The city clerk has refused the request of Mark MacDonald and his Concerned Citizens Coalition to make a presentation to city council about the sale of the former General Hospital site or to consider a referendum on the subject in next year’s election. It was the right decision.
The management of the hospital and its affairs, while they may impact local citizens, is entirely a provincial responsibility. There is no way that the province would allow a municipal referendum on something under their direct control. Having city council review and debate an issue that it has no responsibility for just leads to wasted and costly staff effort.
They have already implored our MPP to take up the cause. But I doubt a PC provincial government would have been very accommodating to their plans, so there was no surprise that a PC opposition MPP didn’t accomplish much. If the PCs can’t bring the Liberal government to bear on the gas plants issue, I can’t see a Cornwall care facility having much traction. Yet MacDonald was the Liberal government’s candidate in the last provincial election, so you’d think he would get a fair hearing in Liberal circles. I sense the people who matter are all looking the other way for some reason.
The coalition believes the building and land are worth much more than the $2 million price tag that was advertised. I would agree it has a fair value, but any buyer will have to change its use from a hospital to something else. With that changed use comes requirements to meet today’s building codes in a number of areas; not the codes that were in place when the building was built. That alone could mean a fair amount of fit-up or outright demolition and a serious buyer is obviously going to factor that into the price.
I’d be surprised if someone could buy it for $2 million, then turn around and flip it for the $15 million that the coalition seems to feel is the true worth, without investing anything in it. If that were possible, there would have been a whole slew of investors lining up at the trough.
The coalition offered to pay nothing for the building based on their “we already own it”, argument, which may run well in the media but doesn’t cut much ice in the boardroom. Using that same argument, the building also belongs to every other taxpayer in Ontario. Paying nothing does nothing for the hospital’s bottom line, which nevertheless has some impact on the services it provides to local residents and the taxes we pay. $2 million isn’t much relative to the overall hospital budget, but it’s still $2 million more than nothing.
The coalition said the plan would cost city taxpayers nothing, nor would it seek any financial help from the city. I have not seen the details of the actual proposal, but if I were on the board, aside from the ‘no payment’ element, I would be looking for some clear evidence that it was a serious proposal. One key aspect would be an indication of financial ability. Who is going to pay the taxes, heating and electrical bills starting the day after the transfer? Perhaps there are a number of financial sponsors that I’m not aware of, but it seems to me that the plans were all conceptual and based on hope. Either that, or they were looking for various grants from the province, which is another way of taking money from our back pockets.
From what I can see, the coalition is a group of concerned citizens, but doesn’t have the support of key people in the city who could assist financing and developing this project. It is a bunch of people who want to make a difference, with Mark MacDonald as leader, organizer, spokesman, and everything else – a one-man band. That’s great as far as it goes. But at some point, there has to be some substance. And it’s not only what you do that’s important; it’s how you do it.