In the last few weeks talk has turned to the future of the current Stanton Territorial Hospital.
Although the territorial government has brainstormed a number of acceptable uses for the old building, redevelopment will ultimately be the responsibility of a private sector company due to an agreement made with Boreal Health Partnership, which is constructing and operating the new facility.
Some possible options include medical and dental offices, pharmacies, assisted living or accommodations for hospital staff. Other possibilities include space for restaurants, hair salons, gyms, or a child care.
Recently, Kam Lake incumbent David Ramsay suggested converting the building into a mental health and addictions centre during a territorial elections forum. All of these ideas are no doubt well-intentioned, but the question remains: why exactly do we need a new building anyway?
Up until a few months ago, the GNWT said it would be expanding the existing hospital over five years, doubling its size to 24,000 square metres. Then in October, with little pomp or ceremony, it revealed it would instead be constructing an entirely new facility.
The project went from an estimated cost of $200 million in 2011 to its current $350 million price tag and the reasoning was bluntly chocked up to economic sensibility. With the GNWT clawing back funding across the board and constantly reiterating how strapped for cash it is, what other initiative will lose to make up that extra money? How will it pay staff for the new positions at the hospital and those in this new facility – whatever it may be – as well? Is it forgetting the mounting upgrades the current hospital requires – the very reason a new hospitable was needed in the first place. Will there be money set aside to bring the building up to the standard it needs to be at in order to accommodate any one of those suggestions? Or will it be left empty as has been the case with other former GNWT buildings.
This isn't the first time the territorial government has embarked on major projects with escalating and unexplained costs. Most recent examples are the Deh Cho Bridge and the Inuvik-Tuktoyuktuk highway.
Given that a new crop of MLAs are set to be elected to the legislative assembly, the GNWT needs to provide justification for any decision to further burden taxpayers. Overspending without explanation never makes economic sense.