While Premier Jean Charest is the author of much of his own misfortune, there are times when you have to feel sorry for him. Times when he gets it coming and going. Times like this, when he's catching heat for awarding the contract to build the longdelayed Centre Hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal to a consortium of foreign firms.
It's been called a blow to Québécois pride - always a delicate flower, it seems - that this crown jewel of Montreal's health scene will be built by outsiders. And why is this being done? Well, for the simple and sound reason that the CHUM Collectif group, consisting of Spanish, British and French firms, submitted the best bid when tenders were called for the project. The bid by a local group, Accès Santé CHUM, came in over the $2.1-billion price ceiling set by the government, while the outsiders' bid came in just under and was duly judged to offer Quebecers the best value for their money.
Perhaps, in the interests of Quebec pride, or the coffers of local construction firms, the government should have gone with the homies, cost be damned. But then just last year the Charest government was being raked over the coals for not getting the best possible deal on the contract for Montreal's new métro rolling stock by awarding it directly to a consortium headed by down-home Bombardier Inc. even though a Spanish firm was offering to do the job at lower cost. The premier's critics apparently like to have it both ways.
But what really matters now is not who is building the thing as getting the thing built. The tale of the CHUM project thus far has been a study in procrastination and ineptitude. First proposed in the mid-1990s, it was supposed to have been completed by 2003. The project became bogged down in arguments over where and how it should be built - the present site is the third one envisaged - and the projected cost spiralled upward from an original estimate of $700 billion to the current $2.1 billion. The facility is now expected to begin receiving patients in 2016.
Critics have also faulted the government for choosing to do the project in a private-public partnership as opposed to the conventional public model. The government says it has an expert's report in hand that says this will save it $300 million. To mute the critics it has only to release it, along with the report of the auditor who is said to have overseen the bidding.