Premier says he'll be '800-pound gorilla' fighting for new Windsor hospital

Friday, August 14, 2020

The Windsor Star/Brian Cross


Meeting with the region’s mayors has spurred Ontario’s premier to emphatically declare that a new $2-billion hospital for Windsor-Essex is his “No. 1 priority.”

“One way or another, we’re going to find funding for this hospital,” Doug Ford said during a news conference Thursday that capped off a day visiting Windsor to celebrate the region’s graduation into Stage 3 of the province’s COVID-14 reopening plan. Windsor-Essex is the last area to move to Stage 3, largely due to higher infection rates in the migrant worker population that took a full-court press by provincial, federal and local health officials to tamp down.

“Since it’s their No. 1 priority, my No. 1 priority now is to give proper health care to Windsor-Essex, the entire region,” Ford said. “I’m going to battle for them.”

During the teleconference held at the City of Windsor’s public works yard at Tecumseh Road West and Crawford Avenue, the premier answered questions on a number of issues, from school reopenings to protests by Ontario’s optometrists. But he steered back to the hospital to conclude things. Addressing the mayors, he told them he has their backs.

“I’m going to go in there, my favourite saying is like an 800-pound gorilla. I will fight tooth and nail for the hospital down here.”

The plan to replace Windsor Regional Hospital’s two aging locations at Met and Ouellette with a single acute-care “megahospital” on County Road 42, has been languishing in the approval process, in need of funding to move to the next stage. The move was approved amid much fanfare by the previous Liberal government but never funded.

Responding to the premier’s encouraging words Thursday, Windsor Regional CEO David Musyj said: “I look forward to working with the ‘800-pound gorilla’ to make this a reality now.” 

Every local mayor, including Chatham-Kent Mayor Darrin Canniff, talked about the importance of the hospital project moving to the next step of the approval process, Dilkens said as he left the closed-door lunch meeting. He said he told Ford that the pandemic has exposed all of the weaknesses in systems around the world, including in Windsor.

“We have one of the oldest hospitals in all of Ontario, we have rooms where there are five patients and no bathroom in a room. And when you have a pandemic and you’re trying to isolate people, you don’t have the majority of rooms that are individual rooms,” he said, suggesting that the aging hospitals made it more difficult to stop the spread of the virus.

An hour later, Ford told reporters “it’s not fair” that people in Windsor must attend century-old hospitals. “They’re in desperate, desperate need of this,” he said of the new hospital.

“Message to the finance minister, president of treasury, minister of health: I’m coming. I just have to support them, folks, simple as that.”

He said when he next returns to Windsor, people may see he has scratches and bruises. “But one way or another, we’re going to make this happen.”

He added that Windsor-Essex seems like the “forgotten city” in the province.

“Under this party, this government, we’re not going to forget it. It’s not going to be a forgotten city anymore.”

Last month, Citizens for an Accountable Megahospital Planning Process, the local group fighting the megahospital’s proposed location, was denied leave to appeal an earlier decision upholding the location. There’s still no word on whether CAMPP will continue its legal battle, which hospital supporters say has contributed to the delay in moving the project forward.

Dilkens said that Ford told the mayors Thursday that it would be a lot easier for the region if there was someone at the table fighting for the hospital project, a reference to the fact that the MPPs for Windsor West, Windsor-Tecumseh and Essex are NDP.

“The premier wasn’t saying if you don’t elect a Conservative MPP you’ll never get the hospital, that wasn’t what he was saying,” the mayor said. “What he was saying is having a voice at the table will make sure a project gets the traction and voice it needs amongst all the other priorities that other MPPs are bringing to the table.”

Dilkens recounted how when Windsor had two high-powered Liberal provincial cabinet ministers in Dwight Duncan and Sandra Pupatello, they helped dissuade the government from forcing a 12-lane highway through Windsor to connect to a new bridge. Instead the Liberals agreed to what eventually became the much-preferred and very expensive Herb Gray Parkway.

“I understand what he’s saying,” Dilkens said of the premier’s comments.

Dilkens said he’s not thinking of throwing his own hat in the ring.

The premier, he said, has never asked him to run. “And I’m quite happy being mayor of the City of Windsor and I love being able to advocate for the community in that role.”