Ontario Premier Doug Ford emerged from an hour-long meeting with Justin Trudeau on Tuesday saying the Prime Minister agrees the status quo on health care needs to change – just as the province is poised to pass contentious long-term-care legislation.
Mr. Trudeau, who did not take questions from reporters after the sit-down with Mr. Ford, visited Queen’s Park on the eve of the Ontario government’s anticipated final vote on fast-tracked legislation, which would allow hospitals to enroll patients in long-term-care homes against their will.
The proposed law, Bill 7, is meant to address the crisis in Ontario’s jammed hospitals. But critics have warned the legislation’s new powers for hospitals, which stop short of allowing them to physically remove someone, could mean patients awaiting long-term care would be forced to accept places in homes too far from their families or that suffered high death rates from COVID-19.
Asked if the bill, expected to be approved Wednesday, came up in Tuesday’s meeting, Mr. Ford said it did, and that the Prime Minister agreed with him that changes are needed to fix health care.
“We agree that the status quo’s not working,” Mr. Ford said.
While the Ontario government’s Long-Term Care Minister, Paul Calandra, said last week that hospitals should also use their existing powers to charge patients who are reluctant to leave as much as $1,800 a day. Mr. Ford suggested this was too high.
“I can’t say 100 per cent but $1,800 is absolutely ridiculous,” Mr. Ford said when asked about the figure. “We’ll have to work with the costs and the hospitals will have to work with the costs.”
Mr. Ford said the two leaders discussed Ontario’s call for more power to select skilled immigrants, plans to mine the “critical minerals” needed for electric cars in the province’s North – and the longtime push by all premiers for increased federal funding for health care.
That last request has taken on new urgency, as hospitals and Ontario and elsewhere have reeled from staff shortages, forcing temporary emergency room shutdowns.
The provinces have long been calling on Ottawa to raise its transfer payments for the health system from 22 per cent to 35 per cent of total spending, which they say would equal an annual increase of $28-billion. They point out that health care began as a 50-50 cost split between the federal government and provinces and territories.
Ottawa counters that this narrative leaves out the deal made in 1977, when tax room was transferred from the federal government to the provinces. However, critics say the amount that Ottawa increases its federal transfers annually has in recent years fallen short of the rapid growth in costs to the health care system, which was struggling owing to pressure from the country’s aging population long before COVID-19.
When asked if he received any certainty on the request of the premiers to increase federal transfers, Mr. Ford said he’s “very, very confident” the provinces will be able to work out a deal with Ottawa, although he said the two leaders did not get “deep into the weeds” on the issue.
In a brief photo-op inside Mr. Ford’s office before the closed-door meeting began, Mr. Trudeau congratulated the Premier on his June election win and said he pledged to co-operate with him.
“I know Canadians want to see the orders of government working together,” Mr. Trudeau said. “And I’m always looking for that and I really appreciate your welcome here.”
It was the Prime Minister’s first visit to Queen’s Park to see Mr. Ford in person since 2018. In previous years, the two leaders often used each other as political foils, with Mr. Ford launching a campaign against Mr. Trudeau’s carbon-pricing regime early in his tenure.
But during the pandemic, their criticisms of one another were mostly muted, with the Premier often heaping praise on the Prime Minister and his Deputy Prime Minister, Chrystia Freeland.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Mr. Ford went on at length about how well he gets on with Mr. Trudeau.
“There’s things that … we’ll never agree on, but we sat down and rattled off everything we can agree on and what we’ve accomplished and I don’t know too many premiers or prime ministers that have had this relationship.”
With a report from Canadian Press
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