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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and B.C. Premier David Eby arrive for a health care funding announcement at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, in Langley, B.C., on March 1.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Canada’s health minister is touting Ottawa’s new $1.2-billion bilateral funding agreement with British Columbia as a new model for federal-provincial co-operation to address the health-care crisis across the country.

Mark Holland said the deal focuses on finding answers to the challenges facing Canada’s health-care system instead of placing provincial and federal officials at odds over who’s in charge in each jurisdiction.

“Look, I get that we want to think about jurisdiction, and we want to protect jurisdiction,” Holland said at the signing of the deal with B.C. at Vancouver General Hospital on Tuesday. “But at the end of the day, health is health, and we all have a responsibility to find ways to work together.

“I’m not looking to walk around with a stick and be aggressive towards provinces. I want to work with provinces and territories. I want to find solutions. So that isn’t about intruding on jurisdiction; it’s about being partners.”

The agreement is part of a $196-billion, 10-year national health accord that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered provinces in February.

Quebec is the only province that hasn’t agreed in principle to the accord, as Premier Francois Legault has bristled at being held accountable to Ottawa for reaching certain health-care targets as part of the deal.

Holland said talks with Quebec are ongoing.

The agreement with B.C., where the $1.2-billion in funding will be shifted to the province over the next three years, comes with an action plan covering the same period to develop “an innovative model of care” at 83 acute-care sites, mostly hospitals, that would allow nurses to spend more time with patients.

BC Nurses’ Union president Adriane Gear said the model in the action plan refers to the establishment of minimum nurse-patient ratios, which was part of the new collective agreement reached between the union and the province in April.

The deal included a provincial promise of $750-million to support the ratios and makes B.C. the first province to implement such a model.

“We know that right now, due to the current staffing situation, which in some instances is quite critical, where on some units we’re seeing less than 50 per cent of the staff that is required, we’re seeing more patients than there are funded beds,” Gear said.

“So, being able to implement minimum nurse-patient ratios will go a long way in making sure that British Columbians receive safe patient care, that they get the care that they need.”

The new federal funding will also go toward recruiting and retention of doctors and other health care professionals and would increase from 16 to 35 the number of Foundry centres in B.C. aimed at improving mental health and wellness among young people.

B.C. Mental Health and Addictions Minister Jennifer Whiteside said youth health and wellness is a crucial part of the province’s plan, since it addresses issues addictions before they can take root and become vastly more difficult and costly to treat.

“The efforts we are making upstream on child and youth mental health so that we can catch smaller problems before they get bigger, all of these are critical, critical projects that we have, and that we have committed to working on collectively,” Whiteside said at the news conference.

The B.C. government has also agreed to work with the First Nations Health Authority to improve access to culturally appropriate and trauma-informed treatment and care and increase access to mental health and addictions services as the overdose crisis continues at a relentless pace.

While most other provinces have agreed to the deal in principle, British Columbia is the first province to sign a tailored funding agreement with the federal government as part of the accord.

The Canadian Medical Association has been urging the governments to sign the agreements quickly to unlock much-needed health funding.

CMA president Dr. Kathleen Ross said the signing of this deal is a tremendous step.

“This is the first step in understanding how provinces and territories are going to deploy those dollars, and how we as citizens are going to be able to hold them accountable,” she said in an interview Tuesday.

Data and information access is a major part of the agreement, with provinces and territories needing to commit to massively upgrade health-care data collection and digital medical records in exchange for the funding.

In B.C.’s case, the provincial government has agreed to boosting the percentage of residents who can access their health information electronically to 75 per cent while making sure half of all family health service providers in the province can “securely share patient health information.”

The province must also publicly report on its progress for various targets every year.

“An essential part of this agreement is making sure that we can show progress, and not just talk about it,” Holland said. “Show it in data, and make sure patients feel it in better care and outcomes.”

Holland said the support aims to take the Canadian health-care system “from one of the best” in the world to “the best.”

The funding comes as British Columbia’s health-care system continues to experience strains due to staffing, patient demand and capacity challenges.

Provincial Health Minister Adrian Dix said last month that the number of patients in B.C. emergency care never dipped below 9,000 in July and August as it historically does, and patient numbers neared 10,000 in September – about 700 more than normal.

Meanwhile, the province continues to be in the throes of a drug crisis where more than 1,600 people have died of overdoses up until August of this year, putting British Columbia on pace for the deadliest year since a public health emergency was first declared in April 2016.

Gear, the BC Nurses union president, described the provincial health-care environment as “pretty fragile” given all the pressure points, but said the targeted nature of the funding and built-in accountability make her union more optimistic about positive impacts.

“Three years isn’t a long time,” she said of the time set out in the latest agreement. “But I do feel like there’s enough here, especially when you look at the work around minimum nurse-patient ratios, that hopefully British Columbians do see an impact.”

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