Canada’s premiers sent a message to recently re-elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Thursday: they want the federal government to increase its share of health care spending, and soon.
Premiers from 10 provinces and two territories participated in a Council of the Federation teleconference to discuss a range of issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic recovery. Health care funding dominated their discussion.
Nunavut is in a caretaker period because of an election in that territory and did not participate.
British Columbia Premier John Horgan, who is chair of the Council of the Federation, called the demand “urgent.”
“Provincial and territorial health care systems are facing serious challenges and there is an urgent need to act,” Horgan said in a media release. “To address these challenges effectively, the newly re-elected federal government needs to work with premiers to put in place an immediate and ongoing increase in health care funding through the Canada Health Transfer.
“Canadians expect us to work together, and premiers stand ready to begin this work — but we need a federal partner.”
Specifically, the premiers want the federal share of health care costs to rise from 22 per cent to 35 per cent, and to maintain this distribution of costs.
The premiers also want a first ministers’ meeting “on long-term unconditional health funding.” They’re requesting that this meeting be held before the next speech from the throne is delivered, and certainly before the end of the year.
In a news conference, Horgan acknowledged that the demand for more health care money is not a new one among the provinces.
“There are new [premiers], but not new resolve,” Horgan said.
Trudeau and the Liberals promised $25 billion in new health care funding during the election campaign, but the money would come with strings attached — including hiring targets for health care workers and wage increases for personal support workers.
The premiers want the new health care dollars to be unconditional, the news release says.
In an interview with CBC’s Power & Politics, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs told host David Common that his province would not necessarily turn away health care dollars with strings attached.
“We wouldn’t say no, but you need to say, ‘I need to understand first what the commitments are underlying this funding,’ because we do have our own priorities here that we believe are important to the people of this province,” he said.
Higgs added that he’s optimistic a productive conversation can be had between the federal government and the provinces on health care.
“At the end of the day, if our mutual goal is to get better results for health care delivery in our respective provinces, then that’s great, we’re all on the same page,” he said.
“Then it’s defining, what does an improvement in health care actually look like? So it’s not just, ‘We’ll spend money over here because it was a headline in an election platform.'”