Politics

Cockburn slams plan to put hospital on Ottawa’s Experimental Farm

Juno award-winner Bruce Cockburn is speaking out against a plan to build a $2.8-billion hospital campus on a designated historic green space in Ottawa.

“It’s come to my attention that there’s a plan afoot to locate a new hospital where there’s a popular park, (which is) part of the Experimental Farm,” the Canadian folksinger and officer of the Order of Canada said in a YouTube video posted on Jan. 7. 

“Aside from my own sentimental feelings about a place I enjoyed spending time at as a child, the notion of replacing precious green space with a hospital and its parking lots, which would be better placed elsewhere, makes no sense,” he continued.

The Experimental Farm, located near Carleton University on Dow’s Lake, was designated a national historical site in 1886 and is a popular green space for Ottawa residents. The farm is home to a research facility, gardens, and the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum.

In 2016, the Canadian Heritage department requested that a portion of the Experimental Farm be made available for a new hospital campus to replace the 100-year-old Civic Hospital, located in the Hintonburg neighbourhood west of downtown. The National Capital Commission had recommended Tunney’s Pasture, a large complex of federal buildings near Ottawa’s downtown, for the site of the new hospital campus, which will keep the name of the Civic Hospital.

In 2018, the Ottawa Hospital, which oversees three medical campuses in the city, including the Civic, signed a 99-year lease with the federal Liberal government for the former Sir John Carling Building, located on the Experimental Farm site. In 2021, Ottawa city council approved the master plan for the site.

A four-storey parking lot is supposed to go up sometime this year, while the 641-bed hospital will be built in 2024 and opened in 2028.

On its website, the Ottawa Hospital says that, for every tree removed for the project, five will be planted, and as many mature trees will be kept as possible.

“As the project moves ahead through each stage of the (Ontario) Ministry of Health’s Capital Planning Process, the hospital will continue to work with the community and government and welcome their feedback,” Rebecca Abelson, a media-relations officer with the hospital, told iPolitics in an email Thursday.

The Dow’s Lake site will be easier for patients and emergency vehicles to access, and will act as a regional trauma, neurosciences, and acute-care centre for patients in Ottawa, eastern Ontario, western Quebec, and Nunavut, she added.

A concept drawing shows the rear of the new Civic Ottawa Hospital. (City of Ottawa)

The controversial project became a key issue in the riding of Ottawa Centre during the September 2021 federal election. As part of his climate plan, Liberal MP Yasir Naqvi promised to bring in a law to protect the farm “forever,” but he failed to do so during the House’s brief sitting from Nov. 22 to Dec. 17 last year.

Parliament is scheduled to resume on Jan. 31.

Naqvi told iPolitics on Thursday that he’s researching “the best way to ensure the farm’s protection.”

“I am pleased that the federal government has committed to (protecting) heritage properties in the mandate letters (to federal minister that were) released recently,” he said in an email.

“It is clear that our community needs a modern, 21st-century hospital located downtown. No downtown site is perfect, and we cannot afford to relaunch a review process that will result in a decade of delays.”

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