Nunatsiaq News
EDITORIAL: -none- September 26, 1997 - 9:42 am

Wanna buy a consultant?

JIM BELL

Pssst!

Wanna buy a consultant?

That’s what the GNWT did back in 1996, apparently, when they handed an untendered sole-source contract worth $500,000 to an Ontario-based outfit called Med-Emerg International.

Around that time the GNWT was setting out to reconfigure the NWT health care system in light of skyrocketing costs.

And they also needed a big pile of paper signed by long list of “experts” bearing various alphabet-soup acronyms after their names to justify using Baffin hospital money for new hospitals in the Keewatin and Kitikmeot regions.

Early in 1996, Iqaluit’s newly-elected MLA, Ed Picco, had been lobbying loudly for the resumption of plans to build a replacement hospital in the Baffin region. The money for that project at least $42 million of it had been committed by the federal government in an amendment to the 1988 agreement under which Ottawa transferred responsibility for health care to the GNWT.

At the same time, Picco’s newly-elected counterparts in Keewatin Central and Kitikmeot, Finance Minister John Todd and Health Minister Kelvin Ng, had each stood for election on platforms that promised improvements to health care facilities in their respective communities.

In Todd’s case, that meant a new hospital for Rankin Inlet, and for good reason. People in the Keewatin region have been demanding that for years, along with a birthing centre and other services now only available in either Churchill or Winnipeg.

There are legitimate and compelling reasons, therefore, for dividing up Ottawa’s new hospital money in a way that provides at least some money for new hospitals in Keewatin and Kitikmeot.

Those reasons existed long before the GNWT decided to fork out half a million dollars to Med-Emerg. Political goodwill, reasoned negotiation and a respect for consensus decision-making could have achieved an open, fair agreement for sharing new hospital money among Nunavut’s three regions.

Picco, Todd and Ng all could have showed off their trophy buildings in time for the next election.

But the GNWT poisoned the process even before it started. First, they revealed that they had already spent their promised contribution for a new Baffin hospital. Second, they handed a sole-source contract to Med-Emerg, simply to provide information that already ought to be available within the territorial health department.

Third, they launched their own behind-closed-doors capital planning process that no one understands perhaps because the GNWT doesn’t want anyone to understand it.

In any event, the GNWT’s planning process contains another idea that has received virtually no public debate.

That idea is the use of private money to help pay for those new hospitals. It’s no surprise, then, that Med-Emerg’s bloated, jargon-filled report eventually lumbers towards recommendations on the use of private money. That’s what the GNWT likely wanted to hear, and likely paid for ahead of time.

“What role can the economic development corporations play in the financing, project management and provision of other services for these projects?” the Med-Emerg report’s authors ask in their report. There are also various references to “economic development corporations” and “investment funds,” as possible sources for that private money.

The report provides the GNWT, therefore, not only with a rationale for divvying up the Baffin’s hospital money, but also a rationale for sneaking privatization into the territorial health care system with no public debate.

Unfortunately, they never counted on the possibility that members of the Baffin health board may be capable of thinking for themselves on that issue. This week, the Baffin board rejected the idea of having a replacement hospital in the Baffin built with private money.

Perhaps Baffin board members have acted too hastily. Perhaps their suspicions are justified. It’s too early to say what their decision means, mainly because the GNWT has said nothing about how much health care privatization they’re planning for. And Med-Emerg’s long-winded report doesn’t contain any advice about what to do in the event that health boards don’t toe the GNWT’s line.

It does seem likely that the Baffin’s long-promised hospital may have to be paid for out of a fraction of what’s left of the $42 million or so that Ottawa first promised, plus whatever the Baffin board can scrape together in charitable donations.

As for those MLAs who have been wondering out loud about why the GNWT spent so much on a sole-source contract with Med-Emerg, they needn’t look far to find the answer. JB

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