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Trudeau agrees to 1st virtual ministers meeting on federal health transfers

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has agreed to hold a virtual first ministers meeting on federal health care transfers to the provinces and territories.

His agreement during a conference call with premiers Thursday came one day after Quebec’s Francois Legault and Ontario’s Doug Ford issued a joint call for a significant increase in the funding Ottawa sends them to help cover mushrooming health care costs.

Read more: Coronavirus reveals difference between U.S., Canadian health care, former insurance executive says

The federal government has already committed to transferring $19 billion to the provinces to help them cope with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, including some $10 billion for health-related expenses.

But Legault and Ford pointed out that money is a one-time transfer and argued that what the provinces need is sustainable, long-term funding to cover the ballooning costs of new technologies, drugs and an aging population, as well as ongoing pandemic-related costs.

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They did not put a price tag on their demand but said a significant increase to the annual transfer is needed.

The federal government will transfer almost $42 billion to provinces and territories for health care in the current fiscal year under an arrangement that sees the transfer increase by at least three per cent each year.

B.C. fall pandemic healthcare planning
B.C. fall pandemic healthcare planning

Legault argued that the federal contribution covers only 21 per cent of the cost of delivering universal health care, well down from the 50 per cent share originally agreed to decades ago.

Trudeau has been holding conference calls almost every week with provincial and territorial leaders since the pandemic shut down the country in mid-March.

While those calls — 18 of them as of Thursday — have covered a range of issues, he has now agreed to devote one meeting entirely to the health transfers issue. His office says no date has been set for that call but it is likely to take place before Sept. 23, when Trudeau’s government will issue a throne speech laying out its plan for economic recovery.

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Read more: Coronavirus cases could exceed Canada’s health care capacity this fall, officials warn

Trudeau is to join Ford today for IAMGOLD’s ground-breaking ceremony for their Cote Gold Project in northern Ontario, about 130 kilometres southwest of Timmins.

During construction, the project, which involves international and local First Nations partners, is expected to create more than 1,000 jobs, as well as 450 full-time jobs once completed.

Trudeau is expected to tout the project as a sign that the economy, flattened by COVID-19, is starting to get back on its feet.