Hundreds gathered on Jan. 28 to protest the provincial government’s decision to delay building a new cancer centre in Calgary.
“When we run our households, if we have less money we don’t stop spending on things that are absolutely necessary, like medicine, like food, like clothing and education for our kids, and this is the same analysis,” John Osler told The Press.
Osler is the former chair of the Alberta Cancer Foundation, and he hosted the rally at the McDougall Centre, downtown.
“It’s not as though the province has no money. It simply has less money,” Osler continued.
“And this is something that the province can still afford, and should pay for because it’s such a priority.”
Cancer survivors, cancer patients and cancer activists, spoke at the rally, offering arguments as to why the existing Tom Baker Cancer Centre is not satisfactory for Calgarians.
The need for a new cancer centre was identified in 2005 by then-premier Ralph Klein, who promised $1 billion towards new cancer facilities in Edmonton and Calgary.
Five years later, then premier Ed Stelmach changed directions and promised $78 million towards renovating the Tom Baker.
It was Alison Redford’s government that, in 2011, dedicated itself to building a new cancer centre in Calgary, at a cost of $1.3 billion.
But Premier Jim Prentice changed the narrative again last month.
Citing the recent plunge in world oil prices and resulting shortfall in government revenues, the government has said all proposed infrastructure projects are being re-examined.
On a radio call-in show on Jan. 21, Prentice complained about the project’s rising costs – it may now cost up to $1.6 billion – calling it an example of “scope-creep,” and noting that the centre was initially only supposed to cost “about $100 million.”
Although the proposed location of the new cancer centre has long been the Foothills Medical Centre, a location cancer doctors and researchers support because of its proximity to Foothills Hospital and the University of Calgary, proposals to move the project to Calgary’s South Health Campus instead have also come up.
“The South Health Campus has been considered as an option time and time again, and every time it has been determined that it is not a suitable option for a comprehensive cancer centre,” said Osler.
Those doctors and researchers form part of the argument given by Jenn Birchall, a cancer patient and activist who spoke at the event.
“We cannot afford to lose any of our world class doctors, researchers, nurses and administrators to recruiters from other locales and hospitals,” she told the crowd.
“Today’s Tom Baker Cancer Centre is over capacity and outdated,” Birchall continued.
“None of us here today should feel the least bit guilty asking for a state of the art facility.”
When we run our households, if we have less money we don’t stop spending on things that are absolutely necessary, like medicine, like food, like clothing and education for our kids, and this is the same analysis. – John Osler
Before the delay, the centre was targeted for completion in 2020, with construction beginning in the fall of 2016.
Myka Osinchuk, CEO of the Alberta Cancer Foundation, argued at the rally that delays to reanalyze and rethink the project were ultimately harming Calgarians.
“Government does not need to revisit the scope, the location, or the need for this facility,” Osinchuk told the protesters.
“Rehashing what’s already been done is not a good use of anyone’s time or resources.
“The only thing government needs to do is find a way to fund this critical centre.”