The chief of Long Plain First Nation says he hopes to see a private for-profit medical clinic open in a building the band plans to construct on its urban reserve in Winnipeg.
Dennis Meeches says the First Nation is in the process of finalizing lease agreements with a number of potential tenants for a $20-million office building planned for land on Madison Street, near Polo Park Shopping Centre.
Meeches says one potential tenant is White Cross Healthcare, which is headed by Winnipeg businessman Daren Jorgenson.
"We still don't have a signed lease agreement with White Cross, but we're hoping that they will sign on, for sure," Meeches said.
Jorgenson, however, says the clinic will be part of an initiative called Our Buffalo Ltd., which he called an "economic empowerment project."
"One avenue is private health care and we're working with Long Plain First Nation and Chief Dennis Meeches to see that happen," he said in an interview on CBC's Information Radio.
Meeches says the First Nation isn't a partner with Jorgenson on the clinic project, although he says it supports what Jorgenson wants to do.
The band currently leases space on its urban reserve in Portage la Prairie to White Cross Healthcare.
Jorgenson said the Winnipeg clinic aims to provide a wide range of private and public health-care services, including family physicians, dental care, blood and urine tests, and diagnostic services including MRI, CT scans, and X-rays.
Jorgenson says he hopes to partner with Manitoba Health to provide a mix of public and private MRI services. He says he hasn't spoken to anyone in government about the idea, yet.
Possible Health Act challenges
The plan faces possible challenges under the Canada Health Act, which forbids charging a fee for any medically necessary services.
Health Canada says the Canada Health Act applies on and off reserve, and "medically necessary MRI scans are insured health services and should be covered by provincial plans whether these services are provided in hospitals or in private clinics."
Jorgenson argues that because the clinic is on a reserve, he's confident he can structure the business in a way that the act would not apply to him.
"We feel confident in our legal advice and we're pushing forward," he said.
Meeches says he supports the idea of an MRI clinic on the site, but expressed uncertainty about the plan.
"If he's able to achieve that, all the power to him. He has an opinion on that [and] he should be able to have one. If we could do anything to support that, I think we would," Meeches said.
Jorgenson recently put out a call for health-care workers with treaty status to work in the clinic. He says their income will be tax-free while working on the urban reserve as part of treaty rights upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada.
The 1983 case of Nowegijick v. The Queen concluded that personal income earned by people with treaty status working on reserve could not be taxed, because it is considered personal property, which is exempt under Section 87 (1) of The Indian Act.
Meeches says he doesn't know about whether the act would apply to Jorgenson's business, but he says his First Nation is always looking for economic opportunities and believes private clinics on urban reserves could be a "game changer."
"We think that health-centre concept that Daren is proposing would actually be a good fit. I think many people know right across the board that health issues are a major issue for Indigenous people," he said.
Before construction can begin, Meeches says they have to first demolish a building at 410 Madison St., which is owned by the First Nation but is not part of the urban reserve.