Ottawa has begun negotiations to transfer of the Ste-Anne's Veterans' Hospital to the Quebec provincial government.

With only 400 surviving veterans of World World II and the Korean War remaining in the hospital, one entire floor is empty. 

The institution that can accommodate up to 1,000 patients could be more efficiently used as a long-term facility, officials said Monday.

"The need for beds, for long-care beds, are less and it's for that (reason) we think this could be appropriate and helpful to negociate with the government of Quebec to transfer the hospital to them," said Jean-Pierre Blackburn, federal minister of veterans' affairs.

Despite the administrative shift, Blackburn said aspects of the transfer are non-negociable.

"Veterans would have priority first. Second, services have to be offered in both languages," he said.

The 1,116 hospital employees' jobs are also a priority, said Daniel Allard, president of the union representing the workers.

"We want to make sure the quality of services offered (continue)," he said.

While preliminary talks are underway, real negociations have yet to begin, and it could be three years before the hospital is handed over to the province.

Some veterans living at the hospital said Monday they understood the motivation to open the hospital to civilians, but would need to adjust to the change.

"I've been talking with patients, that's my job... and (I can't) say we're very happy, but it will be good," said Marcel Otis of the residents' committee.

Ste-Anne's is the last veterans' hospital in Canada to be federally administered. Others have already been transferred to provincial jurisdictions.