A missing scanner and another year of delay has Kamloops’ Opposition MLAs sounding alarm bells over a long-promised cancer centre at Royal Inland Hospital.
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix was at RIH on Thursday to announce the business plan for the five-storey, $359 million cancer centre had been approved and the project was moving to the procurement phase. The groundbreaking is pegged for 2025 with a projected opening of 2028.
Dix’s announcement included conflicting information from what he has said previously — that the building would open in 2027 and include a PET-CT scanner.
“I think, like the people that live in this region, the 150,000 residents of Kamloops and the Thompson valleys, we'll believe it when when we actually see it,” Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone told Castanet Kamloops following the announcement at RIH.
Stone highlighted past delays from the government, noting former NDP Premier John Horgan promised on the campaign trail in 2020 he would have the cancer centre built by 2024.
“They dashed that whole timeline, and then it was 2027,” Stone said. “Up until the most recent legislative session, we were being told 2027 this facility was going to be opened — over and over again. Today, the minister says 2028, as if 2028 was the date they were targeting all along.”
Asked why the project has been delayed a year, Dix said assessing the challenges in the construction market was taken into account but that he felt the project was still on track.
No scanner despite comments
Dix told reporters during Thursday’s announcement there is no PET-CT scanner in the plans for the Kamloops cancer centre “yet,” adding the government is looking at extending this technology across the province.
PET-CT scanners are used in detecting cancer.
Stone said the minister specifically said in the Legislature that the Kamloops centre would have such a scanner.
“That is the latest state-of-the-art diagnostics tool that's used in cancer care in the world today,” Stone said. “There's one going into the Kelowna cancer centre, which is great, [and] there's one in Vancouver. Why they wouldn't be incorporating one into this project when it officially opens is beyond us.”
Stone told reporters if the BC United Party is elected this fall's provincial election it will commit to building the cancer centre with a PET-CT scanner included.
“Yeah, we've been very clear that, absolutely, a PET scanner would be incorporated in this project,” Stone said.
During a November 2023 question period Dix said they would add PET-CT scanners in other communities as they add new cancer centres in Kamloops, Nanaimo, Burnaby and Surrey.
Kamloops-North Thompson MLA Peter Milobar said he and Stone plan to hold the minister to his word about a PET-CT scanner in Kamloops.
Budget to be scrutinized
Milobar also raised concern with the timing of the announcement, saying that only having the business plan approved to date and the timeline of the build means there will be “no substantive dollars” in this year's provincial budget and fiscal plan that ends April 1 of next year.
“Which means this government is saying ‘Just trust us, we’ll have the money in the budget for you after the next election and then we'll actually get started in full force on this project,’” he said.
“If that's the case, Kamloops has heard that playbook from this government before.”
Milobar said he plans to raise the issue later this month during budget discussions.
Local officials more optimistic
Thompson Regional Hospital District chair Mike O’Reilly told Castanet Kamloops Thursday’s announcement changes nothing when it comes to the public Cancer Won’t Wait campaign his board has launched to lobby the province to follow through on the promised cancer centre.
“It's not something we can just put by the wayside and let things happen, we need to have our foot to the floor,” O’Reilly said.
O’Reilly also said, however, the TRHD feels they are in “the homestretch” but they will not quit advocating to ensure that this centre is on time and opens in 2028.”
Kamloops Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson told Castanet the announcement is “awesome.”
“They stepped up and done what they said they're going to do, it looks like, so I think it's great,” he said.
Hamer-Jackson said he is not concerned about the project getting delayed again, adding that while he was disappointed Horgan did not make good on his promise, he has confidence in Dix's word.
“No, I'm not concerned," he said. "I think that there's a team there that's doing a really good job and I think that they’re going to get it going — I’m totally positive on this."