Calgary cancer centre could be delayed because of low oil prices

The plunge in oil prices has given Alberta “no other alternatives” but to cancel or delay capital projects in the province, such as Calgary’s new cancer centre, Premier Jim Prentice said Friday.

The new cancer centre project was set to begin in 2016, with an opening date in the summer of 2020. However, construction for the project could be halted.

Jim Prentice announced that the $1.3-billion centre will be delayed a day after Alberta’s health minister said his department was reviewing all projects because of budget restraints.

Prentice said:

“We recognize (the cancer centre) is something that we want to have but in the financial circumstances that we are in, it’s the kind of project that will be deferred,”

The delay has angered cancer groups, nurses, and other medical professionals who have said that funding for key health projects in the province should not rely on the price of oil.

A spokesperson for the advocacy group Friends of Medicare said that it is “ludicrous” that the government is controlling the health care system based on oil.

“It’s something that Albertans can’t predict, but we should be able to predict that our health care is going to be there when we need it.”

The current Tom Baker Cancer Centre ran out of space ten years ago and the staff working there are stressed, according to Heather Smith, the president of United Nurses of Alberta.

“Our nurses who work at the current Tom Baker centre are very disappointed,” said Smith. “There are huge delays in terms of their capacity to bring people into clinics, particularly people who are being newly diagnosed and waiting for prognosis.”

The Canadian Cancer society also responded to the news in a tweet, which said: “We are disappointed to hear about the possible delay of the new desperately needed cancer centre in Calgary.”

Prentice says that next year’s budget will have an “unprecedented” $6.25 billion shortfall. The government will be reviewing all projects to see which ones can be put off for a year or two. He said that he is not for imposing a sales tax, but will be looking at other tax options, such as moving away from flat tax on income.

“There really are no other alternatives in the circumstance the province is in,” Prentice said. “This does not necessarily mean the cancellation of the projects, rather it’s the scheduling of the projects. It’s the timelines.”

For years The United Nurses of Alberta have suggested moving to more sustainable revenue streams. Heather Smith said that implementing a provincial sales tax or progressive income tax would “completely change the profile of Alberta.”

Adding:

“We shouldn’t have programs that Albertans depend on tied to an unstable and unpredictable revenue stream,”

Prentice said that eventually the project will be built, however he did not provide any estimate on when that will happen.

“Clearly, in time, it will need to be built. I don’t think anybody disagrees with that,” Prentice said. “But at a time when the province has witnessed the collapse of 20 per cent of its revenue base, there are projects across the province that are going to have to be deferred.”

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