Premiers want commitment to increase health funding in Trudeau throne speech
OTTAWA -- Four of Canada’s conservative premiers are calling on the federal government to commit to increasing health funding to the provinces in the upcoming throne speech, and want a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to talk about a long-term multi-billion increase to transfer payments over the next decade.
Speaking from the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa on Friday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Québec Premier François Legault, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney held a joint press conference to outline their priorities for the months ahead.
“We’re here on behalf of the premiers of all provinces and territories to call on the federal government to respond to the priorities and needs of all Canadians, first and most important by contributing its fair share of health spending in the country. We ask the federal government to increase its share from 22 per cent to 35 per cent,” Legault said. “What we’re asking [for] is a fair and equitable partnership.”
The Quebec premier said in the year ahead it would mean the more than $42 billion transfer would increase to around $70 billion.
Ford said that the ask is not meant to be a knock against the Liberal government, as the funding discrepancy has been a point of contention between the premiers and prime ministers for decades.
“Nothing right now is more important to Canadians than health care because without health care we have nothing. If we don't have our health, we don't have an economy, and my friends, we're here to ask the federal government, to step up to the plate,” Ford said. “As a demand is increasing the support from the federal government has been going down.”
Pallister said that COVID-19 has exacerbated the funding problem, saying there is an increased demand for hiring more long-term care workers, as well as nurses and personal support workers. As well, as restrictions remain, many people are facing long wait times for non-emergency health services.
“Right now millions of Canadians are waiting for an appointment, for a test, for consequential treatment, for surgery. Those delays are painful,” the Manitoba premier said.
For Alberta’s Kenney, it’s about establishing “fiscal fairness,” he said, and denied that the public call-out was not about politics. “It’s about people,” he said.
“Canada has to be there for Alberta and for other provinces that are facing the greatest economic and fiscal challenge since the Depression,” said Kenney.
FEDS COVERING MAJORITY OF COVID-19 SPENDING
Federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc responded to the premiers’ remarks later on Friday afternoon, saying that today, for every dollar spent on COVID-19, 87 cents are coming from the federal government.
“The Prime Minister has said on multiple occasions that he is happy to talk to premiers about the Canada Health Transfer. In fact, we're finalizing in the next little while a time this fall to have that very meeting, specifically on the future of the Canada Health Transfer,” LeBlanc said.
The Liberals are opening a new session of Parliament on Wednesday, with a speech from the throne. Delivered by Governor General Julie Payette, the speech will outline the federal government’s priorities for the months ahead. It’s also expected to signify a shift in priorities due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The premiers and the federal government have been in close contact throughout the public health crisis, and already billions of new federal dollars going to the provinces and territories to boost their COVID-19 responses and to roll out what was billed as a “safe restart.”
“Let me be clear: The federal government has been, and will continue to be there to support the provinces and territories. Our priority remains the health and safety of Canadians. The premiers came to Ottawa today to discuss ways that we could continue to keep Canadians safe… It would of course be a pleasure for us to continue the conversation of how we can support them,” LeBlanc said.
Across the country COVID-19 cases are climbing up, with some public health officials and epidemiologists saying that Canada is now into a second wave of the virus.
This resurgence of the virus has prompted the Liberals to pivot from a strong “build back better” agenda of social and economic policy changes to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying earlier this week that his cabinet’s key focus will remain aiding Canadians through the pandemic.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said he backed the premiers’ ask and urged Trudeau in a phone call to provide additional funding to the provinces for health care, according to a readout from his office.
“Every province approaches healthcare and long-term care for seniors differently, so an Ottawa-know-best approach should not be applied to how they spend those funds. Mr. Trudeau expressed concern with a lack of accountability for the money,” the statement read.