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Liberal budget scraps hospital projects in five Tory ridings

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Finance Minister Dwight Duncan chat after Mr. Duncan delivered the fall Ontario Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review at Queen's Park on Nov. 23, 2011 in Toronto.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Five of the six major hospital projects killed or scaled back in the Ontario budget are in Tory-held ridings – and by far the largest is in Opposition leader Tim Hudak's backyard.

Dalton McGuinty's Liberal government is cancelling the redevelopment of the West Lincoln Memorial Hospital in Grimsby, located in Mr. Hudak's Niagara-West Glanbrook riding.

At $207-million, the plan to demolish the old hospital and erect a new one on the same site would have cost nearly four times more than the next most expensive project on the chopping block, a scuttled $53-million emergency and ambulatory unit for a Kincardine hospital, also in Tory territory.

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"There'll obviously be a lot of disappointed people who believed Dalton McGuinty when he said he would fund those hospitals," Mr. Hudak said. "I think it's a sad reality that we have a premier who knew the actual state of the books and still made promises that he couldn't keep."

However, Mr. Hudak wouldn't say whether he would fund the projects if he were premier.

Tuesday's budget includes several measures to rein in health-care spending – where growth would slow to 2.1 per cent annually over the next three years, including freezing hospitals's operating budgets and reeling in physicians's pay. Executive compensation among hospital executives would be frozen along with other public servants.

As first reported in The Globe and Mail, many of the significant cuts to infrastructure spending in the budget involve hospital redevelopments and expansions that Mr. McGuinty's government announced with great fanfare before last fall's election.

The Liberals announced four of the six projects in the summer of 2011.

The new Grimsby hospital was not among them; it has been in the works for seven years.

The budget spares high-profile projects in Liberal ridings, including a new hospital for the City of Vaughan, north of Toronto, and new wings for Mount Sinai and St. Michael's hospitals in downtown Toronto.

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The only cancelled hospital project in Liberal territory is a $36-million replacement of the dialysis unit at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, announced in 2005 and located in MPP Glenn Murray's Toronto riding.

The province estimates that killing or reducing the scope of the half dozen hospital projects will save $570-million in borrowing costs over six years.

Shovels weren't in the ground on any of the abandoned projects, and the Liberals are continuing with another 25 already under construction.

Among the other aborted projects is a $30-million expansion of the ambulatory and mental-health wings at Wingham and District Hospital in the riding held by Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa Thompson.

The central Ontario riding is also home to the South Bruce Grey Health Sciences Centre in Kincardine, which won't get the new $53-million emergency room it was promised.

The Liberals are also scaling back planned expansions of Brockville General Hospital in Conservative Steve Clark's riding and the St. Thomas General Hospital in Tory Jeff Yurek's riding.

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All four expansions were announced in the summer of 2011, just months before Ontarians went to the polls.

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Health reporter

Kelly Grant is a health reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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