at bringing $100 million to St. Thomas for the hospital, however she charges the Libs are creating “havoc” in the community.
“It’s my understanding this is the second time the hospital had to go through hoops and the second time they’ve hired consultants to put together a plan and submitted it to the Liberal government,” she points out.
“It’s been over a year since they submitted it. My fear is the Liberal government is playing havoc with St. Thomas and the surrounding community in the sense that it’s ‘vote for us and you can have this.’ And at the same time, it’s still not guaranteed it’s going to be, even if they were re-elected.”
As to the $12 million that has to be raised in the community to secure the project, Cornish suggests that borders on “a pipe dream.”
“In reality how easy is that going to be when you look at the base we have lost in jobs? It’s almost like it’s a pipe dream.
“However, if I was elected, absolutely I would carry that torch forward, I do know how important the hospital is for this community.”
Paul McKeever is the leader of the Freedom Party, which is fielding at least 60 candidates in the provincial vote. He’s also carrying the party flag in Elgin-Middlesex-London.
He’s quick to voice his cynicism.
“I’m hesitant to answer this question because I’m of a doubtful mind the money is actually there from the province,” he suggests.
“So many promises get made of this sort. Every time I see an announcement like this at election time I get very cynical about it.
“But, I’m of the view if the preceding government has made the promise, it’s the obligation of the next government to hold it, even if they have to hold their nose when doing it.
“In this case, I don’t have to hold my nose because I think it’s a worthwhile project and it certainly seems the population is willing to raise the money.”
McKeever continues, “They always poll education, health care and the economy as the big issues. My reading on all those poll numbers is not that they’re election issues, but rather they’re the things people would most fear losing.
“And at election time, nobody really actually believes, no matter what party they’re from, they could fix something that’s so multidimensional as healthcare or education. They’re looking at an election for things they find personally relevant, that they understand so they can feel passionate about it in one way or another, and that they believe the government can actually achieve. And, it’s that last thing that makes smaller things election issues.”
A tantalizing carrot on a stick for voters, however is the money actually forthcoming?
There are several all-candidate meetings in the works, are you willing to hold all parties accountable on hospital redevelopment?
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“There’s too much at stake. People out there need the United Way and we can’t let them down.”
Paul Shaffer, United Way of Elgin-St. Thomas executive director, at Thursday’s announcement of this year’s $700,000 campaign target.
City Scope appears Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org.Follow @ianscityscope