Pickering Mayor takes aim at selection process, jumps back in race for new hospital

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Published March 15, 2023 at 3:53 pm

Pickering has thrown its hat back into the ring for a new hospital for the Region, despite an independent review in 2021 that declared Whitby as the best site for the $1 billion facility.

Pickering Mayor Kevin Ashe claims the process in selecting the site, deliberately performed by hospital CEOs and health care leaders from outside Durham to avoid any political interference, was not “fair and transparent” because it was done by people outside of Durham Region, with “no knowledge of our regional issues and challenges such as growth, development, and infrastructure.”

Ashe said Pickering also takes issue with the panel’s conclusion the Whitby site could be serviced sooner. “That’s definitely not the case. In terms of broadband, water, and sewer, these infrastructure services would have to come through via Seaton and our Innovation Corridor, which would pass by Pickering’s preferred hospital site first before it would reach Whitby.”

Ashe believes Pickering has an “obligation” to locate the next hospital here as the city has long been projected as one of Ontario’s pre-eminent growth leaders over the next 20 years. As well, he added, “the Province has deemed that Pickering will be Durham Region’s most populous municipality” by the end of that time period.

Ashe also had concerns about “fundamental changes” that were made to the site selection criteria at the “eleventh hour.”

Pickering Mayor Kevin Ashe

“We were never formally notified of these changes, which has caused us to question the transparency of the process,” he said. “And if we’re going to commit to the tenets of fairness and transparency, these should not just apply to the process, but more importantly, to the decision as well. We asked Lakeridge Health to release the Expert Panel’s bid evaluation and scoring, but it has declined to do so. Why?”

“If Lakeridge Health is asking the Province of Ontario to commit to a billion dollar project, we believe that it should allow the public to see how the Expert Panel chose one site over another. And that’s the thrust of the matter.”

The Whitby site is located between highways 407 and 7 and between Lakeridge Road and Hwy 412. The proposed Pickering site is nearby in the area of Salem Road and Hwy 407 on lands one prominent environmentalist called a “catastrophically poor location” because of its proximity to the headwaters of Carruthers Creek.

Ashe, however, took aim at the Whitby preferred site, pointing out it is on lands owned by the provincial transport ministry and will cost about $50 million to purchase. The lands to be used by Pickering will be donated “for free” by developers, he said.

“I’m not sure if all of the proponents of the Whitby site realize that their taxpayers will be on the hook to pay for these lands. In this era of housing affordability, inflation, supply chain chaos, and spiraling cost of living, we urge the Government of Ontario to do the right thing and choose the site where the lands are being donated for free, because every dollar counts.”

Ashe also claimed the panel didn’t factor in economic development and employment growth, noting that 35,000 new jobs are projected for the Innovation Corridor and those workers will need “direct access” to hospitals and health care.

“It is wholly within the Province’s purview to take a macro look at the situation and consider all key factors such as growth projections, economic and business development opportunities, employment growth, infrastructure, site servicing, location and cost controls.”

Whitby Mayor Elizabeth Roy said the provincial budget due March 23 is supposed to contain an announcement of a $3 million planning grant to get the process started in building the new hospital in her town but does not have any confidence there will be good news for Whitby that day. The fact Provincial Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy is also Ashe’s MPP is “concerning,” but Roy is hopeful there will be no political interference in the final site selection.

Ashe, meanwhile, said he has a “great deal of respect for Mayor Roy” and commends her for “championing her community” and hopes she understands he is doing the same for his.

“Ultimately, we can both agree that critical capital investment in new and existing Lakeridge Health facilities is desperately needed, and that a new hospital is essential for all the communities in Durham Region so that people can continue to access high- quality, advanced care close to home.”

Pickering’s proposed site for a new hospital in Durham

 

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