Skip to content

Opinion: Dave Dale, Keystone Cops blink first at Cassellholme’s O.K. Corral showdown

Is there a better (less expensive and complicated) site to build from the ground up? Will a regular tender process achieve a better estimate? Does the Cassellholme governance model need to be scrapped? Can an election-year improve the provincial funding terms?
An orange glow at sunset casts an ominous shadow as pollution from forest fires arrives in North Bay today.

My crystal ball is a bit blurry from the smoke wafting this way from the parade of forest fires in Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario.

The scent of charred spruce bugs brings to mind the Pacific Coast infernos caused by the Armageddon-level drought and boiling oceans. It’s almost enough to melt the resolve of the most ardent climate-change responsibility deniers. Almost.

Closer to home, the irony is thick as pea soup with air quality dipping to the point even pandemic anti-maskers are forced to consider “face diapers” to filter out the particulates.

Clarity of vision isn’t needed, fortunately, to write the script for the tragic ‘Not O.K. Cassellholme Corral’ movie.

To recap, East Ferris, and then North Bay council, redrew their collective line in the sand leading up to the showdown late last week. They elected not to voluntarily shoot off their own toes and rejected the ballooning and debt-heavy plan to expand and redevelop the shared municipal long-term care facility.

The $122-million price tag (plus interest), which required backing the provincial portion of nearly half, casts too dark of an uncertain shadow on each municipality’s credit rating.

Some suggest the liability notes for each town’s books won’t actually hog-tie their credit ratings as much as feared, yet nobody can say for certain. It’s hard to be confident when Ontario’s own infrastructure body is protecting the provincial books by also rejecting the red ink stain.

Muddying the waters is a private-sector project in North Bay estimated to cost significantly less per room, although it’s apples-and-oranges in comparison. There’s a gap of about $30 million between the two, although one is a staged redevelopment working within and around an active facility footprint while the other is a straight build on vacant and serviced land.

And there are pointed questions left unanswered about Cassellholme’s construction tender process. Only one vendor qualified and the industry association was fighting against it, leaving incredulous eye-brows raised. It’s quite possible the bid wouldn’t pass the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care sniff test, despite a consultant giving the price a relative thumbs-up approval.

The board of management’s Plan B threat to merely levy the costs by force was ill-conceived and destined for the courts with North Bay fast on the draw to get lawyers involved.

It’s not surprising the Cassellholme board – stacked with each community’s own elected representatives – “blinked” and will now, reluctantly go back to square one.

Nobody likes being held over the pickle barrel on a deal, especially while a surreal public relations campaign features municipal eagerness. It was just too much to take.

Most interestingly was North Bay Deputy Mayor Tanya Vrebosch resigning from the Cassellholme board over “governance” issues. Mayor Al McDonald riding in to take her place is a quintessential Doc Holliday move.

It’s easy to understand why Mattawa and the surrounding township partners want to high-tail it out of the picture.

You can almost hear the high-plains, spaghetti western whistle and screaming lead ricochet in the background. For added dramatic effect, riding in from the right horizon, we have Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli, the PC’s incumbent candidate next year sure to have a silver bullet suggestion. And on the left, there’s the greenhorn NDPer Erika Lougheed, leaning toward full provincial backing.

When the smoke clears, reality remains. There’s a 200-plus person waiting list for long-term care at Cassellholme and provincial standards demand refurbishment soon.

What will happen next?

Is there a better (less expensive and complicated) site to build from the ground up? Will a regular tender process achieve a better estimate? Does the Cassellholme governance model need to be scrapped? Can an election year improve the provincial funding terms?

And is anybody counting the $4 million in ‘sunk costs’ that have already gone to the architects and hired-gun spin masters?

There’s no doubt this is far from amusing for the people involved but the next Cassellholme fundraiser should probably involve a drive-in theatre, popcorn and plenty of butter.

I suggest ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ and ‘For a Few Dollars More’ to kick it off. But the best show might be McDonald and Cassellholme CEO Jamie Lowery in a shoot-out at 10 paces.


Dave Dale is a veteran journalist and columnist who has covered the North Bay area for more than 30 years. Reader responses related to his work can be sent to [email protected]. To contact the writer directly, email: [email protected] or check out his website