A group of Surrey residents is protesting the sale of 15 acres of provincial government-owned land in Panorama Village, saying the lot should be used for a new hospital.
Gurjinder Somal of People for Better Medicare expects about 500 people to turn out for the group's one-hour rally, scheduled for this Saturday, Oct. 20, from 1 to 2 p.m. The protest will be held at the site, located in the area of Highway 10 and 152nd Street behind the grocery store.
Somal said a lack of on-call surgeons, bed shortages and wait times of up to eight hours are a few reasons why a second hospital would benefit the community.
"We've had so many bad experiences in hospitals, and that's the reason we formed this group," said Somal, adding that an extra hospital would cut down on wait times and make emergency rooms less crowded. "We want to convince the government to make some changes in the hospital system."
People for Better Medicare started up earlier this year, with their first protest held near the Surrey Central SkyTrain station on July 18. Somal said he has a petition with about 5,000 signatures on it opposing the sale of the land.
The group is picketing for more doctors and nurses, 24/7 availability of surgeons, timely care and free parking, among other requests.
"All the things that we are asking are realistic," said Somal. "As Canadians, we want good service in the hospitals.
"Most people are not happy with the hospital system, with the service they got. It's not only me - there are lots of other people who are suffering, and they want some change."
Surrey-Green Timbers MLA Sue Hammell, Surrey-Fleetwood MLA Jagrup Brar and MP Jasbir Sandhu will make appearances at the protest on Oct. 20.
In 2005, former mayor Doug McCallum said Surrey needed another hospital and then-premier Gordon Campbell took that into consideration during talks of expanding Surrey Memorial Hospital.
The ministry of citizens' services and open government provided the Now with details about the lot, noting that the area was being held in case SMH needed it. However, with the $600-million expansion underway at Surrey Memorial's current location, the land is now surplus.
"Rather than letting it sit there costing taxpayers money, we intend to sell it and let the private sector use it to generate new economic activity," wrote the ministry in an email. "It just doesn't make sense to hold on to some properties while having a deficit, when they can be better utilized in other hands."
The ministry wrote that the site is zoned for residential and commercial development and that it has significant value, though they did not disclose how much the land is worth.
Even with the SMH expansion, Somal said he still thinks the Panorama Village land would best be used for a hospital, given the growth of the city.
"The population in Surrey is growing big-time - there's 1,000 people coming every month to live here," he said. "I think the population is getting close to Vancouver now.
"Vancouver has four or five hospitals, we only have one."
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