Almost two years after the Nova Scotia government announced the redevelopment of Halifax’s QEII Health Sciences Centre, those managing the project have yet to reveal an estimated price tag for what is expected to be one of the most expensive public-sector builds in the province’s recent history.
John O’Connor, a senior bureaucrat for the Transportation and Infrastructure Department, told a legislative committee Wednesday that about $40 million has been spent so far and about $138 million has been committed for future spending.
However, O’Connor told the public accounts committee the final budget is still being worked out.
“For the work I’m describing here, we’re not at the point where it can be shared,” said O’Connor, the department’s executive director of major projects.
That answer didn’t satisfy Progressive Conservative finance critic Tim Houston, who said the process appears to be taking a long time.
“I’m just waiting for a drum roll to get a number, but in the end I got no number,” Houston told the committee, which was meeting in the legislative chamber.
Paul LeFleche, the department’s deputy minister, said it wouldn’t make sense to reveal the number now because the government has yet to decide whether to use a public-private partnership (P3) model to get at least part of the job done.
“We don’t want to give out too many numbers before we get tenders in,” said LeFleche. “That’s never a good way to bargain.”
Gary Porter, the department’s executive director for corporate initiatives, told the committee that the P3 option is being considered for only two of the many sites that are part of the redevelopment project: expansion and renovation of the downtown Halifax Infirmary and construction of the new QEII Community Outpatient Centre in suburban Bayers Lake.
The provincial government announced plans for the five- to seven-year redevelopment project in April 2016.
A recommendation from Deloitte Canada on whether to proceed with the P3 option was expected in May, Porter said.
LeFleche said the P3 approach has been unfairly characterized by ideology and myths.
“P3 has been applied to may different types of builds,” he said, noting that his department was just finishing a P3 project approved by the province’s former NDP government: the trade centre portion of Halifax’s Nova Centre.
The trade and convention centre opened last December – almost two years behind schedule.
“In every major project – $100 million-plus – we must … examine whether it could be P3 or not. The expansion of the Dartmouth General Hospital, for example, was not handled through a P3 arrangement,” LeFleche said
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The Nova Scotia Federation of Labour and the provincial New Democrats have said the P3 model could inflate the cost of the project.
The sprawling hospital complex is the leading research, teaching and surgical care centre in Atlantic Canada and sees almost one million patient visits a year, including nearly 23,000 from New Brunswick, P.E.I., and Newfoundland and Labrador.
The redevelopment plan followed more than a decade of public pressure to do something about the QEII’s aging Victoria General Hospital site, which has been plagued by heating issues, rodents, bedbugs, foul water and floods.
As for the latest timing for the project, O’Connor said the proposed completion date is 2022 or beyond, which is reflected in a timeline the department has posted on its website.
The project includes the addition of four operating rooms and 48 beds at the Dartmouth General Hospital, which is expected to cost $138 million.
Another major component of the complex plan includes the demolition of the Centennial and Victoria buildings at the Victoria General site in Halifax beginning in 2022.