Re-thermalized food arrangement iced by Manitoba's new NDP government

Costly deal a warning to B.C. politicians—don't try it here

A controversial plan to supply Winnipeg hospitals with reheated food from a central food services plant has been iced by Manitoba's NDP government.

The government has taken over the mortgage of the $21 million facility in an effort to fix a hospital food system that has racked up millions of dollars in losses since the former Conservative government inked the deal in the mid '90s.

By assuming the 20-year mortgage, at a total cost of $24.5 million, the government will be able to negotiate a lower interest rate and set more flexible terms than those of the original financier, the CIT Group (formerly investment firm Newcourt Capital Inc.)—a big corporate player in P3 developments.

Media sources confirmed that the Tories had said financing for the project would have to come from the private sector because the Tory/Filmon government did not want the costs of building the meal assembly plant to show up on its books.

"At the end of the day, the facilities and the province will be on the hook for the investment made," said Manitoba health minister David Chomiak. It's the first step in undoing the privatization venture. The government is in negotiations with the other principals involved: Aramark Canada Ltd. (formerly Versa Foods Ltd.), which manages the plant, and Urban Shared Services Corp., the nine Winnipeg hospitalsí co-operative which initiated the original plan.

"The Tories re-thermalized food experiment is exactly the type of privatization scheme that Gordon Campbellís Liberals and their B.C. Business Summit allies would have British Columbians swallow," said HEU secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt. "But Manitoba's experience clearly demonstrates the real costs of privatizationófrom inferior food for patients to wasted public dollars."

All but the two largest Winnipeg hospitals have been feeding patients reheated food for the last year.

According to media reports, patients have complained the food is unpalatable mush and there were accounts some older patients in long-term care were losing too much weight because they wouldn't eat their meals.

The NDP is following through on its promise, made during the election campaign, to cancel the use of reheated food.