Ford says province to decide site of new Durham Region hospital

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is pictured here in Belleville, Ont., on Friday, March 1, 2024. On Wednesday, the premier said Durham Region will be getting a hospital but the province will determine the site. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Ontario Premier Doug Ford is pictured here in Belleville, Ont., on Friday, March 1, 2024. On Wednesday, the premier said Durham Region will be getting a hospital but the province will determine the site. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Ontario Premier Doug Ford repeated a promise on Wednesday that the province will build a new hospital in Durham Region, but said his government will decide the location.

"The folks at Durham, we've shown them a tremendous amount of love. They'll be getting a hospital and we'll determine the site," Ford told reporters at an unrelated news conference in Toronto.

Ford's comments come after an independent panel set up by Lakeridge Health, a Durham Region hospital network, selected Whitby as the preferred site for a new hospital in January 2022. The land on which the preferred site sits is owned by the Ontario transportation ministry.

In February, Whitby Mayor Elizabeth Roy launched a campaign to urge the province to make good on its promise to build a hospital in Durham Region, east of Toronto.

At the time, she said a new acute care hospital is needed in the region because the existing hospital system cannot keep up with demand and the region is growing. She said its population is expected to be more than one million in less than 20 years.

Residents have experienced overcrowded emergency rooms and excessively long wait times, Roy has said.

After the preferred site was announced, Lakeridge Health requested $3 million from the Ontario health ministry as a capital planning grant for the facility in the spring of 2022. In the Ontario government's latest budget on March 26, there was no funding for a new Durham hospital.

Ford first promised Durham Region a hospital in 2015, according to Roy.

Ford alleges improper methods used to gather support

At the news conference, Ford criticized Roy, saying he disagrees with her methods to solicit community support for a Whitby hospital and that he thinks they are not "proper." He accused her of collecting names and email addresses, holding a lottery and awarding "treats," such as gym memberships and iPhone watches.

The premier also accused the mayor of bullying him — an accusation that town officials say is disrespectful.

Ford said: "Folks, that is wrong. You can't be doing that. Elected officials cannot be pulling these games. We've committed to make sure we have a hospital in Durham. We're going to go through the process and I'm not going to be bullied by that mayor out there that's constantly going, going out there and offering everything under the kitchen sink."

Whitby Mayor Elizabeth Roy
Whitby Mayor Elizabeth Roy

Whitby Mayor Elizabeth Roy is pictured here in February at a news conference, where she called on the Ontario government to build a hospital in Whitby. (CBC)

In a news release on Wednesday, Roy and Whitby chief administrative officer Matt Gaskell said: "Many municipalities use prizing to encourage engagement in important matters that impact them and their community."

The town of Whitby said it offered four prizes to engage residents in the campaign: a 12-month Town of Whitby health club family membership; one of two activity prize packs, including a backpack, towel and two activity passes; and an Apple Watch SE (GPS) 44mm Midnight Sport Band, paid for by the town.

Advocating for hospital 'doing my job,' mayor says

Roy said in the release: "The premier is misdirecting the public with inaccurate allegations that are frankly disrespectful to the thousands of people who took the time to support our campaign and share personal stories. Standing up for the residents of Whitby is not being a bully. It's doing my job.

"The province continues to say that a hospital for Durham is coming. What I'm asking is, when? I will continue to ask until we get an answer."

Roy said she is concerned about Ford saying the province will select the site and that's why Whitby is continuing to advocate.

Elizabeth Roy
Elizabeth Roy

Whitby Mayor Elizabeth Roy held a news conference on Wednesday to announce next steps in her campaign for a new hospital in town. (CBC)

Gaskell agreed, saying the premier's comments are "entirely inaccurate and frankly disrespectful" of the letters and personal stories shared by nearly 4,000 residents about why a new hospital matters to them.

"Residents signed up to show their support for a new Durham hospital, not for a chance to win one of four prizes," he said.

"The offer of prizing to help drive participation is standard practice used by many municipalities."

Gaskell said emails are collected as a means of validating submissions to prevent spam and the mayor and council do not have access to emails provided.

Earlier on Wednesday, Roy announced next steps in the campaign. The town will paper municipal facilities with orange hearts, with each heart representing a resident who has supported the campaign.

"We're not giving up," Roy said.

According to Lakeridge Health, the preferred site for the new hospital is in north Whitby, south of Highway 407, west of Highway 412, east of Lake Ridge Road and north of Highway 7/Winchester Road.

On its website, the network says it runs five hospitals, four emergency departments and three critical care units, as well as community locations, a long-term care home and a surgical centre.