“There will be a by-election in Vancouver-Burrard if the province approves a move of St Paul’s to the False Creeks Flats,” declares Lorne Mayencourt, the riding’s gay Liberal MLA.
Mayencourt is addressing a group of more than 200 concerned individuals who have gathered in the West End Community Centre Feb 18 for a public forum he has organized on the future of the West End hospital.
“I am committed. And I think that with this group, I won’t have to quit because St Paul’s will stay here in our neighbourhood where it belongs,” he exclaims to an enthusiastic response.
But many in the crowd are skeptical that the hospital will remain in the West End.
“We need to have the [provincial] government commit to say: ‘No, the hospital will stay as a not-for-profit hospital in the downtown core’-not be moved away as a mega-hospital,” says Aaron Jasper, co-chair of the Save St Paul’s Coalition.
Jasper says his group has collected more than 7,200 signatures on a petition opposing the hospital’s move.
“Our coalition is going to Victoria [to] express our concerns to the health minister, George Abbott,” he says. “We would like a commitment by [him] that this process be opened up. We really want to stress the importance of keeping this hospital.”
Raigen D’Angelo, a homemaker and former sex-trade worker who resides in the West End, says she listened to the Liberals’ recent throne speech hoping for an answer on St Paul’s but heard nothing.
“I am sick and tired of just talk. Let’s get together and do something,” she says.
“I fully understand how this proposed move could very well be the best thing to happen to St Paul’s,” notes West End Citizens’ Action Network chair Sheryl Williamson-Harms. But “we’ve not gathered to talk about what’s best for St Paul’s. We’ve come together to discuss what’s best for our community,” she tells the cheering crowd.
“We need to have a large and a loud voice, which says to Providence [Health Care] and our elected officials: ‘It is time to come out and talk to us and rebuild St Paul’s,'” says George Stephenson, another West End resident and a retired business consultant. “We need this to be dealt with now, in the open.”
Jasper says it’s up to the provincial government, and the Treasury Board in particular, to either approve or reject Providence Health Care’s proposal to move St Paul’s to the False Creek Flats.
But even if the Liberals allow the move, Vancouver city council could still refuse to re-zone the area for hospital use, he notes.
“We are going to be lobbying Mayor Sam Sullivan, and the entire city council to get them to support the retention of the hospital on the current site,” Jasper says.
Sullivan told Xtra West during last November’s election campaign that he is opposed to moving St Paul’s out of the West End. “One of the reasons is I don’t like where it’s going, which is on the industrial lands. My home is in the West End and I’m a resident here. I’m concerned about access to hospital services.”
Although invited, no one from council attended the Feb 18 forum.
Also conspicuously absent was Providence Health Care, which owns and runs St Paul’s.
“Surprise, surprise,” mocks Stephenson, “there is no one here from Providence. And that is a message! Providence has not appeared in public at all.”
Reached afterwards, Shaf Hussain, a spokesperson for Providence, acknowledges that the company had received an e-mail invitation to the forum, but “we weren’t sure if this was a political event or an MLA meeting.”
“We hadn’t been formally invited to make any presentations or be part of any panel,” he adds.
“We know the issues. We’ve met with these groups. We find it’s really more productive to meet one on one rather than these kind of situations,” he says. “We have said that we’ll meet with anybody, even private citizens, on what our renewal plans are.
“I would reiterate there’s no decision that’s been made on this,” he continues.
“We are still at the development phase of the business case. It’s a long process. We have committed to a comprehensive public engagement and consultation process before a decision is finalized.”
Hussain has been telling Xtra West that Providence is still at the business-case development phase since May 2004.
He says he does “not have a timeline” for when the business case will be completed.
“This is just the beginning of the beginning,” Mayencourt tells Xtra West after the forum.
“This meeting has demonstrated that this neighbourhood is really concerned about [the hospital’s future]. I have talked with the Premier about it. I have talked with many of my colleagues. I am working very hard to ensure that before this goes to Treasury Board that the voice of this riding is heard.”
Mayencourt says his colleagues “are open to hearing about [St Paul’s], but I have not got a commitment from them that they’ll kill the idea, and that’s what I want. I want them to stand up and say, ‘This hospital is not moving.'”