NDP leader Adrian Dix during a campaign stop Friday across from Penticton Regional Hospital

NDP leader Adrian Dix during a campaign stop Friday across from Penticton Regional Hospital

Penticton doctors get their wish as hospital becomes political football

NDP leader Adrian Dix visits city to renew commitment to expansion project and pour water on his rival's claim to the contrary

Doctors working to raise the profile of a proposed expansion project at Penticton Regional Hospital were rewarded this week with fresh commitments from B.C. political leaders, but physicians aren’t letting down their guard yet.

“We’re not going away until the shovel’s in the ground,” Dr. Susan Tebbutt said Friday, moments after NDP leader Adrian Dix reaffirmed his commitment to building the four-storey ambulatory care tower.

Tebbutt and the rest of the Penticton Medical Society have been working since last year to rally public support for the $300-million ambulatory care tower and get to it on the political radar. The mission was accomplished this week when the tower became a provincial election campaign issue.

“It’s certainly getting a lot of discussion and play, and that is what we want,” Tebbutt said.

She said what doctors need now is a firm commitment from politicians to the project as conceived.

“We want them to come out publicly and support exactly what it is we’re proposing. We don’t want them to downgrade the project. We don’t want them to take off any floors. We don’t want them to remove the helipad,” Tebbutt said.

“We want the timeline and we want a firm commitment that exactly what we’re proposing is going to be built. And (from) neither party, we haven’t heard that exactly yet. So we’re waiting.”

At numerous campaign events this week, including in Penticton, Liberal leader Christy Clark claimed the NDP would cancel the hospital project if it forms government.

Dix denied that claim Friday at an event staged directly across the street from PRH.

“We’ve said clearly in our platform that we’re going to maintain the projects that are in place now, including, and especially, the Penticton Regional Hospital project, but also including the prison project near Oliver,” he said.

“It’s time to move now, and if an NDP government is elected, this hospital project will be built.”

Dix added that Clark saying otherwise was “incredibly disrespectful,” and amounted to “threatening people if they don’t re-elect you that you won’t get your hospital.”

Dan Ashton, the Liberal candidate for the Penticton riding, wouldn’t say Friday if he believes Dix will actually follow through on his commitment should the NDP form government.

“What I want to say is that the hospital is incredibly important for the citizens of Penticton and the South Okanagan-Similkameen,” Ashton said. “And the Liberal government builds capital projects (and) has a proven track record of doing that.”

Ashton also said he’s concerned about how B.C. would pay for the the NDP leader’s promises.

“Mr. Dix has been running around this province committing billions of dollars… to projects that he says that he’s going to build,” Ashton said. “And my questions is: Where is that money coming from? If it’s coming from the normal NDP source, that’s on the back of the taxpayers.”

B.C. Conservative leader John Cummins joined the fray on Tuesday when he visited the same coffee shop that Dix did and not only expressed support for the hospital tower, but noted his party alone has earmarked the cash to build it as proposed.

“My understanding is that both the (Liberals and NDP) have made the commitment, but if you look at the budgets that they’ve proposed during this election, there simply isn’t the funding there. We’ve made the commitment and we’ve also budgeted for this hospital,” Cummins said.

While he explained that his party’s fiscal framework includes $300 million for the tower, the document does not actually reference any specific capital projects.

The regional hospital district and medical foundation have committed to chip in a total of $140 million for the tower, with the B.C. government expected to fund the remaining $160 million.