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Nova Scotia detours P3 model for ‘quicker’ way to build Cape Breton hospitals

NS Transportation & Infrastructure Renewal Minister Lloyd Hines speaks to reporters.
NS Transportation & Infrastructure Renewal Minister Lloyd Hines speaks to reporters. Jeremy Keefe / Global News

Nova Scotia has quietly reversed course on its plans to finance a large part of the Cape Breton hospital redevelopment through a public-private partnership, or P3, model.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Lloyd Hines says the province will use a traditional public design-build model.

“It was decided that we would be able to reach that objective quicker by using our conventional design-build arrangement,” Hines said.

The change comes nearly seven months after the province announced that a P3 model would allow it to tender the project as quickly as possible. Hines was unable to say when those plans changed, telling reporters that it’s been under consideration since April.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia chooses P3 process to build new health facilities in Cape Breton

“We have a lot of resources tied up in the P3 projects that we have underway currently so to some degree it’s a matter of capacity,” Hines said, referring to the QEII hospital redevelopment project in Halifax and the twinning of Highway 104 near Antigonish.

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The redevelopment project was announced back in June 2018.

It involves a major expansion of the Cape Breton Regional Hospital, including a new emergency department, and the closure of Emergency departments at the Northside General Hospital and the New Waterford Consolidated Hospital.

The hospitals in New Waterford and North Sydney will be replaced by community health centres that include services like after-hours clinics, family medicine, and long-term care. The New Waterford site will also include a high school.

Nova Scotia announces plan to close hospitals in Cape Breton
Nova Scotia announces plan to close hospitals in Cape Breton

The province has said construction of the new community health facilities will begin in the fall of 2020.

The Nova Scotia NDP has been critical of the Liberal government’s use of P3 projects in the past and is applauding the change.

“We’re glad to see this government change its mind and go with a traditional build for the health centres,” said NDP MLA Susan Leblanc in a statement.

“We’ve said all along that traditional builds are cheaper, can be faster, and are a better use of public funds.”

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Now, we’d like to see the same change of heart for the QEII redevelopment in Halifax and the Highway 104 twinning project.”

READ MORE: N.S. officials heckled as they announce plan to close two hospitals in Cape Breton, expand two others

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Hines says he’s not aware that the public financing model will produce any cost savings for the Cape Breton project. Cost estimates have not yet been made public.

“The decision that has been made here is about providing the best service in the most expedient way to the citizens,” Hines said.

The minister also noted it’s been years since the province built a healthcare facility, but it uses an internal design-build arrangement for other capital projects like schools.

“The expertise internally needs to be reinforced to be able to undertake this major capital expenditure,” he said.