Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard is pushing his fellow premiers to adopt a new funding formula for health care transfer payments that would take into account a province's aging population.
The rookie federalist Premier is making his case behind closed doors at the Council of the Federation meeting in Charlottetown Thursday. He is hoping that his colleagues will accept his proposal and then lobby the federal government to change its formula, which many provinces argue punishes them for having an older population.
This could put the Premier, a former neurosurgeon, at odds with Alberta – a province with an increasing and younger population. Its transfers are to increase by 26.8 per cent or more than a $1-billion, according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, because of the federal government's decision in December 2011 to link transfers to economic growth. Other provinces, such as Ontario, will see their transfers decrease.
As a way to deal with this uneven formula, Premier Couillard will argue the aging demographic should be considered as a criteria for funding health care transfers.
"Instead of focusing on specific amounts we are focusing on criteria that you can't dispute," notes a senior official from Quebec. "The reasoning is logical."
The Premier is not asking for a specific amount, only that the aging demographic be included in a new funding formula.
Quebec's population is getting older – in the next three decades estimates are that the province could have one of the oldest populations in the western world. This will have a huge impact on health care spending, which is already expected to rise about 5 per cent a year.
A recent Nanos Research survey commissioned by the Canadian Health Coalition found that Canadians want the premiers to take a stand against funding changes made by the Harper government in December, 2011, with its take-it-or-leave-it, 10-year health accord that would guarantee an annual 6-per-cent increase until 2016-17. After that, increases would be tied to growth in nominal gross domestic product, a measure of GDP plus inflation.
"Provinces with less money and an aging population are going to have a heck of time to meet their needs," said Michael McBane of the Canadian Health Coalition. "Meanwhile, the federal government is cutting and running, saying 'we're going to cut the health care transfer and we're going to give you a tax break, instead – which is completely perverse."
In their discussion on federal transfers Thursday, the premiers are expected to look at the possibility of launching a new program for innovation on seniors' health care, with money attached to it. This would be one way of dealing with lack of funding for aging populations.
"Instead of just talking about a formula where the federal government hands over a cheque and we go away, what about something specific that they may want to look at?" said Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
Premier Wall noted the "enormity" of what Canada is facing as the population gets older and as "senior care infrastructure is aging."
"If the federal government doesn't want to revisit the formula, seniors care might be an on-ramp for them that we would welcome," he said.