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Healthcare, premiers say yes to the crushing agreement

TORONTO – In the end, they gave in. Canadian premiers have accepted Ottawa’s proposal, presented last week by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to “inject” $46.2 billion in new funds to the provinces and territories over a decade to support an increasingly faltering health system. Crumbs, actually, if you divide the “cake” by the number of years and “beneficiaries”. 

The premiers met on Monday to discuss the proposal and accepted it, obtorto collo: now Ottawa will meet bilaterally with the Provinces and Territories to finalize the financing agreements, with the deal that the premiers “will answer to the voters if the injection of money does not improve the health system”.

But, we said, the premiers are not satisfied. “For now we have accepted the agreement and will move on to bilateral agreements” Manitoba premier Heather Stefanson said on Monday. “But we recognize that this is not a long-term solution to the health care financing that is needed in our country”. Why?

The Ottawa proposal includes a top-up to Canada Health Transfer (CHT) and new funds targeting four priority areas: family health services, health workers and backlogs, mental health and substance use and a “modernized health system”. To access the enhanced CHT, provinces must first commit to improving how health data is “collected, shared, used and reported to Canadians to promote greater transparency about outcomes and to help manage public health emergencies”, the federal government explained in a background document provided to reporters. Funding for the shared priorities will also depend on Provinces and Territories developing “action plans” detailing how these funds will be spent and how progress will be measured.

With these conditions, the Ottawa proposal includes a 5% annual increase to the CHT for the next five years. Thereafter, the CHT “escalator” will revert to a 3% increase each year. This is well below what the premiers had called for, which was an annual increase of $28 billion to the CHT.

Unsatisfied, therefore, the premiers who had to make the best of a bad situation, given that the proposal put on the table by Justin Trudeau was not negotiable.

Stefanson reiterated that she was “concerned about the timing”, stressing that “there is no guarantee that the funding will continue to flow after ten years”. Reason why the premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, had suggested to his colleagues during the meeting on Monday to ask the prime minister at least to extend these agreements beyond ten years.

But the federal government went straight and ministers Jean-Yves Duclos (Health) and Dominic LeBlanc (Intergovernmental Affairs) have already met with officials from the governments of Ontario, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador for bilateral agreements: to follow, British Columbia, territories and prairies before the end of the week. The government’s aim is to have the agreements in place before the next budget, which is scheduled for March/April.

Pic by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

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