The federal government is prepared to discuss more funding for provinces that saw their health-care systems severely impacted by the novel coronavirus, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said.
He told Global News’ Mercedes Stephenson on an episode of The West Block that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been clear he is “happy to” discuss the Canada Health Transfer.
“We share the premiers’ concerns, so we’re prepared to have that conversation,” he said.
But, LeBlanc said referencing several premiers’ recent appearance in Ottawa, provincial leaders should be focusing on their response to rising COVID-19 cases, a possible second wave and what he described as “huge lineups” at COVID-19 testing centres.
“We think that’s where the urgent focus should be of all governments. That’s where we’re focused. And we certainly think the premiers need to maintain that focus as well,” he said.
So far, the Canadian government has allocated more than $19 billion to help premiers safely restart their economy. But some premiers hit harder by the pandemic have said they’ll need more.
On Friday, ahead of the government’s speech from the throne next week, Canada’s premiers were unanimous in demanding the federal government spend at least $28 billion more each year for health care and $10 billion for infrastructure.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Quebec Premier Francois Legault, Alberta’s Jason Kenney and Manitoba’s Brian Pallister, who went to Ottawa on behalf of all premiers, also asked the federal government reform its fiscal stabilization program to deliver extra funding to provinces undergoing particularly hard times. That would mean “an extra $6 billion for Alberta alone,” the Canadian Press reported.
Kenney told Global News 50 per cent of funding from the program was supposed to be available for provinces undergoing an “economic downturn,” but now “we’re down to provinces paying 80 per cent of the bill.”
“For us in Alberta, with the fiscal catastrophe that we are now living on top of the all the huge costs associated with COVID-19, that’s coming home in a very real and human way,” he said, adding he had support from all 13 provinces and territories.
“We’re also facing an economic crisis, a jobs crisis in Alberta and have been for five years going through economic stagnation. The global COVID-19 recession, on top of the biggest collapse in oil prices in history has hit us especially hard.”
“The human consequences of that are enormous, which is why we’re demanding fiscal fairness.”
When asked why he felt compelled to travel to Parliament Hill in order to make his demands, Kenney replied: “Because this is so important.”
“We had to find a way to highlight these desperate needs in our country for our people. This is not about politics. It’s about people. It’s about health care. It’s about jobs,” he said.
Kenney added that all health protocols, safety and travel restrictions were followed when making the trip to Ottawa.
He advised the federal government avoiding spending money on “all sort of ideological shiny objects” and focus on “protecting lives and livelihoods.”
“In this, the largest economic contraction in nine decades, surely we can all agree that we should be single-mindedly focused on the public health urgency and the economic crisis that’s in front of us,” he said.
— With files from The Canadian Press