Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is calling on Ottawa to negotiate a new, 10-year funding accord on health care with the provinces and territories, in a bid to guarantee the survival of Canada's medicare system.
The new accord, he said, should also be in place by the end of 2012 - more than a year before the existing agreement expires on March 31, 2014.
In his strongest push yet to make health care an issue during the election campaign, Mr. McGuinty said federal leaders need to look beyond the two-year funding commitment they have made.
"How are we going to build medicare for the long road ahead when we are taking such short, tentative steps today?" he said in a speech on Friday to the Canadian Club of Toronto.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has said that, if elected, he would index health care to 6 per cent beyond the duration of the existing accord. Conservative Leader Stephen Harper later matched that pledge.
What's needed, Mr. McGuinty said, is a much broader discussion of whether this country can afford to sustain a system many Canadians appear to take for granted. The campaign trail provides an ideal opportunity for the federal parties to share their vision for the future of the universally accessible medicare system, he said.
"Right now, I would suggest, that vision is lacking."
Transfer payments for health care are crucial because about 20 cents of every dollar the provinces spend on health care comes from Ottawa. Under the existing 10-year, Canada Health Transfer Program reached in 2004, the provinces are slated to receive annual increases of 6 per cent until the accord expires.
Mr. McGuinty said it is possible for Ottawa to strike another 10-year accord with the provinces and territories because it was done before under the previous Liberal government.
"We're not shooting for the moon here."
Currently, health-care costs eat up roughly 40 per cent of provincial program spending and are rising at between 5 and 7 per cent every year. Left unrestrained, they are set to reach between 70 and 80 per cent of total spending by 2030, according to a study last year by economists at Toronto-Dominion Bank.