The Ontario NDP is calling on Premier Doug Ford, Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli, and the provincial government to pay for — and move forward immediately — on the Cassellholme redevelopment project.
"They have the power to do this and move this forward today," offered Ontario NDP Deputy Leader and Long-Term Care critic Sara Singh during an online press conference, Friday.
"Instead of letting for-profit operators have an advantage, so they can keep cutting corners on care and warehousing seniors, we should be investing in expanding not-for-profit and public spaces in community-based, home-like settings that put care first. The province is holding back Nipissing instead of just flowing dollars and getting shovels in the ground on Cassellholme’s redevelopment now," added Singh.
Erika Lougheed, the Ontario NDP candidate for Nipissing, joined the meeting from Olive Street in North Bay, near Cassellholme's grounds. Acknowledging the contentious discussions surrounding the $122-million long-term care home redevelopment, Lougheed stressed the project must move forward in the interest of keeping seniors requiring care close to home.
"This could be remedied quite easily with the stroke of a pen by Doug Ford," observed Lougheed.
Singh concurred, saying "long-term care spaces in municipally-run homes, like Cassellholme, are highly sought after because people want to stay in their communities and close to their loved ones."
Last week, the City of North Bay joined East Ferris and other partners in rejecting the terms of the financing agreement with lender Infrastructure Ontario.
Lougheed also serves as a councillor in East Ferris, a municipality that has repeatedly pushed back against — and ultimately rejected — the financing guarantee Infrastructure Ontario says is a standard requirement for such projects, an assertion confirmed by Minister Rod Phillips when he was in North Bay to help announce the Sienna long-term care development.
"There are some complications for municipalities for how this has played out," advised Lougheed. "It's really put them between a rock and a hard place — a nearly impossible decision. The way that it's been set up from the start has created the conditions for this to fail.
The redevelopment could be headed for litigation. Thursday, the Cassellholme Board of Management voted to levy the nine partner municipalities for their shares of the project plus the guarantee of the provincial portion of up to $65 million. Two board members abstained from voting until they could receive legal counsel.
On the issue of the levy, Lougheed maintained it was the result of "chaos and confusion," caused by the inaction of the government and by fully funding the project, the levy becomes a moot point.
Fedeli responded in a statement, saying Ontario will continue to work with the community and Cassellholme to ensure this important project to revitalize long-term care in North Bay moves forward.
"For years, dating back to my time as Mayor of North Bay, Cassellholme has been looking to the province for funding and support. After our government was elected, we secured $65 million in funding for the Cassellholme development. Our government has also helped them access low-interest funding from Infrastructure Ontario – this is identical to a successful approach we have used province-wide."
At stake are 240 existing beds and 24 new beds in North Bay. As of May, 256 people were waiting for a space at Cassellholme, according to data from Home and Community Care Support Services North East.
"Cassellholme is critically important to the well-being of families in our community and the needs are growing, not shrinking," added Lougheed, "No one should ever be forced to move their loved one into a facility outside of the community — cut off from family and friends, making visits and staying connected even tougher."
The NDP said the needed development and addition at Casselholme has been stalled because the Ford government will not fund the project to help northern communities get shovels in the ground now.
"Instead of levying," as the board has now opted to do, "the government has the responsibility to do the right thing and fund this project so this municipally-operated home can continue to thrive and seniors and their loved ones can ensure they are receiving the best quality of care," said Singh.
As part of its plan to overhaul long-term care, Ontario’s New Democrats have promised to create 50,000 new spaces, end the waitlist, and make the system fully public and not-for-profit. And, Cassellholme is one of the types of long-term care the party has committed to expanding.
Lougheed concluded, "If Doug Ford and Vic Fedeli refuse to fund the redevelopment of Cassellholme now, an NDP government will in 2022."