Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

James Steidle: Region needs to pay its fair share for hospital upgrades

Back in December, the Northern Health Authority requested $41.3 million from the Fraser Fort George Regional Hospital District -- in other words our local property taxpayers -- to begin work on a new parkade
The Northern Interior Health Unit on Edmonton Street adjacent to UHNBC will be demolished to clear the way for construction of a new six-storey surgical tower.

Our fine city hasn’t had much luck with parkades in recent years, but that doesn’t mean we won’t build more with even less accountability and less tax fairness.

Back in December, the Northern Health Authority requested $41.3 million from the Fraser Fort George Regional Hospital District -- in other words our local property taxpayers -- to begin work on a new parkade next to the Cancer Clinic and for the demolition of another perfectly fine building - the Northern Interior Health Unit. 

The Regional Hospital District Board, which is identical in geography and similar in political representation as the Regional District Board of Fraser Fort-George, approved it.

Now it’s true our local representatives could have turned down the funding request, and the parkade and demolition would simply not proceed. 

So local democracy exists to some degree in that we do have a choice in whether this parkade, and the broader hospital expansion that will probably cost us $500+ million, goes ahead.

But it is also true that once the hospital district hands over the keys to the bank, it’s out of our hands.  The project will be administered by Northern Health and its appointed board, and anything that goes wrong, any kind of epic mismanagement, will happen without any kind of local democratic accountability. The only accountability would be through the minister and a provincial election and as such, a scandal would have to be pretty epic to penetrate the thick fog of the forgetful and distracted Lower Mainland electorate.

But even if the board of Northern Health was elected, the administrative boundaries of this board’s responsibilities encompass much more than the regional district of Fraser Fort-George. Some regional hospital districts are cut in half by the Northern Health boundary.   

This creates a bit of an issue not only with confusing and vague lines of accountability, but with tax fairness.

Northern Health encompasses in whole, or in part, six RHDs, but they only ask the taxpayers in the RHD where the investment is happening to cough up the 40 percent of the capital costs, regardless of how provincial in scope the project is.

A lot of folks from Quesnel, Vanderhoof, Burns Lake, Smithers, and probably even in the Peace and Prince Rupert, will likely be using the Prince George parkade and hospital expansion, all of whom reside outside the boundaries of Fraser Fort-George.

Their local hospital district property taxes won’t have to pay a cent for the upgrades to a hospital serving the entire north.

It’s not peanuts. You may have noticed an increase of hospital taxes from $72 to $298 on the representative household over the past eight years in our regional district. The Fraser Fort George hospital district has raised around $108.7 million in this time from rate increases.  It will need a lot more.

It might be time to look at another model.

In Metro Vancouver, the province pays for 100 percent of hospital capital expenses, the deal being Metro Vancouver is theoretically responsible for its own transit service, and I say theoretically because they get provincial and federal transit help all the time.  In other words, they double dip.   

Translink isn’t a perfect democratic arrangement either, but at least there is a better alignment between the local property taxpayer and the services delivered.

If our hospital district is coming up with this unprecedented wad of cash, easily up to a half a billion dollars, for a provincially significant project, we should at a minimum have more oversight over that cash and more help from surrounding hospital districts. Or better yet, the province should be funding a lot more than 60 percent of it. 

James Steidle is a Prince George writer