To get the money, provinces have to keep their health spending at current levels and agree to work with the government on data sharing
OTTAWA — Premiers might have found the federal government’s opening offer on health care disappointing, but it appears to be a disappointment they can live with.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled his proposal for health care funding Tuesday to premiers in Ottawa. The deal Trudeau has offered will give provinces significantly more money for health care over the next decade, but much of the money was already expected and the money falls well short of what the premiers had been demanding.
The Canada Health Transfer, the main federal funding mechanism, will rise by a minimum of five per cent a year, instead of a minimum of three per cent, which will add $17.3 billion to provincial budgets in the first five years. There is also $25 billion available for one-on-one deals with provinces focused on mental health, family doctors, increasing the health workforce and health modernization.
To get the money, provinces have to keep their health spending at current levels and agree to work with the government on data sharing.
After Tuesday’s meeting, all of the premiers said the amount of money was insufficient. Premiers had come in asking for $28 billion in just the first year, with federal payments rising at five per cent a year after that.
But on Wednesday, Ontario’s health Minister Sylvia Jones, said they would be accepting the deal.
“There is no doubt that any new health-care spending and investments, we will accept,” she said.
Jones and Ontario Premier Doug Ford are set to meet Thursday with Health Minister Jean Yves Duclos and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc. She said they want longer term certainty on what the federal government is offering, because they need the certainty.
“When deals come from the federal government in 10- and five-year increments, it makes it very challenging,” she said. “Whether you’re looking at new medical schools, new residency positions, training and hiring new nurses — those are all things that take literally decades and will be a commitment of our government for decades.”
Quebec Premier Francois Legault said the deal was “disappointing,” but acknowledged it was a step forward.
“It is better than nothing, but not enough for sure,” he said. “We will continue to fight to get more.
An official in the British Columbia government said they were pleased to see the Liberals increasing spending on health care, even if it was well below what the premiers were looking for.
“We are moving the federal governmen tin the right direction. It just the speed,” they said.
The Council of the Federation, which is the group that brings all premiers together, is set to meet in the coming days, possibly as early as Friday. It is expected they will hammer out a unified response to the Liberals offer there. The B.C. source said many provinces are under real strain to improve their systems and if they accept the federal money it will be because it is “just enough.”
Duclos said his focus now is moving the deal into something more concrete and ensuring the dollars can actually flow to where they will do the most good.
“We look forward to now working with provinces and territories so they can generate and publish their action plans and then start to communicate on the key indicators that we will use to show progress on access to family health teams, reducing backlogs and so many other things important to Canadians,” he said.
Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre said he understands the premiers’ frustration. He said there should be more funds available, but Trudeau squandered dollars on wasteful spending.
“Healthcare is broken and the federal government is broke after eight years of Justin Trudeau,” he said.
He said he would keep the long-term deal in place if he becomes prime minister and honour Trudeau’s deal with the provinces.
“We regret that the Prime Minister broke the federal bank and wasted so much money that he now cannot come to the table and help relieve the suffering in our emergency rooms,” he said.
NDP leader said the deal was inadequate to the challenge and didn’t do enough for patients.
“After spending the last two and a half years stalling any progress to improve health care, Justin Trudeau has come forward with the bare minimum; a deal that won’t do nearly enough to recruit, retain and respect frontline workers,” he said in a statement.
Doris Grinspun, Chief Executive Officer of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario said there was a lot to like in the deal and she believes it will do a lot to improve health care on the ground.
She said the emphasis on primary care and family doctors is especially helpful for long-term sustainability of the system.
“There is no effective health system without primary care,” she said. “If you want to save money and have people live healthier lives, primary care is your place.”
Grinspun said her organization supported the premiers’ original demand of $28 billion, but she still expects they will all take the deal on the table.
“I think the premier should and will take the deal. I’m convinced. I don’t think any premier will not take the deal”
With additional reporting from the Canadian Press
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