Adam: City must say how it will pay its share of new hospital

Other cities have found different ways to advance hospital projects, and Ottawa must do the same.

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The big unanswered question hanging over the $2.8 billion new Civic Hospital campus is where to find the local share of the costs, and how much the city should contribute.

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While residents squabbled over things like the parking garage, LRT connection, and even location, the main issue was ignored. It shouldn’t be any longer.

According to senior planner Sean Moore, the planning committee will adopt the Civic master plan on Oct. 1. The point is, there’s a $700 million local share out there, and now’s the time to discuss what the city’s role should be before the matter goes to council. The city just can’t put the whole burden on the shoulders of Ottawa Hospital. The new super hospital is by definition a city-defining project, and the municipality has a responsibility to help find the funds to pay for it. These kinds of challenges are not new in Ontario. Other cities in similar situations have emerged. Ottawa can do no less.

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The crux of the problem, of course, is that Ontario is not paying the full cost of building hospitals. It pays 90 percent; the remaining 10 percent, as well as other costs, including new equipment and furniture, are a local responsibility. For the Civic, Ontario is contributing $2.1 billion, leaving that $700 million mountain to climb. The Ottawa Hospital projects would come mostly from parking revenues of $300 million, leaving $400 million to raise from the community.

In the best of times it would be no small feat to raise this kind of money locally. In the era of COVID-19, when companies struggle to survive and philanthropists are implicitly hurt, it seems like a Mission Impossible. Indeed, this is too great a task to leave to hospital fundraisers and the benevolence of the residents. Other cities have found different ways to advance hospital projects, and Ottawa must do the same.

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Windsor-Essex, which, like Ottawa, is in the planning stages of a new $2 billion hospital, has a special levy on property taxes to cover the local portion of the $200 million cost. The City of Windsor will raise $108.5 million, while Essex County will contribute $91.5 million.

In Niagara, the regional council has pledged $44.5 million to contribute to the $212 million local share of the South Niagara Hospital, which is expected to open in 2026. A contribution is also expected from municipal authorities. The regional council also contributed $21 million to a .’s local share hospital in St. Catharines .

Also in Brampton in 2013, the city imposed a tax rate of 3.3 percent over several years to raise the local $60 million stake in Peel Memorial hospital.

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In Oakville however, the city took a different path . It contributed $130 million to Trafalgar Memorial hospital’s $2.7 billion local share in 2015, and raised $90 million through debt financing and $40 million from the sale of its Hydro telecom subsidiary.

Several Ontario cities have shown that there are different financial options for completing hospital projects. If other cities can recognize the value of such projects and help them move forward, there’s no reason why that recognition should go unnoticed by Mayor Jim Watson and the City Council.

Yes, Watson has made lower taxes the hallmark of his mayoral career, and Ottawa residents are no doubt grateful that the tax hikes have stayed within the range of two to three percent. But a city doesn’t thrive just by keeping taxes low. As a property taxpayer, do I want higher taxes? Absolutely not. But we all recognize our responsibility for the greater good, and if that means paying for the Civic, so be it.

There are undoubtedly other paths to take. But on the Civic, the city can’t be a bystander. It must come up with a plan to support the hospital, as other cities have done with their projects. Failure to do so would be a breach of duty.

Mohammed Adam is an Ottawa journalist and commentator. Reach him at: [email protected]

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