An unhappy angel
Penner claims still owed $100,000

Darrell Greer
Northern News Services

RANKIN INLET (Apr 28/99) - Gloria Penner, known widely as The Angel of the North, says two things killed the contract she had for 32 years at Winnipeg's Ublivik Centre, her patient boarding home and transportation service for Inuit patients.

The ownership evaluation of her company under Article 24 and her recent efforts to recover the $100,000 owed to her by the Keewatin Regional Health Board (KRHB) played a large role in her company being replaced, Penner says.

She disagrees with the evaluation of her company, Ublivik Corp. Ltd., under Article 24 because her company is 51 per cent Inuit owned. Her ownership partners in the corporation are Joseph Anawak of Rankin Inlet, David Nanauq of Baker Lake and Robert Watt of Kuujjuaq.

"We also proposed to have at least 50 per cent Inuit staffing," says Penner. "We proposed to bring kids in and have them properly trained and educated as to how to look after boarding homes and the needs of our clients. We are definitely an Inuit company.

"We felt that was probably the reason we didn't get it, because of no Inuit component to our company and that is absolutely false. I don't want to say we've been dealt with in an unfair way, but we have provided this service for 32 years and it's a little disheartening we weren't even called to present anything on our behalf."

The boarding facility contract was won by Lorne and Sally Kusugak and T. C. Enterprises, largely on the basis of Article 24 which stipulates Inuit ownership for government contracts.

Penner says her company's relationship with the KRHB has always been an uphill battle and their recent financial struggles may have had some influence on its decision.

"I don't think we won a lot friends on the health board, but we had no choice. We had kept our end in looking after our clients. The boarding home changed from a bed and breakfast type of thing where you put your luggage, got fed, got picked up for the doctor's and then went home.

"It seemed doctors were letting patients out earlier and we picked up on a more dominant medical need. That cost us money and for six years we didn't have a contract. We kept plugging along, working through piles of CEOs and a lot of flak."

Penner claims every time she raised the issue of money she was owed, she was told the service was going to tender, beginning in 1993 and continuing until this year.

"The board would always say, oh, we can't do anything for you now because you're going to tender soon."

Penner says she continued on because she cared about the people and the service, but it finally came to the point where she had to have her money.

"The thought of a request for tender going out and myself possibly not getting the position -- I would have gone out in debt and having to claim bankruptcy because of something the KRHB did not do.

"We thought this was unfair, so we had to start pushing for our money. We weren't trying to be mean or get something we didn't deserve, we were just trying to get what we were owed."

Penner says there were hopes of change with the arrival of Dr. Keith Best as the board's CEO, but other than an initial payment, things remained the same.

"We felt when he started with the KRHB there might be sympathy towards something like this and he could clear up past messes and work with people to make things better. Instead, he chose to work in isolation and things did not get better at all. We're still battling for outstanding money. We're still owed more than $100,000 by the KRHB.

"There is a petition or two on the go protesting the decision. They haven't been initiated by us, but I do know there are petitions circulating. We'll have to wait and see if anything becomes of them."

Dr. Best is attending meetings between regional health board officials and Nunavut Department of Health and Social Service ministers regarding the legislative assembly's recent announcement to dissolve Nunavut's three regional health boards.

Best could not be reached for comment on Penner's claims that the KRHB still owes her company $100,000.