Canadians may want to ask themselves why provinces are demanding more money from Ottawa in health transfers, while they simultaneously “turn around and give tax breaks to the wealthiest,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday.
He said while the federal government is committed to increasing funding for health care in Canada, provinces could be using more of their own funds and tax bases to address significant challenges facing the health system nationwide.
“I think citizens of provinces that see provincial governments saying that they don’t have any more money to invest in health care and therefore they need money from the federal government, while at the same time they turn around and give tax breaks to the wealthiest – those citizens can ask themselves some questions,” Trudeau told reporters during an availability in New Brunswick Tuesday.
“We’re going to be there with more money … as to how the provincial government chooses to spend its money or invest people’s money in tax breaks for the wealthiest, that’s a question for citizens of the province to reflect on.”
Trudeau’s comments as federal, provincial and territorial health ministers prepared to wrap up meetings in Vancouver, where provinces and territories presented a united front in seeking a boost in federal health spending.
All 13 of Canada’s premiers have been demanding a $28-billion increase to the Canada Health Transfer, which they say will bring the federal contribution toward health costs from 22 per cent currently to 35 per cent.
Ottawa argues the premiers’ figures do not represent the full scope of the federal government’s total investment in health care, as tax points to provinces and other specific bilateral deals on mental health and home care are not being factored in.
The premiers recently launched an advertising campaign in an attempt to dial up the political heat in their demands, tying the need for more federal funding to an exodus of doctors and nurses from the health system – a phenomenon that has placed considerable strain on hospitals and emergency departments across the country.
On Monday, federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos committed to additional health-care dollars for the provinces and territories. But this new money will come with conditions, he said, which include expanding the use of common key health indicators and building a “world-class” health data system for the country.
On Tuesday, Trudeau upped the political ante, decrying provincial tax breaks for the wealthy that he described as “trickle down economics” while provinces – most of which are currently led by Conservative premiers – beg for more federal cash for health care.
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Throwing money into a “broken system” isn’t the answer, Trudeau said in reference to recent comments by the Canadian Medical Association, but rather provinces need to embrace changes to improve the health services available to Canadians.
“If provinces continue to not reform or not improve their health care delivery services, it’s no surprise that Canadians are getting more and more frustrated,” he said.
Health ministers need to come up with concrete solutions to help Canadians with the challenges in health care, such as addressing pressing health worker shortages and moving forward on better health data collection, Trudeau said.
“Yes, the federal government will be there with more money, but we also know the provinces have a lot of money that they could be investing in health care as well.”