Alberta government halts construction work on superlab site in Edmonton

Click to play video: 'Alberta superlab project approved by NDP now on hold'
Alberta superlab project approved by NDP now on hold
WATCH ABOVE: Construction on a major project approved by the NDP has been halted. As Tom Vernon reports, news about the superlab in Edmonton comes as the province transitions to a UCP government – Apr 22, 2019

The province has paused work at the construction site of the planned $590-million superlab in south Edmonton.

The lab was supposed to be built on government land adjacent to the University of Alberta south campus, just west of 113 Street, south of Belgravia Road.

During the election campaign, Premier-designate Jason Kenney vowed the medical superlab approved by the NDP would be scrapped if the United Conservatives were voted in.

READ MORE: Alberta UCP leader would scrap medical superlab planned for Edmonton

Lab services, estimated to cost the government $768 million a year, are currently delivered under a patchwork of public and private testing agencies.

The NDP government wanted to put all those services under the control of one agency, to be called Alberta Public Laboratories, which would be a wholly-owned subsidiary of Alberta Health Services.

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On March 11, Kenney said it would be a bureaucratic “boondoggle” to reorganize lab tests that were already handled effectively by the private sector. He also said the UCP would revisit the entire plan to put all laboratory services under government control.

Several sources told Global News Monday that subcontractors were told to clear off the construction site and that work had been suspended.

Then, a government spokesperson confirmed the decision, telling Global News: “To minimize costs incurred before a new government has the opportunity to review the lab hub project, a decision has been made to pause construction.”

Construction site of NDP-approved superlab. April 22, 2019. Dave Carels, Global News
Construction site of NDP-approved superlab. April 22, 2019. Dave Carels, Global News
Construction site of NDP-approved superlab. April 22, 2019. Dave Carels, Global News
Construction site of NDP-approved superlab. April 22, 2019. Dave Carels, Global News

Under the previous NDP plan, all lab testing would be funnelled through two major hubs by 2022 — the Edmonton superlab and a facility at Calgary Cancer Centre.

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The majority of tests in the Edmonton region are handled by private provider DynaLife. Its contract with the province runs until 2022. After that, the NDP had planned to buy out the company for $50 million. Kenney said he would scrap that deal, too.

READ MORE: Alberta clarifies $3B super-lab plan

The Health Sciences Association of Alberta, Alberta Union of Provincial Employees and then-health minister criticized the UCP plan.

Sarah Hoffman, who held her seat for the NDP in the April 16 election, said in March said Kenney’s plan was “short-sighted and wrongheaded,” especially given that the Health Quality Council of Alberta had urged in a recent report that the publicly funded superlab model was the best for patients.

Watch below (March 13): The battle lines over Alberta’s health-care system are being drawn between the NDP and UCP. The system will take centre stage when session begins next week. Tom Vernon reports.

Click to play video: 'Alberta NDP prepping health care bill when legislature resumes sitting'
Alberta NDP prepping health care bill when legislature resumes sitting

In a news release Tuesday, the organization Friends of Medicare said Albertans would end up paying for “the UCP’s fiscally irresponsible political gimmick to quash public laboratory services.”

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“Given that Premier-designate Jason Kenney has already indicated that he would reverse the building of a public laboratory, we know that ‘review’ is simply rhetoric for the ideologically driven privatization of an integral part of our health care system,” the group said.

“Even before the new government is sworn in, we see the first glimpse of what is to come,” Executive Director Sandra Azocar said.

— With files from Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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