Canada’s 13 premiers say they “expect” to get a commitment from Ottawa to increase its share of health-care funding to 35 per cent, setting the stage for a possibly contentious first ministers’ meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau next week.
The premiers released a joint statement Monday, saying they welcome the Feb. 7 meeting, which was announced by Trudeau last week.
But they made it clear they want the outcome of these talks to be an increase to the Canada Health Transfer that would amount to about $28 billion from the current $45.2 billion.
“Provinces and territories are making substantial investments and taking action to innovate and improve health-care systems based on the unique needs and circumstances of their respective jurisdictions and residents,” the statement says.
“They expect the federal government to play a critical role in supporting real and lasting health care improvements for Canadians by increasing the federal share of funding through the Canada Health Transfer from 22 per cent to 35 per cent and by maintaining this level over time.”
Last week, Trudeau said he “won’t be signing any deals” with the premiers during the Feb. 7 meeting, but rather will be focusing on how to improve outcomes for patients.
Trudeau has said he will increase health-care funding to the provinces and territories amid what front-line workers are calling a “crisis” of understaffing and wait times, but so far, has not committed to any dollar figures or percentages.
While the discussions next week will include efforts to reach long-term funding arrangements, Trudeau said he wants the main focus to be on tangible ways to improve key areas of health care in which Canadians have been struggling to access timely care.
“Too many people don’t have access to a family doctor or a nurse practitioner, wait times in emergency rooms across the country, particularly in rural areas, have become dangerously low,” Trudeau said during a Liberal cabinet retreat last week in Hamilton, Ont.
“Providing money is certainly part of the solution, and we will do that, but funding alone won’t solve the issues that we’re seeing.”
Trudeau added that he wants to reach agreements with the premiers on a number of key priorities, which include: better access to family doctors in rural and urban areas, more sustainable health staffing, better and more timely access to mental health care and agreements from the provinces to modernize and share health data.
Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson, the current chair of the Council of the Federation, which represents all premiers, said the fact Trudeau is finally sitting down with the premiers for a first ministers meeting is a “positive first step.”
But she stressed that they will be seeking an increase to the Canada Health Transfer “as soon as possible.”
“The sustainability of our health care systems requires a strong and predictable federal funding partnership now and over the long-term future,” Stefanson said in the statement issued Monday.
“Premiers look forward to seeing initial, substantive federal proposals as soon as possible and to ongoing constructive discussions with the prime minister.”
The premiers have been calling for a meeting with the prime minister for over two years, during which time they have consistently called for an increase in the federal share of health-care costs to 35 per cent, with no conditions attached.
Recently, however, federal officials have said there has been a “change in tone” in their talks with the provinces on health funding, with the premiers of Ontario and Quebec openly saying they will now agree to conditions such as sharing health data if it helps to ink a deal for more money.
Last week, Trudeau, federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Intergovernmental Minister Dominic LeBlanc also said they also would try to seek bilateral agreements with the provinces and territories in some areas, due to differences among the regions in population, geography and access to certain services.
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