Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Will federal budget cuts hurt the Logan Lab project ?

PHAC Lab, Logan Avenue

With the recently announced federal budget cuts, which included 483 jobs at the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), I wonder if there will be an impact on the J.C. Wilt Infectious Diseases Research Centre project on Logan Avenue ?

There's been nothing said to the contrary so I assume that plans are still on for an early 2013 opening.

PHAC purchased the vacant lab facility from the province in 2007 for $3.2 million and has been doing a $40 million retrofit of the building to create a Biosafety Containment Level 2 lab to house the National HIV and Retrovirology Labs (NHRL), currently based in Ottawa.

Candian Sience Cetnre for Human and Animal Health

Since those renovations began, Winnipeg has had a couple of PHAC setbacks.

The department was technically headquartered here in 2004 but the relocation of staff and facilities from Tunney's Pasture didn't go as planned. In part because the decentralization of government departments from Ottawa is not always looked upon favourably in Ottawa. Also, there was push-back from some employees not wanting to relocate. In 2010 Dr. David Butler-Jones, the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada and head of PHAC who had lived here since 2004, was relocated back to Ottawa.

Also in early 2010 it was finally confirmed that a PHAC tender for an international HIV vaccine research facility, for which Winnipeg was a front-runner, had evaporated.

Treasury Board's 2011-12 estimates say that PHAC was geared for an 8.2% budget cut with "Science and Technology for Public Health" taking the biggest hit at 29% (source, p. 170). Renovations are well underway but will there be the operating budget, or the will, to relocate the lab from Ottawa to Winnipeg ? (I'm not sure how many people work at the NHRL, I believe there are around 35 scientists but I did read in one of the tenders that the building will house up to 150 staff.)

NRC Building

You might say "certainly not", considering the amount of capital already spent. Think back, though, to the 1980s.

In 1983 the Liberals announced the National Research Council's
Institute for Manufacturing Technology and construction soon began on "Science Place Canada." The government changed hands in 1984 and the Tories announced that the project was scrapped because it couldn't afford the $20m in operating costs, but would finish the building's construction.

The building sat virtually empty for the first couple of years. It wasn't until 1992 that the NRC's Institute for Biodiagnostics, was announced and the majority of the space was filled.

(*Update: April 18, 2012 it is announced that NRC complex will be vacated and sold off.)

With trickles of cuts to facilities being announced in Manitoba, it would be nice to see an announcement confirming that the NHRL is, indeed, still coming.

A history of 745 Logan Avenue (including construction photos)
A history of 445 Ellice Avenue (NRC Institute for Biodiagnostics)


Anonymous said...

Per a WFP article from April 12th: "Outhouse said Winnipeg will gain 29 scientist jobs from the movement of a lab from Ottawa to the Canadian Centre for Human and Animal Health on Arlington Street."
I believe this is in reference to the NHRL.
It's actually expected to be closer to 300 jobs lost, not 483...or so they say.
and, with a somewhat inside perspective, I haven't seen or heard anything about it not going ahead.

mrchristian said...

Thanks for the insider perspective. I hope it all comes together !

Kerrin Asmundson said...

John C. Wilt saved the life of my aunt during the polio epidemic, also his son Paul taught me in grade 5. Thanks for posting the info about him.

Kerrin Asmundson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mrchristian said...

@Kerrin- really ?! Wow. I only read a small blurb about him. Interesting that the feds chose that name for the lab building, presumably he has a national reputation.