Alberta’s new government cancels superlab
June 26, 2019
EDMONTON – The Alberta government announced that it has cancelled contracts to construct a $595-million centralized public lab facility next to the University of Alberta’s south campus.
Not revealed by government was the total cost of cancelling the project, the fate of the site or details of how it plans to address outdated medical laboratory machines and infrastructure.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro (pictured) said he was pleased to keep a key United Conservative Party campaign promise to save money by scrapping the new public facility and a planned $50-million buyout of private lab services company Dynalife by 2022.
“I think we disagreed with the ideological reason of the NDP to use this to nationalize Dynalife – to nationalize laboratory services in Alberta,” Shandro told reporters.
The government will “maintain or increase health spending,” Shandro said, and that includes spending on public infrastructure, such as labs.
Governments have spent $23 million to date on planning and construction of the Edmonton Laboratory Clinical Hub, the Edmonton Journal reported. Construction halted in April after the UCP defeated the NDP in the provincial election.
In a press release, Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda said government would compensate vendors for cancelled contracts. His press secretary, Diane Carter, said in an email it was “too soon to say” how much penalties would cost.
Carter said the site will be “reclaimed” with earth work and grass seeding – the cost of which is unknown now.
Shandro had no answers about the future of Alberta Public Laboratories, a subsidiary of Alberta Health Services created by the former NDP government to standardize a fragmented lab system across the province.
The former NDP government decided to consolidate lab services and build the Edmonton hub after the Health Quality Council of Alberta recommended creating one provincial lab agency and information system.
The council also found lab equipment in Edmonton labs was obsolete and that labs were outdated and cramped.
The superlab was a chance to collaborate with the University of Alberta to develop and commercialize new lab tests, Opposition health critic David Shepherd said in an interview Thursday.
The government’s claim to save money by cancelling the project is like claiming savings on a household budget by failing to repair a leaking roof or not buying insulin for a child with diabetes, he said.
As 70 percent of medical diagnoses rely on lab tests, some samples are sent to Ontario, Shepherd said. Diagnoses are delayed because Alberta lacks modern equipment, he said. As the population ages and demand for testing increases, he worries stress on the system will lead to testing errors.
Dynalife CEO Jason Pincock said Thursday its lab equipment is “leading edge,” and its lab location isn’t critical.
While he supports the provincial integration of lab care, he said Dynalife doesn’t have to be part of the system to support the system. The company will work with the government in whichever model it prefers, he said.
Labour unions slammed the lab cancellation in press releases Thursday afternoon.
Alberta Union of Provincial Employees vice-president Bonnie Gostola said in a statement taxpayers will still need to pay for a new lab facility, regardless of who owns it.
Health Sciences Association of Alberta vice-president Trudy Thomson said in a statement the cancellation is against “any sort of fiscal common sense.” The association represents 6,000 Alberta lab workers.