British Columbia Premier David Eby met with federal colleagues Tuesday to lay the groundwork for a bilateral health deal which would bring in an additional $600-million to the province this year for mental-health and addiction programs, supports for an aging population and help for health care workers.
The meeting was held after Monday’s decision by the premiers to approve an offer from Ottawa for new federal health care dollars. Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc are travelling across the country, meeting with premiers to carve out bilateral agreements which will make up a large share of the new funding.
Mr. Eby said he expects the deal for his province to be signed quickly to address “the strain that our health care system is under coming out of the pandemic, that need that people have for family doctors, the concern that they have that urgent care may not be there for them when they need it or where they need it.”
After more than two years of sparring over health care funding between the provinces and Ottawa, the tone of the Valentine’s Day meeting between Mr. Eby and the two emissaries from Ottawa was warm.
“The government of British Columbia has frankly been a source of inspiration for the whole country,” Mr. LeBlanc said.
Mr. Duclos faced down his fellow health ministers during a fractious meeting last November, where he demanded accountability measures from the provinces and territories in exchange for new federal funding.
On Tuesday, the federal Health Minister lauded B.C. for its progress on health care issues, and indicated the strings attached to the new funding will be loose. The province can use the money “in a very flexible manner, adapted to the reality of British Columbians on the areas of shared priority.”
Canada’s premiers agreed on Monday to accept a federal offer that will add $46.2-billion in new health care funding over 10 years.
The offer includes an unconditional $2-billion top-up of the Canada Health Transfer to address immediate pressures, including pediatric hospitals and emergency rooms, and long wait times for surgeries. After that, there will be modest annual increases to the transfer over the next five years.
The new money on the table also includes $25-billion, spread over 10 years, that will be distributed through tailored bilateral agreements with each province and territory. The funds have to match Ottawa’s priority areas, and the provinces had to commit to improving how health information is collected, shared and used.
The urgency to settle the bilateral deals is meant to get money flowing in the coming federal budget.
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix told reporters on Monday that his province could not wait for a federal deal. It has already launched a human-resources plan designed to recruit, train and retain health care professionals, including a $708-million, three-year deal with physicians.
Across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic has added significant pressure to health care systems. People are going without access to primary care and enduring long wait times while hospitals are beset by surgery backlogs, staffing shortages and clogged emergency rooms.
Mr. Dix said provincial investments in health care have helped reduce some of those challenges.
“We’ve done more surgeries, more diagnostic exams in the last month than at any time in the history of B.C. – in any equivalent period,” he said. “We have more people coming to our emergency rooms, more people in our hospitals, we have a very significant and creeping increase in demand.”
Mr. Duclos said the federal funding will support B.C. in those efforts already under way “because in this province, lots of efforts are being made.”
Mr. LeBlanc noted that the federal Liberal government and B.C.’s New Democratic Party government are aligned on many priorities.
He said funding for housing, social services and child care needs to be part of the health care solution, and that homelessness and addictions in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside are a national issue.
“The government of British Columbia has been extraordinarily engaged in trying to find the right mix of solutions,” he said. “And our government very much wants to partner with Premier Eby and his government on those issues.”