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QUEBEC - While the fate of Montreal’s two new university teaching hospitals remains in limbo, preliminary work to upgrade a Quebec City teaching hospital begins this summer.


Health Minister Yves Bolduc announced Wednesday that the $28.9-million first phase of the expansion and renovation of the city’s Hôtel-Dieu de Québec will take 18 months.


And the $635-million project will be completed in six years, he said, noting that the planning process started three years ago.


“We won’t turn back,” Bolduc said.


By contrast, Bolduc has given the two consortiums bidding on the new McGill University Health Centre 60 days to lower their proposed prices.


And consultations with two other consortiums, to define how the new Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal will be built, still are not complete.


Montreal’s two teaching hospitals were first proposed in the 1990s. Bolduc said that is one reason the price has risen.


Montreal’s hospitals will be built as public-private partnerships, with a twist. Rather than the private sector assuming the full financial risk, as former finance minister Monique Jérôme-Forget proposed, Quebec will pay 45 per cent of the costs up front to the winning consortium.


Under the rules for PPPs, the consortiums will own the new hospitals for 30 years. Quebec will pay rent for 30 years and repay the loan to cover the 45 -per-cent advance.


Bolduc said after phase one of the Hôtel-Dieu project is completed, the government will decide whether to go ahead with phase two and three as a PPP or a conventional project.


A conventional project means the government would retain ownership and would finance the whole project with borrowed money.


“We want to have the best project for our money,” Bolduc said.


But he admitted that credit conditions on financial markets are making it difficult for PPP consortiums to raise the money.


Quebec, with a better credit rating, can borrow for less.


The first phase of the Quebec City hospital project calls for demolition of nearby buildings Hôtel-Dieu will acquire for its expansion.


Archeological work will also be done on the site in the old city, which has been occupied by Europeans for close to 400 years, and before that by native peoples.


Bolduc said if the digs turn up the missing grave of Samuel de Champlain, the city’s founder, phase one might take “a little longer” than the planned 18 months.


(Courtesy of The Montreal Gazette)

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