Government ducking its duties for a new hospital

There’s a lot to worry about over the prospects of a new hospital for Terrace, B.C., not the least is government refusing to plan.

There’s a lot to be worried about over the prospects of a new Mills Memorial Hospital.

Not the least of which is the reaction by provincial health minister Terry Lake in turning down repeated requests to move the project along to the business plan phase.

The minister readily concedes that a business plan to replace our hospital would save time and thus money. But he then goes on to caution us that it would not be prudent to spend money on such a plan “prior to confirming funding sources” for the project.

The government’s repeated objective is to save “taxpayers’ dollars.” It would therefore make eminent sense to proceed with a business plan for the redevelopment of our hospital as such a plan would, and the minister agrees, save time and money.

The minister’s advice that it would not be prudent to “invest significant resources in detailed planning prior to confirming funding sources” is nonsense.

How, other than through detailed planning, could a reasonably accurate budget for the redevelopment of our hospital be developed? It is absurd for the minister to claim that he cannot spend money on planning until he knows what the project will cost.

If funding a new hospital were an exclusively local responsibility there would be no need to appeal to the minister.

However, the main funding source for a major health care capital project is not the regional tax base it is the provincial tax base. It is the same provincial tax base which funds billboards erected to inform citizens that Highway 16 improvement work is done by the provincial government, billboards maintained long after the work is completed.

At issue is not the source of funds. Citizens, individually and through their businesses are the sole source of all government funds. At issue is the allocation of the funds the government collects to serve the public good. At issue are the expenditure priorities the government assigns in the shaping of the provincial budget.

Citizens know who pays for provincial highway improvements. We know that the repaving of Highway 16 and the Sande Overpass upgrade were not paid for by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The provincial government’s decision to install billboards to take credit for highway projects we pay for is not merely an insult to our intelligence; it is a waste of money – “taxpayers’ dollars” to use the government’s cherished terminology.

More disturbing is that billboards of the kind are an indicator of a government that has lost its reason for being.

I am not equating billboards with hospitals. I am suggesting that our government has lost all sense of its responsibilities and needs to re-examine its priorities.

Governments are not department stores; governments need not market their products as department stores do.

Hospitals, their infrastructure and their services, are a public good not economically, but in a social sense. It is nonsensical to claim that the citizens who ultimately pay for everything done by government cannot justify the cost of planning the replacement of their own hospitals!

The funds needed are available; the money is out there. The government has the constitutional power to generate the funds needed for a new hospital.

It can take money from society, citizens and corporations. That is what we pay taxes for. The government has a political responsibility to take a critical look at, and, if need be, to re-arrange its spending priorities. That is what accountability means.

Careful evaluation of the options will produce a solution. It is irresponsible to treat the need to replace a 50-plus year old hospital in the way a citizen would treat the need to replace an old TV set – can’t afford it just now.

The growth in our economy from 1961 to the present has kept up with inflation. We could afford to build a hospital in 1961 and we can afford to build a new one now.

The community should take the minister’s stand as a call to action. Our provincial government must be brought to recognize its purpose and responsibilities.

Retired public sector administrator Andre Carrel lives in Terrace, B.C.