TERRACE city council members head down to Victoria next week with the need for a new Mills Memorial Hospital at the top of their ‘to do’ list, among other things.
They’ll be there for the Union of B.C. Municipalities annual convention Sept. 26-30 but it’s also the occasion for local governments to lobby Premier Christy Clark, her cabinet ministers and senior provincial bureaucrats on specific issues.
As of late last week, city officials here were waiting for confirmation of who council members could expect to speak with while in Victoria.
But Clark herself opened the door slightly to the subject of either a new Mills or a substantial renovation of its existing structure when she was in Terrace Sept. 12, by acknowledging what has been widely regarded about the state of the 1950s structure, namely that it’s inadequate.
“I agree Mills Memorial needs an upgrade. There’s no question about that,” she said at an event held at Northwest Community College’s longhouse to announce her choice of Haisla chief councillor Ellis Ross being the B.C. Liberal candidate for Skeena in next spring’s provincial election.
Clark also gave a firm ‘no’ when asked if a new Mills was first conditional to the establishment of a regional liquefied natural gas industry with the subsequent expectation of economic growth and an expansion of the population.
That’s something which local elected and other officials had been lead to believe by officials in Victoria as they’ve pressed the case for a new Mills.
But Clark did refer to community growth leading to “a much bigger expansion or a much bigger change than we anticipated,” regarding any plans for a new Mills.
If not a construction decision, locally elected officials are looking for approval to commission a business case study for a new hospital, a document that would begin to put exact costs and scope to the project.
It’s this document, which would take more than a year to complete, that would guide the provincial government to a final expenditure decision.
The North West Regional Hospital District, made up of representatives from the three northwestern regional districts, which would pay for 40 per cent of a new hospital through property taxes, and it told the province last fall it was willing to finance a business case study all on its own.
But the province turned down that idea last fall, something which was reaffirmed by provincial health minister Terry Lake in a letter sent this May to the regional hospital district.
“It would not be prudent to invest significant resources in detailed planning prior to confirmed funding sources for a major capital investment,” he wrote.
Lake, Clark and other cabinet ministers were the recipients in mid-June of letters from the regional hospital district, again offering to finance a business case study on its own.
Those letters did state a new hospital would be needed based on the prospects, which have diminished since June, of a regional liquefied natural gas industry.
It’s that connection of a new Mills hinging first on the establishment of a liquefied natural gas industry, which Clark has apparently now broken.
Terrace mayor Carol Leclerc, who introduced Clark at the Ellis Ross candidate announcement event, said she and council members hope to meet with Clark next week in Victoria.
“I think we just need to keep at it,” said Leclerc of the lobby for a new hospital.
At the very least, Leclerc said, council members will be backing the hospital district’s offer to finance a business case study.
“This is a Number One priority for [the] Northern Health [Authority],” said Leclerc of its major project list.
Leclerc also said she felt Clark was caught off guard when the subject of a new Mills was raised during her Sept. 12 visit here for the Ellis Ross announcement.