Watson 'wouldn't rule out' possible tax levy to help pay for new Civic Campus

Ottawa mayor Jim Watson says he wouldn’t rule out the possibility that a hospital levy could show up on municipal tax bills in the future to help fund the new Ottawa Hospital Civic Campus.

City council has voted in favour of a plan to direct staff to find ways to raise $150 million to help pay for the new hospital near Dow’s Lake.

Speaking to reporters after the city council meeting, Watson, who is not running for re-election in October, said a line item on the tax bill is a possibility.

“I wouldn’t rule it out,” he said. “If it’s a reasonable amount, spread over a long period of time so it’s not a big hit to the tax bill, and it’s clearly identified on the bill as going to the hospital instead of coming to the city, that’s been done in other jurisdictions and it’s worked out quite well.”

Several councillors raised concerns about putting the onus on municipal taxpayers for something that falls under provincial jurisdiction. The province is already putting up $2.1 billion for the new hospital.

"The provincial government is responsible for health care in its totality," Coun. Shaun Menard said. "Cities and communities shouldn't be funding this."

But Watson said it’s critical that the new hospital be built.

“We are not particularly well-served by having a building that’s almost 100 years old that’s just been cobbled together over decades,” he told reporters. “I think we need a facility befitting our status as a health-care hub, where we serve eastern Ontario, western Quebec, the Nunavut territory, as well as the whole city of Ottawa. There may be a portion of your tax bill increase, if the next council agrees to it.”

The plan passed by a vote of 15 to 8.

Approval means staff can begin the process to develop a plan to cover the $150 million ask from the hospital, though final decisions on actually spending the money won’t be made until the next term of council, and the money wouldn’t actually flow until the hospital is substantially complete in 2028.

During the debate, Coun. Jan Harder lashed out at those who oppose the site plan for the hospital.

"Take your trees, and your freakin' parking lot and shove it where the sun doesn't shine," Harder said. "Quit sending me ludicrous emails about 'change the site.'"

The finance and economic development committee (FEDCo) spent about two hours last week discussing the plan before eventually giving the staff recommendation unanimous consent.

Roger Greenberg, executive chair of the “Campaign to Create Tomorrow”, the Ottawa Hospital Foundation’s $500-million fundraiser for the new hospital, told FEDCo there could be consequences if the city does not come through with the funding.

“Our situation is very simple: we either raise the local share or the province drops us down to the bottom of the list; there’s nine other hospitals that are on this list and we’ll drop down to the bottom and they’ll come back to us in 20 years from now and ask us if we’ve changed our minds,” he said.

The $2.8-billion project to build a new, state-of-the-art hospital near Dow’s Lake is covered primarily by the provincial government, but the Ottawa Hospital needs additional funding from other sources, including the aforementioned fundraiser and the $150 million from the city. The remaining $50 million is expected to be covered by hospital revenue.

The Ottawa Hospital says the new state-of-the-art facility will serve residents of Ottawa, eastern Ontario, western Quebec and Nunavut.

"The new hospital will feature highly specialized inpatient, outpatient, emergency, and trauma services, treating the most complex adult injuries and illnesses," said the Ottawa Hospital in a statement on Wednesday.

"This world-class centre for academic training and medical research will be networked with partners in Ontario, across Canada, and around the world."

The Ottawa Hospital says it's responsible for the local share of the price tag for the new hospital, and asked the city to contribute.

"The remainder of the local share will be generated through fundraising, financing and a revenue strategy."

Since amalgamation, the city has never contributed cash for the local share of hospital construction.

With files from CTV News Ottawa's Leah Larocque