I have been quite concerned in the last year that the federal government has come forward with major funding for the Cross Lake Hospital, but the province has not so far really come to the table and this important project is currently stalled waiting for the participation of the province. The delay is unfortunate because the people of Cross Lake have been working on getting this hospital for at least two decades. I have been very puzzled as to why the province is being so slow to come to the table, so I asked the Minister of Health why he was delaying to long on this decision. I also asked about the planning for the Hospital in the Island Lakes area. My questions and the Minister's responses on Thursday June 21 are below.
Mr. Gerrard: One of the important issues in Manitoba has been the partnership between the First Nations people, Metis people, the provincial government, Inuit people and the federal government. And there has been some considerable discussion recently of the nature of that partnership in relationship to the building of the Cross Lake hospital.
And it's my understanding that there has been a long-standing agreement in which elements of care are shared between the provincial and federal governments and the First Nation and Metis and Inuit people. And so my question here, there–in the discussions which have been brought forward, the minister has appeared to be very resistant to partnering at the provincial level with the people of Cross Lake, Pimicikamak, and the federal government with regard to the Cross Lake hospital which, you know, as everybody knows has been planned and needed for quite some time.
So what is the minister's approach going to be going forward?
Mr. Goertzen: Well, I would not characterize it as resistance, because I don't think it's been that. I would say that the nature and the way that particular project was brought forward by the federal government wasn't helpful to the project itself.
And so, I mean this goes back almost a couple of years now, but I believe that our department was notified that there would be some kind of an announcement in Cross Lake in about–with about 24 hours notice. We weren't asked to participate in the announcement. We weren't advised what the announcement would be. We weren't told who would be at the announcement. But we were certainly welcome to come if we wanted to, which doesn't constitute much of an invitation in my definition of what an invitation is.
And then, following the announcement, I think at that time it was about $40 million that the federal government said that they'd be putting into a new hospital. And then there was a clarification that it wasn't really a hospital, it might have been more of a nursing station. And then there was a clarification that, yes, it might be more like a nursing station but we'd like to add services. And then the federal government said, well, we might look at something additional. And then they said, oh, by the way, you know, Province is in as a partner, to which we were somewhat surprised because officials in my department said that had not been the nature of the discussion.
We weren't involved in the announcement. We were happy to provide information, happy to do an analysis, happy to have that discussion. I'm still happy to have the discussion, but, you know, any previous agreement doesn't supersede the need to have a real partnership.
I mean, as much as I might like to, I can't go out tomorrow and say, yes, we're going to build a brand new hospital somewhere, and we're going to put in $20 million, and, by the way, we expect the federal government to show up and give 80. I'm sure the federal government would say, well, hang on now; that's not how we do partnerships. And that's essentially what happened in the instance of Cross Lake.
The federal government made an announcement unilaterally. There was, you know, there was questions about the characterization of the announcement. And then after they made the announcement they said, oh, yes, but we didn't actually provide enough money to do what, you know, we kind of said is going to happen, so, but don't worry, the Province will just provide the money, at a time when we're already cutting funding to the provinces in terms of what was expected under the CHT.
So, you know, quite apart from any historical announcements, that doesn't give one level of government the right to make a unilateral announcement and bind another part of government to fulfill a promise that a different part of government made. If the member for River Heights (Mr. Gerrard) is suggesting that I'm going to be making a whole bunch of announcements after the blackout that I'll be hoping the federal government will pay for, but that just isn't how it works.
So we're more than happy to continue the discussion with Cross Lake. We've been at the table in terms of providing information and data, you know; we're hoping to continue those discussions. But in terms of how the federal government made this announcement, it wasn't made in a way that was helpful to the community of Cross Lake, in my estimation.
Mr. Gerrard: Yes, part of the reason for asking this is that my colleague, the MLA for Kewatinook, has been working with her communities in the Island Lake area, St. Theresa Point, Garden Hill, Wasagamack, in particular, but it could relate also to adjacent communities like Red Sucker Lake, perhaps even, you know, other communities. But the proposal which I understand has been under discussions for some decades is for a hospital in the Island Lake area. The nature of that hospital–my understanding–is yet to be developed.
And so, you know, the minister has said that, you know, he wants to be involved at the earliest possible stage, and can I pass on to my colleague, the MLA for Kewatinook, that his department would be ready at the earliest stage to at least begin the planning and discussion, knowing that such a venture may take a number of years before it would come to completion?
Mr. Goertzen: We're always open to having a dialogue with all Manitobans when it comes to what they feel are their health-care priorities. There's nothing wrong–in fact, it's only helpful at times to have 'dialong.' That doesn't presuppose the outcome of the dialogue, but I don't think there's anything wrong with having the dialogue.
Mr. Gerrard: I thank the member for his answer, and I will certainly pass that on to the MLA for Kewatinook, and I'm sure that she'd be ready to be passing that on and be talking to individuals in the Island Lake area, including the chiefs and councils and those involved in the health delivery in that area.