Main photo: Premier Doug Ford (fourth from left) is joined by (from left) Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith, MAHC interim president and CEO Vickie Kaminski, Huntsville Mayor Karin Terziano, Minister of Health and Deputy Premier Christine Elliott, and Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller for a funding announcement at Huntsville District Memorial Hospital. (Tamara de la Vega)
Sunday was a good day for people who live in Muskoka and East Parry Sound as well as for those who have seasonal homes here.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford was in Huntsville to announce that planning for the phased development of both hospital sites in Muskoka will move into phase two with additional funding for this purpose of $14 million.
According to a Ministry of Health media release, Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare “has received government approval to implement this phased redevelopment, meaning this important project is part of the government’s 10-year capital plan.”
No doubt, there are many details to work out, and I had hoped that the announcement would be a little more definitive concerning these, but on the face of it, as long as both sites are full-service acute care hospitals—perhaps with different specialties, but neither subordinate to the other—this is very good news. This is amplified by a response to a media question to Premier Ford when he said that the eventual capital cost for each site would be about $500 million.
It has been a long road to get here. While many deserve credit and others will seek it, a great deal of it belongs to Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith and former Huntsville Mayor Scott Aitchison.
People will no doubt remember the concern, the acrimony, and the infighting of the last several years concerning the future of hospital care in Muskoka. There was a push for a single hospital located in either Bracebridge or Huntsville with heavy lobbying on both sides for where it would be located. There were consultations, committees, and information sessions with competing agendas and points of view.
The board of Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare (MAHC) was deeply divided along partisan lines. Once a single-site hospital began to fade as an option, the board recommended two hospital sites, one to provide acute care and the other to provide ambulatory care and specialize in geriatric issues. It did not take a rocket scientist to conclude which site would go where and the resulting implications for long-term hospital care in Muskoka.
Through all of these recommendations, conjecture, and debate, Graydon Smith and Scott Aitchison, as mayors of their respective communities, stood steadfastly together in demanding two acute care hospitals, one in Bracebridge to serve South Muskoka and one in Huntsville to serve North Muskoka and East Parry Sound. They relieved the partisan pressure, rallied the troops, influenced public opinion, and let both the MAHC board and the Province know exactly where they stood.
Subsequently, the board of MAHC, under the leadership of Cameron Renwick both as vice chair and chair of the MAHC board, recommended to the Province that Muskoka continue to have two updated acute care hospitals. The mayors of both Bracebridge and Huntsville, including Karin Terziano when she succeeded Scott Aitchison, continued their strong advocacy for an equal two-site model for hospital care in Muskoka. And so, here we are today. It is a time to celebrate.
There will be critics to this announcement, of course, especially with a provincial election looming. Just watch Opposition leaders jump on this with accusations of Ford looking after his friends especially in a place he has his cottage, ignoring other perceived priorities, and basically buying votes in the upcoming election and so on. They will, in my view, make much fodder of this announcement.
In fact, happy as I am at this initiative by the Ford Government, I am surprised at its timing. All political parties make promises at election time and all governments, of all stripes, hand out the goodies and make funding announcements when campaigning for re-election. However, in my experience, usually these funding announcements are made in areas where the governing party needs an edge to win a particular riding. They are usually strategic in nature, cold-blooded decisions made to win ridings that are up for grabs.
Parry Sound-Muskoka is not one of those ridings, however. If it is, then the provincial Conservatives are in deep doo-doo all across the province. That will be wishful thinking for some, but the polls don’t indicate that, and I don’t believe that.
At election time, no riding is really “safe” but some are safer than others—and for the Conservatives, Parry Sound-Muskoka is one of those. A little more than a month from the election, there is almost no visibility here of the two main opposition parties. It is a bellwether riding for the Tories—not one to be taken for granted, but also not one that needs multi-million-dollar announcements purely for election purposes.
So why is this announcement taking place now? My guess is Ford’s campaign honchos aren’t all that happy about it, wanting instead to direct their resources elsewhere. There is little upside to the campaign. Barring a disaster, they will likely win this riding in any event. There is a downside, however: providing fuel to Opposition parties who will be only too happy to ignite it.
I think the answer to that question is: that is the type of person Doug Ford is. He isn’t, in my view, a typical politician. He actually returns phone calls, he listens to people’s concerns, and sometimes he does things just because he believes it is the right thing to do, regardless of the consequences.
In this instance, Premier Ford has a good working relationship with Graydon Smith, Scott Aitchison, and Karin Terziano. He knows how hard they have worked to support two acute care hospitals in Muskoka. He knows that both hospitals, in their present state, are past their best-before dates. He is also likely aware that delaying this announcement until after the election could put Muskoka hospitals behind commitments made in the election campaign, in terms of priority.
And so he has done what he believes needs to be done and is the right thing to do, and damn the torpedoes.
For that, we should be thankful.
Hugh Mackenzie has held elected office as a trustee on the Muskoka Board of Education, a Huntsville councillor, a District councillor, and mayor of Huntsville. He has also served as chairman of the District Muskoka and as chief of staff to former premier of Ontario, Frank Miller.
Hugh has served on a number of provincial, federal and local boards, including chair of the Ontario Health Disciplines Board, vice-chair of the Ontario Family Health Network, vice-chair of the Ontario Election Finance Commission, and board member of Roy Thomson Hall, the National Theatre School of Canada, and the Anglican Church of Canada. Locally, he has served as president of the Huntsville Rotary Club, chair of Huntsville District Memorial Hospital, chair of the Huntsville Hospital Foundation, president of Huntsville Festival of the Arts, and board member of Community Living Huntsville.
In business, Hugh Mackenzie has a background in radio and newspaper publishing. He was also a founding partner and CEO of Enterprise Canada, a national public affairs and strategic communications firm established in 1986.
Currently, Hugh is president of C3 Digital Media Inc., the parent company of Doppler Online, and he enjoys writing commentary for Huntsville Doppler.
Don’t miss out on Doppler!
Sign up here to receive our email digest with links to our most recent stories.
Local news in your inbox three times per week!