Premiers accept healthcare deal with Ottawa

It wasn’t the increase the premiers were asking for, but it was an increase.

Canada’s premiers formally accepted an offer from the federal government for billions in additional healthcare funding but say they will also insist the money continue to flow for more than ten years.

The deal amounts to an additional $46 billion from Ottawa over a decade, as long as the provinces meet some conditions on how the money is spent and report data to demonstrate whether and how the money is making a difference in the healthcare system.

The premiers say the offer, tabled at a first ministers’ meeting last week, is nowhere near what they asked for — but new money cannot be turned down.

“That being said, it is an increase, and any increase in the area of health care is appreciated, and it will be well applied in Saskatchewan,” Premier Scott Moe said.

Premier of Manitoba and chair and spokeswoman for the group of premiers known as the Council of the Federation Heather Stefanson shared the same sentiments as Moe.

“We believe it’s a step in the right direction, but we also recognize that it doesn’t deal with that long-term sustainability of healthcare funding challenges that we all face in our provinces and territories. So we will be writing to the prime minister to talk about and to address some of those issues.”

Since 2020 the premiers have been asking Ottawa to increase the annual health transfers to cover 35 per cent of provincial health budgets, up from the current 22 per cent. To get there, the premiers said they wanted an immediate increase of $28 billion a year and then an additional five per cent annually after that.

The offer Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made last week includes a top-up to the Canada Health Transfer of $2 billion immediately, annual increases to of at least five per cent for the next five years, and $25 billion over 10 years for priority areas: mental health, data collection, family medicine, surgical backlogs and health human resources.

The provinces and territories will only get the additional money if they agree to conditions, including an upgrade of health data collection to better show how the system is performing and annual reporting of specific indicators.

Ottawa intends to sign one-on-one agreements with every province and territory to tailor the deal to their unique needs.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc have already met with Ontario, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador to start working toward those agreements.

LeBlanc said they would be in British Columbia Tuesday, followed by the territories and then the prairies before the end of the week.

The federal Liberals want the broad strokes of the agreements in place before the next budget, which is expected sometime in March or early April.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said the federal offer is not going to be enough to “monumentally change” how provinces deliver health care, but it’s still more than was on the table before.

“I don’t think anyone in Canada is of the mind that we can be rejecting or forgoing health investment,” he said. “It isn’t anywhere near what was requested by the premiers for a significant period of time. And that request was for the federal government to become a full funding partner.”

with files from The Canadian Press

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