Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will meet with Canada’s premiers next month to hammer out a deal on health-care funding following months of significant pressure from the premiers for a summit.
Trudeau said Wednesday he has invited the premiers to a “working meeting” on Feb. 7 in Ottawa to share the federal government’s plans to support the health-care systems across Canada and to hear their priorities for investment.
“Let’s be clear, 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,” he told reporters, speaking from Hamilton, Ont.
“Reliable, universal public health care is fundamental to Canadians, and we need to keep it that way. … We’ve got a big, amazing country built on strong, progressive institutions like health care that Canadians care deeply about and we’re doing the hard work of strengthening health care and making sure that we all live up to the promise of this country.”
Canada’s 13 premiers come from different political persuasions, but they have been united in their calls for an increase to the annual Canada Health Transfer to the provinces and territories. They want what would amount to a $28-billion increase to the Canada Health Transfer, which they say will bring the federal contribution toward health costs to 35 per cent from 22 per cent currently.
With health care now taking up more than a third of their budgets, the premiers say Ottawa must contribute more to these increasing costs, even as many provinces have been posting budget surpluses in recent months.
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland made a pointed reference to this Tuesday, highlighting that health care is a provincial responsibility and that “with authority comes responsibility.”
“The fiscal position of many Canadian provinces is very strong today and I think Canadians quite naturally and appropriately expect provinces to use that fiscal capacity to support the health care systems that all of us depend on,” Freeland said.
Trudeau has said he’s willing to increase federal health transfers to the provinces, but only if they agree to a set of shared priorities that would see “tangible results,” that would improve patient care for Canadians.
Last week, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said those priorities include: reducing backlogs and supporting health workers, enhancing access to family medicine, improving mental health services, helping Canadians age with dignity and agreements to modernize and share health data. Until recently, the premiers were firm in stating they wanted more money from Ottawa with no strings attached.
Trudeau meets with cabinet at retreat in Hamilton
But last week, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Quebec Premier Francois Legault, who represent Canada’s two most populous provinces, said they would be willing to accept conditions, including more sharing of health data.
On Tuesday, Freeland pointed out that her Liberal party made a number of health funding commitments during the 2021 election campaign, saying the federal government will “be faithful” to those election promises. They included $4 billion to help eliminate wait-lists, $3 billion over four years to help hire 7,500 family doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners, and $400 million over four years to expand virtual health services.
To date, only $2 billion of this campaign commitment has materialized, earmarked for reducing waitlists for surgeries and diagnostics.
“We will be faithful to those commitments, it’s a promise we made to Canadians,” Freeland said Tuesday.
“I think it’s entirely appropriate for the federal government to play its role in ensuring that our health-care system is strong, is stable and has the capacity to deal with some of the new challenges of the 21st Century.”
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