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by Mary Soderstrom

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Friday, 16 November 2012

Part of the Story Behind the Montreal Super-Hospital Projects: Residential Developoment of the Mountain?

For some time I've wondered about the reasons why many parts of the Montreal community were so gung-ho for building two new super-hospitals.  The story goes back nearly two decades, with years of in-fighting over the sites and assurances that there would be both English and French hospital centres.

Now I think the answer lies in the real estate adage: Location, location, location...and greed.

The original arguments for the new health facities were that new structures were needed to meet the technical challenges of cutting edge health care, and replace aging infrastructures.

There was no discussion at all of the effects of closing down three existing hospitals, the Royal Victoria, Hôtel-Dieu and the Shriners.  All three are on prime real estate, either on Mount Royal itself, or just beside it with grand views of Montreal's most striking topographic feature. Now extremely troubling news is coming out about the way these projects got underway and the profits to be made by construction companies, developers and their friends.

The most serious involves Dr. Arthur Porter, brought in about a decade ago  to captain the McGill University Health Centre project.    La Presse reported last month that  he is implicated in $22 million in doubtful payments made by the engineering consulting firm SNC-Lavalin  during the awarding of the contract for the hospital project.   This last is part of the puzzle that Quebec's commission on corruption in the construction industry is now putting together.  Payments, kickbacks and death threats have been asserted daily since the Charbonneau Commission began sitting in September.

(It should be noted that Porter  also headed Canada's top spy agency, but resigned last year after The National Post reported he had "wired $200,000 in personal funds to Ari Ben-Menashe, a Montreal-based businessman who often acts as a middleman in negotiations between the Russian Federation and developing countries.")

This month McGill started proceedings to sue  Porter for $287,000 for non-repayment of a "housing loan" which has involves a condo right across from the soon-to-be-vacated hospitals.

But Porter is nowhere to be found.  He left post office box addresses in the Caribbean, and when La Presse sent reporters to check out one of properties he owns in the Bahamas, he answered a telephone call, but responded to no questions and said he was "out of the country."

Hmmmm.  Very interesting.  So is the fact that Université de Montréal sold for a vertiable song a convent buildiing it had acquired as  part of an elaborate plan de expand  its medical school to one of the suspect construction companies implicated in the construction scandal.  It should be noted that in this case the building also is prime real estate on the flanc  of Mount Royal. 

The watch dog group Les Amis de la montagne is calling for public hearings on the future of Mount Royal next spring, but it is probably too late to stop more infringements on the mountain.

And it certainly is too late to stop millions being made by speculators and others using  public money and playing on our desire to have good health care to cut themselves some nice deals. 

1 comment:

lagatta à montréal said...

I remember making that very comment back when the superhospital schemes were launched. Was also thinking of hospital patients enjoying the psychological benefit of being able to look out the window at the mountain and greenery... (The McGill superhospital is in a particularly depressing location).

As for Porter, the adage applies: "Il vaut mieux voler un boeuf que voler un oeuf".