Emergency meeting called into Baffin hospital

Baffin leaders will meet in a last-ditch effort to save Baffin’s new hospital.


Nunatsiaq News

IQALUIT Baffin MLAs will hold an emergency meeting this week in Yellowknife to iron out details on financing for a new Baffin regional hospital.

“What we’ll discuss is how much each party can bring to the table,” said Iqaluit MLA Ed Picco.

Ann Hanson, chair of the Baffin Regional Health and Social Services Board, and Pat Kermeen, the board’s chief executive officer, were asked by Baffin MLAs to meet with them and GNWT Health Minister Kelvin Ng.

Baffin MLAs requested the meeting after hearing that health board members rejected an offer by Qikiqtaaluk Corporation to finance the construction of a hospital.

At their meeting last week in Iqaluit, board members said they preferred to use a charitable foundation to raise the funds needed for a new hospital. QC is the development arm of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association.

Hanson and Kermeen will attend the meeting to clarify the board’s position and determine the timelines, financing requirements and how much the foundation can be reasonably expected to raise for the project.

The same wavelength?

“We want to make sure everyone is on the same wavelength,” said Picco, who’s trying to get all the parties back to the negotiating table.

“I don’t see a delay or anything,” he added. “But what we are concerned with is the ability of the foundation to come up with monies.”

The board plans to have a new hospital completed by 1999.

“The problem is the timeline,” Picco said. “Can they come up with X-number of dollars between now and when they want to put the piles in the ground?”

The cost of a new hospital estimated between $25 million and $47 million will be determined after an assessment is completed on the program and functional design of the building.

The project is also constrained by the budgeting timeline of the territorial government.

“The window of opportunity for this government is running out because we only have one more budget cycle left, so that’s the time frame that we’re under,” Picco said.

“The territorial commitment could be in the form of $3 million in capital funds, $2 million guaranteed lease, lease arrangements, or it could be a guaranteed loan. Whatever is needed to do the job,” Picco said. “That’s the kind of thing we want to discuss. We haven’t done that yet.”

Todd won’t attend

GNWT Finance Minister John Todd said he won’t attend the meeting. He said he thought the parties had reached an agreement during a meeting in Iqaluit in August.

“I thought we had an honest, straightforward discussion,” Todd said. “I was disappointed when I saw the results of the health board’s position last week. Disappointed is an understatement.”

Through a private-public partnership, Todd told those who attended that meeting, including Hanson and Kermeen, that a $25 million hospital could be financially feasible. He said it’s unreasonable to think there’s money available for a $47 million-building.

“That’s not my number,” he said. “That could have been historically, but that was the previous government.”

MLAs are currently examining business plans for all capital projects expected during the next budget cycle, including the Baffin hospital.

Todd said he expects to have a policy on public-private partnerships in place by mid-November to pave the way for financing agreements.

Picco: Ottawa will pay 85 per cent

Picco said he’s confident the federal government will pick up between 80-85 per cent of the cost of the hospital based on a 1988 agreement with the GNWT when it transferred responsibility of health care to the territories.

“I don’t have any indication of the federal government reneging on those committments made in 1988.”

He said, though, that the federal government never indicated that the money would come in block funding.

The GNWT has already spent several million dollars that was transferred from the federal government. How any remaining federal dollars will flow to the territorial government is something that Picco said will be discussed at that meeting.

Todd, however, said that according to that 1988 agreement, the federal government promised to renovate the existing hospital, not replace it. The GNWT’s position is to replace the building.

“The rules of engagement have changed dramatically from 1988,” Todd said. “In 1988 we didn’t have a $150 million-$200-million problem in relationship to the deficit.

“You can’t say let’s go back to a 1988 issue without dealing with a 1997 fiscal reality.”

Todd said the federal department contribution whatever that may be would be part of a “mix” of financing along with the GNWT and whatever private financing arrangments can be made.

Todd said after he sees a formal commitment from the board, he’s prepared to set up the framework needed to get all the financing in place for a new hospital..

“I would hope they would see the merits that, on the asset side it, that that should be owned by the people of Baffin Island.”

Any leasing agreement must also be signed off by Nunavut Interim Commissioner Jack Anawak on behalf of the Nunavut government.

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