Alberta budget: Calgary cancer centre delayed, Edmonton hospital funding falls short

CALGARY – October’s provincial budget confirms the NDP government’s promise to build a new cancer centre for Calgary, but the much-needed facility will miss a 2020 target for completion, Alberta Health officials confirmed.

The project is now expected to open in the 2023-2024 year.  The $830 million set aside for the stand-alone cancer facility falls $470,000 short of the estimated cost.

But a Calgary group that fought fiercely for the construction of the hospital applauded the news that it’s is finally moving forward.

“This is a great news day — never before have we had such a financial commitment to a full build of a comprehensive cancer centre in Calgary,” said John Osler with Concerned Citizens for the Calgary Cancer Centre (C5).  “We are delighted.”

Osler acknowledged “unprecedented economic challenges that did not exist when Premier Redford suggested a 2020 completion date,” adding that the extent of Alberta’s money troubles was unknown when Health Minister Sarah Hoffman expressed her hope that the 2020 completion date could be met.

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Two Edmonton facilities in dire need of repair—the Royal Alexandra and Misericordia hospitals—will each see just $10 million for planning, when the suggested overhaul cost for the Royal Alex alone is $4.5 billion.

The health facility funding is part of a capital plan that invests $2.2 billion to build and expand health facilities and equipment over the next five years. The plan also includes $4.4 billion over five years for “new projects and programs to be included in future capital plans.”

“There is a substantial portion of the health budget unallocated,” said Finance Minister Joe Ceci Tuesday. “We’re going to put that through the lens of: what’s needed? Is it the best capital to spend for the money? So we’ve reserved a significant part of the increase that we plan to put in this province…for the right time.”

Watch below: ‘It was challenging’: Finance Minister Joe Ceci on putting together Alberta budget 2015

Initial estimates from the PC government pegged the cost of an all-under-one-roof Calgary cancer centre at $1.3 billion, a price tag that current Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said might be exaggerated.

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Hoffman said in July she weighed all options and decided Foothills Medical Centre was the best site at which to build the cancer centre. She said she thinks it’s possible to build the centre for less than the $1.3 billion originally budgeted when the project was announced by Alison Redford’s Progressive Conservative government two years ago.

“Cancer patients, their families and their caregivers deserve certainty that this government is committed to the Calgary Cancer Centre,” said Hoffman in July. “With cancer rates expected to rise in Alberta by as much as 60 per cent in the next 15 years, this new centre will be integral to meeting cancer care needs in our province.”

READ MORE: Patients press Notley for campaign promise of one-stop cancer hospital

Global News was first to report that former premier Jim Prentice was canceling the plan to build the cancer centre at Foothills last year. Former health minister Stephen Mandel said low oil prices meant the money to build the project was no longer available. During the provincial election campaign, Prentice rolled out a scaled-down plan to build a centre on two sites—at the South Health Campus hospital and at Foothills—but that wasn’t what advocates were calling for.

A number of people have been fighting ever since to bring the original project back to life, including the Concerned Citizens for the Calgary Cancer Centre.

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In Edmonton, the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation sounded the alarm over the declining state of the 1960s-built main facility in its 2013-14 Report to the Community. It said “aging infrastructure” makes it difficult to maintain operations at an emergency department that handles more surgeries than any other Alberta hospital. The PC government was also under fire to replace the 45-year-old Misericordia, which has been plagued with problems including floods.

READ MORE: Calgary group launches petition demanding one-stop cancer hospital

Watch below: ‘Some realism in this budget would be good’: Wildrose leader reacts to Alberta budget 2015

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