10/01/2011 04:57 EDT | Updated 12/01/2011 05:12 EST

Hudak pledges to re-open Port Colborne ER, after candidate says they won't

PORT COLBORNE, Ont. - Ontario's Progressive Conservatives would reopen a shuttered emergency room in the Niagara region even if a provincially appointed supervisor deems it unnecessary, the party leader pledged Saturday.

The new promise from Tim Hudak to reopen the ER at Port Colborne's hospital came just five days before Thursday's provincial election.

The Liberal government closed the emergency departments in the hospitals in Fort Erie and Port Colborne, both in the Niagara region, and put urgent care centres in their place. There was considerable backlash from the community and some even blame the closures on the death of an 18-year-old girl whose ambulance after a car crash had to pass closed ERs.

Hudak has previously said he would reopen the Fort Erie ER, but Saturday was the first time he committed to reopening the one in Port Colborne. As recently as last weekend, Niagara Falls PC candidate George Lepp said the party would reopen the Fort Erie ER, but not Port Colborne's.

Standing outside the Port Colborne hospital Saturday, Hudak said he has always said closing both ERs was a mistake. When asked to explain his change of heart about reopening both of them, he said it was about listening.

"I said I would talk to medical leaders, I would talk to municipal leaders about what they thought the best steps were," Hudak said. "I've had the chance to do so and the case is there in both Fort Erie and Port Colborne to open up both these ERs."

He didn't put a dollar figure on the cost of reopening both emergency departments, but he suggested the move will save money because right now ambulances are making extra trips to take people outside Port Colborne and Fort Erie to other hospitals.

"So you know what? We'll actually find savings in all the ambulance rides to move people back and forth because it will restore health care to the community of Port Colborne," he said.

The province appointed a supervisor in August to take over full power of the Niagara Health System, which has also been dealing recently with a deadly C. difficile outbreak. Hudak said even if the supervisor recommends the ERs stay closed, if he is premier he will still reopen them.

"We're not going to tolerate any other option aside from restoring an ER 24 hours a day, seven days a week to Port Colborne and Fort Erie," he said. "It's the right thing to do and we'll work with the NHS to make that happen."

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has also pledged to reopen both ERs and has pegged the cost at $10 million a year.