Smith's timing good, Tory's not so goodAs street theatre goes, it didn’t get much better than Thursday.
The day started with Ontario Progressive Conservative leader John Tory touring the North Bay General Hospital, and then holding court with local reporters in front of the new hospital site.
Tory said he came in peace, in a spirit of non-partisanship, out of concern for doctors, nurses and other health care workers who have to do their jobs in less than satisfactory conditions between two hospital buildings, and for the dignity of city patients, many of whom he saw laying in hall beds during his visit.
He was there, Tory said, because those patients and professionals, and the municipalities and folks who have raised over $30 million for the new North Bay Regional Health Centre, needed to see shovels in the ground to believe the project would actually go ahead.
And he was there because the only way hospital health care could be delivered efficiently in North Bay was through the new all-in-one facility.
It was his duty as an opposition politician, Tory said, to hold the government’s feet to the fire, and he urged Nipissing MPP Monique Smith to stand up in the legislature and ask the appropriate questions about when the $200 million complex would be approved for tender.
And if Smith, for whatever reason, didn’t want to ask the question directly, Tory would do it for her. All she’d have to do was submit it to his Web site under another name and he’d stand up in the house and put forth the query.
Then when the hospital was built, and if Tory was premier by then, he’d come back to North Bay for the ribbon cutting and invite Smith and Dalton and McGuinty to sit in the front row so he could acknowledge the Liberals’ contribution.
Yes, here was Tory, standing up out of a sense of heartfelt public service and not because he wanted to score any political points.
Smith was obviously concerned about the visit, sending an aide with a tape recorder to the news conference.
And the apparent spirit of non-partisanship displayed by Tory was not returned, as Smith sent out a scathing news release skewering him and stating the hospital would be built, and not because of the former CFL commissioner’s visit.
And, true to her word, there was Smith less than 12 hours later telling the North Bay General Hospital Board that Health Minister George Smitherman had green-lighted the project.
In the process she stole the headlines from right under Tory's nose and rendered his sojourn here irrelevant.
On the other hand Tory can gain some capital, being able to say it was he who finally triggered the Liberals into action.
Smith will counter it's just coincidence that she received the news from Smitherman’s office Thursday evening and that it would have happened anyway. We'll never know.
It was, to borrow from Churchill, Smith's finest hour since becoming MPP 18 months ago, and one could see the relief and elation on her face after she briefed reporters at a hastily called news conference in the NBGH lobby.
During her remarks Smith thanked many people involved in getting things off the ground, right back to those who suggested the two original hospitals be merged into one.
Of course there was no mention of the former Mike Harris government, which set up the health care restructuring committee that recommended a new hospital for North Bay, and then forwarded over $40 million to get things going.
Non-partisanship doesn’t seem to be in her vocabulary.
Smith now has not only virtually guaranteed her re-election in 2007, but pulled off what neither Harris nor Al McDonald could: deliver.
Perhaps she should consider going into obstetrics.
Anyway the flattest piece of land in North Bay will be developed into a state-of-the-art facility, with all the spin-offs boosting local economic activity.
Ironically the tender approval comes the same month the hospital was to have opened; I had covered the original Feb. 15, 2001 news conference announcing the project, and a completion date of April 2005 was given then.
Now it’s looking more like 2008.
The game’s afoot and the race to the finish line has begun. But a number of questions remain: will the final figure come in at the estimated $218 million? How much will months of delay cause the price to have escalated? Will the hospital have to go back to the province or the community for more money? What year will it open? Who will be cutting that ribbon and who will be in that front row? Will John Tory think twice about the timing of future North Bay visits?
Stay tuned. Things are going to get interesting.