Less posturing, less fog and misleading comments on what the provincial budget will mean to the JBMH re-development.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  March 24, 2012  It would be nice to know that there has been a meeting that involved senior people at city hall and senior people at the hospital and ideally our provincial MPP,  where they attempted to set out what the options for the city  and its hospital are when the provincial budget is released on Tuesday.

The likelihood of Jane McKenna being at the table are slim – she has been left out of the loop having to do with the hospital.  Senior staff at Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital rely on Ancaster – Dundas – Flamborough – Westdale  MPP Ted McMeekin to speak for them and plead their case.

The provincial government commissioned a document that came to be known as the Drummond Report.  The purpose of the report was to tell the government where savings could be found and point to some possible directions for the government.  One decision was to sell the LCBO warehouse on the waterfront in Toronto but it went much deeper than small cosmetic changes. The report made it  very clear:  there had to be very deep and significant cuts in spending which were set out in the 346 recommendations made in the 945 page two volume report.

Premier Dalton McGuinty made it clear that he was not going to cut classroom sizes nor was he prepared to ease up on all day kindergarten plans.  He was prepared to ask teachers to get by without a pay raise for two years but that was as far as he was prepared to go with education cuts..

It was clear that infrastructure spending was going to be cut and that hospital construction was going to feel the impact.  Pre budget comments from anyone is more than a “mugs” game; budget leaks are a no, no and anyone who says they have spoken to someone “who knows” is spinning fog and deliberately misleading.

There have been reports that Mario Joanette, vice president communications knows for sure that the Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital re-development is not going to be included in the cuts.  Joanette just doesn’t know that for certain.   The only way he could know is if Treasurer Jim Flaherty whispered the words in his ear, and if that whispering took place on St. Patrick’s Day then it doesn’t count.  Joanette, like everyone else, will know what is going to happen by the end of the day on Tuesday, when the budget is read out in the provincial Legislature.

If the re-development of the hospital is the best thing for Burlington, then the project should proceed, if the government can afford it.  It is not my belief that re-developing Joseph Brant is the best thing for the community nor do I believe the government has the money to do the job.  My view is that at best, the JBMH project will get pushed back to 2017.

What responsible politicians and bureaucrats should be doing is gathering in a room and trying to set out just what the options are if the government moves a starting date back or, what the city does if they take this re-development right off the table.

The city is certainly doing its share to pay for the community portion of $120 million: $60 million from the Hospital Foundation and $60 million by the city.  Burlington has already set aside more than $4 million in a reserve fund that will get sent along to the hospital once there is an agreement in place as to just what the money is to actually be spent on.  At this point the Memorandum of Understanding is still unsigned.

What has become clearer recently for the public is that the “parking garage” is quite a bit more than a place to store cars.  It is going to be the location for the Family Medicine Practice that McMaster University has said they want to locate on the JBMH property.  McMaster has basically diddled the city on just about every project they have done with the city.

McMaster announced recently that their “preferred” location for the Family Medicine Practice was on the hospital property.  The agreement between McMaster University, the Region and Burlington had an Amendment that defined just what was meant by Health Care and where it was to be located – ”within the boundary of the mixed uses centre” of the city of Burlington.  The Health Care part is now known as the Family Medical Practice which we now know is going to be part of the parking garage that was talked about at all the city council meetings.  Along with the parking garage, the structure will include two floors of medical services space that is to be a minimum of 10,000 square feet and the offices of the Hospital Foundation.  The structure is reported to be seven storeys high.

Quite how one describes the JBMH complex as part of the downtown with a straight face is beyond me.  Ian Ross, Executive Director of the Burlington Art Centre, will tell you that he doesn’t see his buildings as part of the downtown core and the hospital is west of the Art Centre.  Those academics sure know how to twist language.

The first thing that has to happen is the creation of a common agenda.  Differences aside – we are all in this together – and we all rely on the provincial government to provide funding and right now our provincial government is close to broke.  The impact of the 2008 recession still lingers, to which has to be has added, the significant structural shift taking place in the Canadian economy.  Ontario, once the engine of the country’s economy, is now struggling as it transforms  itself out of the manufacturing sector into – well the province isn’t quite sure what it is going to transform into.  What it does believe it knows is that we are going to have to have a well-educated work force and thus the decision to pump money we do have into education.

That doesn’t relieve the leaders of Burlington from their responsibilities – and that is to figure out how we will deal with a decision that says “no provincial money” for Burlington for maybe as much as five years.

For something like this to work however, everyone has to come to the table and agree on a common agenda.  Right now we have McMaster still taking advantage of everyone.  Burlington is still paying McMaster the $10 million it agreed to pay if they located some of the facilities in the city.  The DeGroote School of Business did come to Burlington and there was at one point a sign on the Elizabeth Street parking lot announcing it was to be built at that location but, someone else with land to sell got in between the city and the University and the DeGroote School of Business is now out on the South Service Road..

Does Burlington hand over the $4.8 million it has in the bank and continue to pass along the $60 million they have committed tax payers to over the next six years?

The hospital foundation hasn’t exactly been issuing press release after press release telling us that they now have $20 million; now thirty million and getting close to forty five million in the bank.  Hospital CEO Eric Vanderwall boldly told Burlington city council that the hospital would match the city dollar for dollar in fund raising – don’t think they can do that today.  The people with the fat wallets seem to be sitting on them.  The one thing the public has seen is a two page full colour spread in a local newspaper with pictures of the fund raising committee.  We hope that space was a gift from the newspaper.

What does the city do if the government says: “Yes, but not right now – and we will tell you when.”  Well what can we do?  Tell the ambulance to head for Hamilton is one option.  The new Oakville hospital is under construction and the flow of funds to that site will not stop so that’s an option – as long as your need for serious surgery can wait that long.

Burlington Council member John Taylor thinks there is a better way to pay for the hospital and has asked that the city look into funding the $70 million city portion with some form of a bond that would be available to the public.

Right now when Burlington has to go to the public financial markets for funds, which we do every year, we tally up what we need and take that number to the Region.  Their treasurer adds up what each of the municipalities in the Region needs and then goes to the public markets and gets the best deal possible deal for the debenture they put on the market.  Municipal debt is seen as good risk.  The Region, as Chair Gary Carr will remind you, has a better credit rating than the United States of America.

The provincial government will announce on Tuesday where they will cut spending. It is expected to be drastic and may well impact on JBMH re-development plans. No one really knows what is going to happen. Any commment made is misleading and irresponsible.

Taylor’s view is that some of the debt the Region sells could be set up in such a way that it qualifies for inclusion in an RRSP for even an RESP.  While it takes a little more effort, the Region might have enough clout in the financial markets and be able to cut out some of the middle men in the game and keep the administration costs on these things lower than usual.  Are there enough people in Burlington, or the Region for that matter, to take up several hundred million so that Burlington could raise the money on its own and proceed with building the hospital with money  ‘invested’ by the community.   Taylor has enough people who think the idea has some merit and will be meeting with Regional people to see what’s possible.

The province doesn’t have the money but they do have a credit rating and we could – maybe – sell some of the bonds to the province and have them pay Burlington citizens back in 15 to 20 years when the bonds mature.  Regional debentures will certainly pay more than the miserable return the banks are giving these days and they are as solid as Canada Savings Bonds.

There are all kinds of possibilities but we have to get off our butts and do some of this thinking for ourselves because no one else is going to do it for us.



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