Whitby Mayor hopes political interference not afoot as Pickering makes hospital play

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Published March 15, 2023 at 2:30 pm

Whitby Mayor Elizabeth Roy is not saying the fix is in on the location for Durham Region’s next hospital but she’s not betting the house the March 23 provincial budget will have good news for her community either.

That’s the day the Doug Ford government is supposed to award a $3 million planning grant to Lakeridge Health to get the ball rolling on a new hospital in Whitby following an exhaustive independent, expert selection process by the healthcare organization that chose Whitby over competing bids from Oshawa and Pickering.

The winning bid, for a site near Lakeridge Road and Hwy 407, on lands currently owned by the provincial transportation ministry, was announced more than 14 months ago. The ministry has agreed to sell the 50-acres site at market value to Whitby, provided the provincial government agrees to fund the new hospital there.

Whitby Mayor Elizabeth Roy

But recent political posturing by Pickering Mayor Kevin Ashe – a one-time provincial Conservative candidate – and radio silence from Whitby MPP Lorne Coe and Pickering-Uxbridge MPP Peter Bethlenfalvy (Ford’s Finance Minister) have put the winning site into question, leaving Roy with serious concerns.

“Am I confident the planning grant will be in the budget? No, I’m not,” Roy said. “But Durham residents can’t keep waiting. More than a year ago, Whitby was chosen as the preferred site through a fair, transparent process. Meanwhile, Pickering continues to push for the hospital to be located there.”

Roy said she is “hopeful” there is no political interference going on with MPPs who have the Premier’s ear – “the reason we had the ‘independent’ process was to make sure there was no political interference” – but is not brimming with confidence budget day will bring welcome news.

Ashe, for his part, questions the ‘expert’ part of the site selection panel, noting the hospital CEOs and health care leaders were comprised “entirely of individuals who live and work outside of Durham Region, and had no knowledge of our regional issues and challenges” and also expressed concerns with the “fundamental changes” that were made to the proposal criteria late in the process.

“I have a great deal of respect for Mayor Roy and I commend her for championing her community,” Ashe added. “I hope she can appreciate that I am doing the same for my city.”

If the provincial budget is released without any news of a planning grant for Lakeridge Health to get the project underway, Roy wonders what the point was of the entire taxpayer-funded site selection process.

“This won’t be just a loss for Whitby. This will be a loss for all of Durham Region for a hospital that has been needed for years,” Roy said, adding that it will take at least ten years for fundraising and planning before the hospital can be built.

Roy said her staff has set up a meeting with Coe on Friday but has no assurances any hospital questions will be answered.

“We keep getting told ‘it’s a process,’ but we haven’t received any positive news the (planning grant) will be part of the budget.”

In making its case for the new $1 billion hospital for the region, Lakeridge Health said it needs to add almost 1,000 in-patient beds over the next 25 years.

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