Alberta to the ‘Feds’: “You give us the money, then we decide how to use them”

EDMONTON – Alberta doesn’t want “interference.” And we are not talking about Chinese, Indian or Iranian “infiltrators”. We are talking about Canadians. The ‘Feds’. 

Premier Danielle Smith (in the photo, from X – @ABDanielleSmith) had already said it clearly on more than one occasion and on the most varied topics, from the carbon tax to the pharmacare. And she reiterated this by announcing her province’s withdrawal, by 2026, from the Canadian Dental Care Plan (CDCP), which provides coverage – at the federal level – to those who have no dental benefits and have a household income of less than $90,000. Unless the federal government gives the Province its share of the money so that the local government can “reshape dental care coverage as it sees fit….”. In other words: you give us the money, then we decide how to use them.

The Premier Smith’s view is that dental care falls under provincial jurisdiction and that Alberta is better equipped to meet the needs of its residents through its own programs, albeit with federal financial support. The federal government, on the other hand, argues that the CDCP should “complement existing dental programs and fill existing gaps in coverage” – a real need, given the number of Albertans who have already signed up for the program: more by 100,000, according to Matthew Kronberg, press secretary for federal Health Minister Mark Holland.

Andrea Smith, spokeswoman for provincial Health Minister Adriana LaGrange, said Alberta is moving forward in negotiations with the federal government for its share of federal dental funding. “Negotiations will include a review of who is covered by the CDCP, who is covered by Alberta programs and how we can work together to expand coverage for more citizens” Smith told CBC.

In fact, Alberta already has a number of provincial plans related to dental care: the Alberta Child Health Benefit, which provides coverage for dental care to children living in low-income families; the Alberta Adult Health Benefit, which covers dental benefits for adults from low-income families, pregnant women or those who have a high need for prescription drugs; dental care for seniors based on income; Income Assurance for the Severely Disabled (AISH) with permanent medical conditions. Each of these plans has specific income thresholds, for example: a couple with four children can qualify for the benefit with a maximum (net) household income of $46,932, while a couple with two children would qualify if they earned less than $36,634 per year.

With such programs, Alberta claims to offer the broadest publicly funded dental coverage in Canada, benefiting approximately 500,000 Albertans. This includes 240,000 who qualify for senior dental care, 64,500 for the Alberta Adult Health Benefit, 40,800 for the Alberta Child Health Benefit and 69,600 for AISH. Others receiving benefits include 59,800 through income support, 5,500 through child and youth support, as well as 16,800 displaced Ukrainians.

The income thresholds, however, are a concern for some Alberta families. And Premier Smith herself acknowledges in her letter that the federal CDCP has actually led to more Albertans benefiting from coverage under the new federal plan. Take, for example, people seeking coverage under the Alberta Adult Health program: to qualify, a couple with four children would need to have a maximum net household income of $46,932. “I think [$46,932] is a really low threshold” says Ameera Shivji of Vibrant Communities Calgary, a poverty alleviation organization. “That [$46,932] doesn’t cover a lot of people who would really need this program…”.

Given the federal CDCP’s $90,000 net household income threshold, anyway, more families would be “caught” above the Alberta adult health benefit cap. However, the difference in income thresholds in provincial versus federal coverage does not mean the Province should embrace the CDCP, according to the Alberta government. This is because, simply, the Province wants to take what is offered in federal dollars and allocate it to the coverage it manages, improving or supplementing its existing coverage plans. “We must work together with the federal government to ensure we do not duplicate existing services and instead focus on expanding our current program” wrote Andrea Smith, spokesperson for the provincial Ministry of Health.

Less diplomatic words from the Premier Smith: “The planning and delivery of health care is an area of ​​provincial jurisdiction: the new federal plan violates this exclusive jurisdiction. If the federal government had wanted to develop a new health program, it would have should have done so in full cooperation with the provinces and territories, and discussions should have taken place before these intentions were announced. Unfortunately, this did not happen”.