The issue: More hospital woes
We say: Accountability an issue at GNWT
There is an often told joke among journalism ranks about how bad reporters are with math. Apparently, this affliction is shared by accountants within the territorial government’s finance department.
Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek admitted in December that her department had failed to factor in the increased value of the Stanton Territorial Hospital property in calculating property taxes owing to the city.
Put that into long-term context and that’s an additional $153 million over the hospital’s reported 34-year lifespan that GNWT bean counters had simply missed and failed to consider – and that’s assuming the city’s property tax rate remains flat for the next three decades. And everyone for sure as heck knows that’s not going to happen.
So a hospital the GNWT expected would cost $750 million when all is said and done, factoring in operational costs and debt servicing, will actually cost more than $900 million. That’s just a ballpark, of course. Trying to put a price on something in a territory with the highest power rates and biggest fuel bills in the country is no easy task.
Is it out of line to suggest a final cost of $1 billion? Perhaps $1.5 billion? $2 billion? If the GNWT has a quibble with our hazy gaze into the crystal ball we would suggest they don’t know either.
But the real question is what could’ve been done with all that money had the territorial government decided not to build the hospital and stuck to its original plan, which was to renovate the old hospital?
How many child welfare workers could have been hired to fix the territory’s failed child and family services division? How much money has been lost that could’ve been spent on early childhood education? Or twinning Snare and Taltson hydro to help bring down the cost of power?
Stanton renewal was a left field project from day one. Coming on the heels of the $182 million Deh Cho Bridge, which came in at least $15 million over budget, the case for a new hospital –especially one built using a public-private partnership – has never been fully understood or accepted.
Former health minister Michael Miltenberger originally estimated a renovated Stanton would cost upwards of $200 million but then tacked toward a complete rebuild, originally estimated at $300 million, which then rose to $350 million.
Because it was decided the new hospital would be a public-private partnership – or P3 – the project was surrounded in secrecy, which fueled skepticism even further.
And now, it seems, much of it was deserved. The original head of the private partnership, British company Carillion, went bankrupt before the new hospital even opened its doors, subcontractors are claiming millions owed in unpaid work, and staff and members of the public alike have been complaining about mould, cold drafts, water leaks and poor working conditions since the hospital opened in May.
The hospital is built and staff, the public and government will have to live with it.
Health officials insist many of the issues with the hospital have been dealt with, and no doubt they have taken them seriously.
But the question remains: how did the government get itself into this mess in the first place and how does the GNWT deal with accountability when projections fall so widely off the mark?
Wawzonek has promised to implement more checks and balances to avoid these circumstances in the future and more effectively plan “so that we don’t wind up back in a similar situation” but it’s hard to take her assurances seriously when there are so many examples of failed accountability.
Where was the accountability when the Auditor General of Canada gave the Department of Health and Social Services’ child and family services yet another failing grade in 2018? Or with territorial education after five years of renewal efforts, which the Auditor General lambasted in another report two weeks ago?
MLAs have to figure this out or forever doom the territory to wasting yet millions more without ever finding out why and being able to explain why.
It’s a tough thing to do in a territory where a quarter of voters work for the GNWT, the vast majority of them dedicated and professional public servants. Lack of accountability hurts them as well and can prevent them from doing the job they have been trained for and dedicated themselves to do.
As it stands now, there is a growing problem with accountability and it is an enormous drain on this territory.