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The Globe and Mail

B.C. balks at federal health-funding plan

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and B.C. Premier Christy Clark look on as Clark's 10-year-old son Hamish plays during a minor league hockey game in Vancouver, Thursday January 12, 2012.


After initially applauding federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's plan for health funding, the B.C. government is now demanding changes to the formula to prevent "devastating" cuts to seniors' care.

"It's just not going to work," said B.C. Premier Christy Clark, who will host Canada's provincial premiers for a three-day conference that starts Sunday.

"I started that discussion personally with the prime minister (Thursday) night and it's something I am profoundly concerned about," she told reporters Friday.

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"If the federal government vacates responsibility for looking after senior citizens, we have got a big problem."

The Council of the Federation will meet in the B.C. capital to discuss health care. The original intent was to prepare for negotiations with Ottawa in what was expected to be a lengthy set of talks.

But Mr. Flaherty forced a change in plans when he abruptly announced a 10-year funding plan at a meeting of finance ministers last month, also in Victoria.

B.C. was one of the few provinces – along with Alberta and Saskatchewan – to applaud Mr. Flaherty at the time. Other provinces reacted with anger to the terms of deal – and the way it was delivered, unexpectedly, over a working lunch.

According to Ottawa's plan, federal transfers for health care will continue to grow at 6 per cent per annum – a rate of increase set in a 10-year accord in 2004 – until 2016-17. After that, transfers would rise according to a system that ties increases to growth in nominal gross domestic product, which is a measure of real GDP plus inflation.

The package includes something the provinces have long asked for: No strings attached. But the money will be distributed on a per capita basis.

Ms. Clark now says that formula needs to be age-adjusted to reflect the fact that seniors require more expensive health care, and provinces – like British Columbia – with a greater share of senior citizens will be unfairly squeezed. She noted that the average annual cost to provide an individual with health care in Canada is about $2,800, but the cost for someone over the age of 85 – B.C.'s fastest-growing demographic – is closer to $22,000.

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"What it represents is a massive shift in federal government support for senior citizens," she said, "and we just cannot build a national health care system on that basis. It means the provinces with more seniors like British Columbia are going to be really struggling while provinces full of young people... are going to have an abundance of money."

Provinces including Ontario were quicker to criticize the plan. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has warned that necessary innovations in home care for seniors and other health-care reforms will suffer if the federal government doesn't help set national standards.

Ms. Clark has a plan to respond to Mr. McGuinty's concerns: She will seek an agreement with fellow premiers to ask Ottawa for an additional pot of money to direct to health care innovations.

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About the Author
B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More

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