New Brunswick premier appeals to Harper to stop Canadian Blood Services move

FREDERICTON – The premier of New Brunswick wants to know if Prime Minister Stephen Harper has the power to help prevent Canadian Blood Services from moving blood production from Saint John, N.B., to Halifax.

David Alward said he has asked Harper who has the final say on the move – the prime minister or Canadian Blood Services.

“The Canadian Blood Services say that they have the final decision, so I have asked the prime minister who has the final decision,” Alward said Friday.

Amanda Cullen, a spokeswoman for Canadian Blood Services, said the non-profit charitable organization operates at arms-length from the government and makes its own decision on operational matters such as consolidating production facilities.

“This is not a regulatory decision,” she said. “This is an operations decision so we don’t see how the federal government would have jurisdiction over this particular matter.”

Alward has discussed the issue with Harper a number of times before and during their most recent meeting a few weeks ago sought an answer on who has jurisdiction over the operations of Canadian Blood Services. Alward said he has yet to get an answer.

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“We have a responsibility not to leave any rock overturned,” Alward said. “We’ve said that in the past and we’re continuing to do that work going forward.”

A request for comment from the Prime Minister’s Office was not returned.

But the federal government has previously said that decisions on where Canadian Blood Services bases its operations are not theirs to make.

“Decisions on relocations are made by the CBS board of directors as well as by the provincial and territorial governments, which are at arm’s length from Health Canada,” Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq told the House of Commons in April 2010.

Canadian Blood Services announced in March 2009 that it planned to consolidate some of its facilities across the country as a means to cut costs and improve efficiency.

Three production facilities in Toronto, Hamilton and London, Ont., are being replaced with one facility in Brampton, Ont. That facility is expected to be complete in a few weeks.

The next change would involve the move of most blood production work from Saint John to a new regional facility in Halifax.

“Halifax is the greatest user of blood products in the Atlantic region, so we decided to locate our production site there,” Cullen said.

“It also has the largest airport in the region which gives us much more flexibility in getting our test samples to our facility in Toronto which does donor testing.”

The agency would keep blood donation, storage and distribution in Saint John.

There are currently 120 employees in Saint John, and Cullen said it isn’t known how many jobs might be lost with the change.

Cullen said the facility would store three to four days’ worth of blood supply for hospitals, just as it does now. She said the agency is testing an air service out of Halifax to get blood to hospitals in northern New Brunswick, and the Saint John facility would also serve as a backup for them.

“So what we’re building into the system today is a redundancy,” she said.

Despite the assurances, the New Brunswick Medical Society says that in order to guarantee public safety, Canadian Blood Services should maintain and enhance blood production facilities in New Brunswick.

Alward said that remains his first choice, and provincial Health Minister Madeleine Dube said she’ll fight the removal of the production unit from Saint John “to the limit.”

A review commissioned last July by the provincial government and the New Brunswick Medical Society looked at the plans by Canadian Blood Services as well as options by the province to start their own blood agency or partner with another agency such as Quebec’s blood agency, Hema-Quebec.

The report by KPMG examined factors such as cost, efficiency and patient safety. It evaluated the three options and gave the highest grade to the Canadian Blood Services move to Halifax.

While the report doesn’t make recommendations, it says 85 per cent of the doctors, blood bank specialists and hospital staff that they interviewed felt that staying with Canadian Blood Services was the best option.

The report was given to the provincial government at the end of March but only released by the health minister this week.

“She should have released it four months ago,” said Liberal health critic Donald Arseneault.

“There’s a lot of rhetoric coming out of the government ministers and the premier but we’re seeing little or no action on these very important files.”

Arseneault said his party also wants blood production to remain in Saint John.

The consolidated operation in Halifax is expected to be complete by the end of 2012.

Dube won’t say when she’ll make a final decision on how the province will proceed.

Note to readers: This is a corrected version. A previous story said there were only 22 employees in Saint John.