Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson says the premiers have agreed to accept the health-care funding deal offered to them by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, although they say it is far less than they had been asking for.
Stefanson, who currently chairs the premiers association known as the Council of the Federation, oversaw a virtual meeting on Monday where the premiers discussed last week’s offer of over $46 billion in new federal health-care spending over the next 10 years.
“We believe it’s a step in the right direction,” Stefanson said in an interview with Global News on 680 CJOB in Winnipeg.
“But at the same time, we also recognize that this is not the answer to what we need in the way of long-term sustainable funding in health care in this country.”
The new money means Ottawa will be sending a total of $196.1 billion in health-care funding, the bulk of which was already laid out in existing agreements, to the provinces over the next decade.
The offer was still shy of the premiers’ demand for Ottawa to increase its share of health spending from 22 per cent to 35 per cent.
Still, she said the provinces will accept the new money while continuing to work with Ottawa on a long-term plan to ensure the viability of Canada’s cherished health-care system.
Stefanson said a letter will be sent to Trudeau by the premiers outlining “some details and constructive suggestions” toward that sustainability plan.
Other premiers indicated last week and on Monday that they were likely to accept the deal despite falling short of their expectations.
“I don’t think anyone in Canada is of the mind we can be rejecting or forgoing health investment,” Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe told reporters in Regina on Monday.
“Any increase in the area of health care is most certainly appreciated and would be well applied here in Saskatchewan.”
Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc have been travelling across the country to meet with premiers and provincial health ministers since the offer was presented last week.
“We welcome today’s announcement by the Council of the Federation,” the pair said in a joint statement. “There is still much work ahead of us to finalize bilateral agreements with each provinces and territory, and over the coming weeks, that will be our focus.”
Those bilateral agreements are meant to work out how the provinces’ share of the federal money, along with provincial funds, will address their individual health-care needs.
On Monday, the ministers sat down with leaders in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia to discuss their provinces’ individual health-care needs and where the new federal funding is needed most.
LeBlanc and Duclos will be in British Columbia Tuesday, followed by the territories and then the prairies before the end of this week.
British Columbia Premier David Eby said in a statement that “it’s clear every region of our country is struggling with increased strains” on health-care systems.
“This proposal from the federal government reverses course and begins moving us in the right direction,” he said.
“It offers stability over the long term and provides reassurance to British Columbians that we can work together to improve our public health-care system, including immigration pathways for health-care workers and national credential recognition.”
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who met with Duclos and LeBlanc last week, proposed to his colleagues at the Monday meeting that they ask Trudeau to extend the deals beyond the next decade.
In a statement, his office said the recommendations would allow for sustainable funding that is “data-driven based on performance.” Ford was “confident” Ottawa would accept his proposal, the statement added.
The federal offer came with certain conditions including a requirement for modernization and sharing of health-care data for a national database.
The federal government has also been clear it does not want the new money to go toward private health facilities, which some provinces are beginning to lean on to help ease the burden on the public system.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government announced last month that it’s moving some procedures to publicly funded, private facilities to address a growing surgery wait-list, which worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Patients will not have to pay for those procedures, Ford and Health Minister Sylvia Jones have said.
Provinces such as Alberta and Saskatchewan have already made similar moves.
In an interview with Mercedes Stephenson on The West Block Sunday, LeBlanc said provinces can continue to explore such moves so long as they continue to abide by the Canada Health Act.
“The provinces can continue to do some of those things as long as they’re respecting the basic principles of the Canada Health Act, which deal with things like … access being based on medical need, not your ability to pay,” he said.
“But we’re going to be clear that the incremental federal money that we’re proposing has to go into strengthening … the public health care system, not the private health care system.”
Trudeau has said his conversations with the premiers last week in presenting the offer made clear his government’s top priority is preserving the Canada Health Act. But he has also touted Ford’s move as an innovative solution to address growing wait times.
—With files from the Canadian Press