BC Liberal Skeena MLA Ellis Ross says he’s finally satisfied that a new Mills Memorial Hospital is in the provincial budget.
After several years of skepticism about whether the $450 million project will go ahead, a line item in the provincial budget released last week has convinced him.
“But now we’ve got to keep on top of it. I now want to see footings, foundations in the ground,” Ross says of the project which will be built just north of the current hospital.
Although now a line item in the budget, money for the new Mills was included in two provincial financial updates in the last half of 2019.
Provincial and Northern Health officials are now working with one proponent, a construction contract expected to be signed by the middle of this year with work to start in the fall.
Based on that timeline, construction completion is anticipated in 2024, followed by the demolition of the current structure, work that will take place over two years.
Ross is particularly happy the project isn’t included in the NDP government’s Community Benefits Agreement program, one which requires large-scale construction projects to be built using labour from a consortium of 19 construction unions.
“That would have meant local people having to join those unions,” says Ross.
The Community Benefits Program has also been criticized as adding costs to projects – currently, the program is only in effect for highway and transportation projects in southern B.C.
Announcing the go-ahead of the new Mills during a visit to Terrace last spring, provincial health minister Adrian Dix says he and B.C. premier John Horgan decided the project would not be subject to the Community Benefits Program because it would have meant a delay in moving it forward.
As to other items in the provincial budget, which forecasts spending at $60.1 billion, Ross was surprised at finding that spending for indigenous relations is to remain the same as last year.
“The government keeps talking about an action plan for UNDRIP (the United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples), but I’ve not seen it. And I keep asking for it,” says Ross.
“How can you fund an action plan without an increase?” he added.
Ross also commented on the budget surplus, a razor-thin $227 million, which he says would disappear should there be an unexpected financial downturn.
“There’s nothing to really fall back on down the road,” he says.
The MLA, however, is not concerned about one new tax, a seven per cent levy on soft drinks and sugary carbonated drinks meant to dissuade overconsumption by reducing obesity and diabetes.
“I don’t drink pop anyway,” says Ross.