Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he is “very confident” that provinces and territories will reach a new health-care deal with Ottawa, even as he remains mum on the Premiers’ key demand for a significant federal funding increase to 35 per cent of costs.
Mr. Ford on Friday said he is happy to be meeting alongside his provincial and territorial colleagues with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a long-awaited summit on Feb. 7 in Ottawa. The Premiers are also set to speak on Friday afternoon in advance of what Mr. Trudeau this week called a “working meeting” with the first ministers, where the Prime Minister is expected to present a detailed and long-term funding plan.
“I believe we’re going to get a deal. I’m very, very confident,” Mr. Ford told reporters at an announcement in Brampton, Ont., about a new medical school.
“We’ll sit down with the Prime Minister and I’m very, very confident by the time we sit down we’ll all come together and make sure it’s a fair deal for the provinces, territories and most importantly the people of our province and Canada.”
Still, Mr. Ford would not say whether the Premiers would reject a deal that fails to meet their key demand of increasing federal health care transfers from 22 to 35 per cent. Mr. Trudeau and his ministers have made clear that a significant increase in spending is on the table but did not disclose any specifics on the amount or time frame for the agreement.
On Friday, Mr. Ford – who has been pushing for an increase for two years – said he does not want to negotiate through the media.
“We’ll come up with the right amount that’s going to work for all the provinces and territories. And again, we have a really good relationship with the federal government so we’ll work hard, and there’s always a little give and take when you negotiate anything,” he said.
“We’ll negotiate that with the federal government, and we’ll negotiate hard. We’re all fighting for health-care dollars across the country, but we’re all going to come together. And we have a very close-knit group of premiers that have stuck together.”
Optimism over the possibility of a new health care funding accord with Ottawa has increased significantly since the new year. It is expected that there will be one overarching agreement to increase the Canada Health Transfer and Ottawa will also strike bilateral agreements to address particular provincial and territorial needs.
Reporting in The Globe and Mail a week ago based on confidential sources revealed that a significant increase in spending is on the table, with Ontario alone in talks for $70-billion in health transfers over a 10-year deal.
As the leaders inch closer to a final agreement, Mr. Ford’s public comments have softened significantly since the premiers first demanded the federal government raise their share of health care costs to 35 per cent, from the approximately 22 per cent in direct contributions currently paid by Ottawa.
Asked for his take on Mr. Ford’s softening stance on Parliament Hill on Friday, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said he wouldn’t discuss their private negotiations in public but added that what matters most is the results Canadians get from their health-care system.
“Everyone agrees that dollars matter,” said Mr. Duclos noting that the provinces and territories have already received significant funding increases. “And everyone knows that we need more dollars also with what we are trying to do. At the end is going to be the outcome that will matter to Canadians.”
Earlier this week Mr. Duclos said the priority results for the federal government will be that there is better access to family medicine, reduced wait times for surgeries and diagnostics, better retention and recruitment of health-care workers, better access to mental health care and a modern health data system. On top of that a key condition that the federal government has said it will impose on new funding is better health-care data sharing between provinces and territories.
Asked for specifics on what Ontario will look for in a bilateral deal, Mr. Ford said the province is interested in hiring more nurses and doctors, reducing backlogs in surgeries and improvements to homecare and long-term care.