Vancouver
3 min

St Paul’s about-face

Why did Falcon suddenly change his mind?

Seven years of uncertainty.

Seven years of dodged questions and closed-door meetings.

Seven years of not knowing whether our West End hospital would be stripped down to scrap, its land sold for billions to hungry investors.

Seven years of promised “business cases” that never seemed to materialize, at least not in the public realm.

And now, suddenly, a complete 180.

A gushing exaltation of St Paul’s historic ties to the community it serves, and a promise to keep its doors open indefinitely in the West End.

Huh?

Something smells.

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely want St Paul’s to stay in the West End, and I am reluctant to look a gift horse too closely in the mouth.

But what if there’s a whiff of scandal on the horse’s breath? A hint of potential conflict we’re not meant to notice if we just stay focused on the brightly wrapped package unexpectedly dropped into our laps?

“Providence Health, which operates St Paul’s, amongst other institutions, approached me with a new plan that would involve investing in the existing facility,” BC Health Minister Kevin Falcon suddenly announced on June 3, promising “significant new investment” in the West End site.

June 3. Two days after Xtra broke the story about the False Creek site, its owners and their connections to Providence and the BC Liberals.

The Esperanza Society bought the False Creek site — for years touted as St Paul’s new home — a year after Providence mentioned it might want to move the hospital to the area.

Esperanza’s directors have ties to the BC Liberals, Providence Health Care and Vancouver Coastal Health — the three bodies with the power to decide whether St Paul’s stays in the West End or moves to False Creek.

Former BC Liberal attorney general Geoff Plant now chairs Providence’s board of directors, while the former head of Providence, Kip Woodward, recently shifted seats to chair the Vancouver Coastal Health board.

Falcon announced Woodward’s appointment to that board on April 12, the same day Plant was appointed chair of Providence’s board.

Woodward’s brother John is one of three directors listed for the Esperanza Society. Between John, his brother Kip, Esperanza’s other principals and their relatives, associated companies and operators, the society and its circle have contributed at least $70,650 back to the BC Liberal Party since buying the False Creek land in 2004, Elections BC records show.

During that same period, the BC Liberals paid Esperanza’s property taxes on the False Creek land, a total of almost $5 million.

Coincidences all around?

Maybe.

Or maybe a bunch of forward-thinking planners are taking deliberate steps to acquire land, stack the decision-making boards and line up the development dollars required for a massive undertaking such as the construction of a new hospital.

A Providence document called “Transforming Health Care at the New Providence Health Campus” certainly makes no secret of ambitious plans to build a new hospital on the False Creek land.

But Falcon dismisses any conflict-of-interest questions as “silly.”

“It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that you’ve had prominent Catholics step forward as part of the Esperanza Society and put up dollars to preserve options for delivering care in Vancouver,” he told Xtra on June 9, after we snagged him outside Providence’s annual general meeting (having repeatedly requested and been denied an interview).

“I can’t believe that people would try and construe that as conspiracy. It’s kind of sad,” Falcon said.

June 9. Six days after his sudden declaration that St Paul’s would stay in the West End and Providence’s sudden epiphany that renewing the old hospital “could potentially include new towers and new investments and other opportunities.”

Falcon told the Providence meeting that the BC Liberals “will work with the Esperanza Society to look at how [the False Creek] site will continue to meet the needs of British Columbians too.”

You don’t say.

I think the horse needs a breath mint. And we need some transparency from our government.

I applaud Falcon’s decision, however sudden, to keep a presumably full-service hospital open in the West End. But it’s no substitute for open and accountable decision-making on the False Creek project that is clearly well underway as well.