It took five years, but Premier Dennis Fentie has reversed his opinion of public-private partnerships for Yukon hospitals.
The Liberal Party noted the flip-flop in a release issued Thursday.
“I’ve also stated … that we would not use public/private partnerships for jails, hospitals or schools — jails, hospitals or schools,” Fentie told the legislative assembly in December, 2003.
At the Whitehorse hospital board annual general meeting last week, board chair Craig Tuton announced that it was considering private-sector partnership as a potential funding option for long-term plans to revamp the hospital’s 11-year-old emergency room.
“I’m not going to say I have a problem or don’t have a problem with it, but I do believe that there are options available to the hospital corporation that will be in the best interests of Yukoners,” Dennis Fentie said during an interview on CHON-FM last week in reference to Tuton’s proposal.
The Liberals are calling it a clear about-face.
“We know the minister takes his direction from the chair of the Hospital Corporation so he is merely doing what he is told,” said Opposition leader Arthur Mitchell in the release.
Premier Fentie refused to comment for this story.
The renewed examination of public-private-partnerships (P3s) comes as a result of a perceived government funding crunch, said Mitchell.
He credits the crunch to years of Yukon Party dithering.
“This government is beginning to face a lot of capital projects that they have delayed and deferred, such as the correctional centre,” Mitchell told the News.
“If they had budgeted a little better, and gotten more of these things accomplished on an ongoing basis they wouldn’t be facing this crunch right now,” he said.
In the immediate future, the hospital board is looking to complete the construction of a multipurpose facility to replace the existing nurses’ residence. The board is not considering the intervention of the private sector.
The potential for a public-private-partnership is only being considered in long-term plans to renovate the hospital’s aging emergency ward, said Tuton.
“We know that the emergency room needs to be expanded to meet the needs of yesterday, never mind the needs of today,” he said.
A partnership with the private sector was only one in a series of funding options that the hospital board was considering for the ER.
“Let me be very clear, when we talk about the ER expansion, the best way that the board can ever see this being accomplished is through direct funding from government,” said Tuton.
“If that funding is not available, then we’re going to have to look at alternative methods that may or may not be available to us,” he said.
Mitchell said that his party agrees with the old Fentie —P3s shouldn’t be used for jails, hospitals or schools.
However, the door is still open for P3s on non-core services.
“If it’s something new that we wouldn’t be doing otherwise … then we would consider it,” said Mitchell.