Tensions mounting between Ontario Premier and Whitby Mayor over future Durham hospital

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Published April 3, 2024 at 2:59 pm

Doug Ford

The war of words between Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Whitby Mayor Elizabeth Roy over Durham Region’s next hospital is getting ugly, with Ford accusing the Town of possible improprieties in its advocacy campaign and hinting that building the hospital in Whitby may not be a done deal after all.

Roy and Liberal MP Ryan Turnbull were in Whitby Wednesday morning announcing next steps in getting the Province to financially commit to a $3 million planning grant to get construction on the hospital – approved for a site in Whitby two years ago – underway as quickly as possible.

Ford, meanwhile, was in Vaughan at another hospital-related news conference when he was asked by a reporter about the delays in getting the Whitby hospital underway. He wasted no time in going on the attack, questioning the legality of offering prizes for those who responded to an email asking for hospital stories for the Town’s hospital campaign.

“That’s the mayor who is collecting people’s names and holding a lottery. ‘You give me your name and email address you get a free gym membership or an iPhone watch,’” he said. “I don’t think that’s right.”

The Premier also suggested the Integrity Commissioner should be looking into the practice. “Elected officials can’t be pulling these games.”

“I’m not going to be bullied by that mayor out there that’s constantly going out and offering everything under the kitchen sink. Maybe the integrity commissioner should be looking into, ‘are politicians allowed to offer gifts if they get your email?’ It’s really unbelievable.”

Roy was just as quick in firing back at Ford.

“Standing up for the residents of Whitby is not being a bully. It’s doing my job,” Roy said, accusing Ford of “misdirecting the public with inaccurate allegations that are frankly disrespectful to the thousands of people who took the time to support our campaign and share personal stories.”

Whitby Mayor Elizabeth Roy and Whitby MP Ryan Turnbull

CAO Matt Gaskell also chimed in, emphasizing that offering prizes to help drive participation is “standard practice” used by many municipalities. “It’s also important to note that emails are collected only as a means of validating submissions to prevent spam,” he added.

Over the past eight weeks, almost 4,000 people have supported the campaign by signing a call-to-action letter or sharing a personal story about why a new hospital matters to them. As a next step, the Town will be papering municipal facilities with orange hearts, with each heart representing a resident who has supported the campaign.

The community campaign to get the provincial government to stop dragging its feet and break ground on the much-needed facility was launched earlier this year after three budgets and two years of inaction from the Province on bringing the already-approved new hospital to Whitby.

Lakeridge Health selected Whitby to host its seventh hospital back in January 2022. But provincial funding – a $3 million planning grant to get the project moving, for a start – is required and until recently there has been nothing but crickets from Queen’s Park, with budgets passed in 2022 and 2023 (each chock-full of health care goodies) with no planning grant announced.

There were also accusations of backdoor shenanigans from Mayor Kevin Ashe in neighbouring Pickering, who wanted the hospital in his city limits, despite the planned location being right on the Whitby-Pickering border.

Those fears came back at Ford’s press conference, when the Premier, despite confirming Whitby would be the site for Durham’s next hospital earlier this year, appearing to backtrack on that commitment.

“The folks in Durham will be getting a hospital and we’ll be determining the site.”

“I’m very concerned that today the Premier stated that the Province will select the site of the new Durham hospital. This is exactly why Whitby continues to advocate, to support the decision that was made by the independent expert panel more than two years ago,” Roy said. “The Province continues to say that a hospital for Durham is coming. What I’m asking is, when? I will continue to ask until we get an answer.”

 

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