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Harper throws territories a $60-million health-care lifeline

Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks with a physician at Yellowknife's Stanton Hospital on Aug. 25, 2011.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The federal government has agreed to extend a health accord with the three northern territories to help them pay for the increased costs of providing medical care in a part of Canada where the nearest hospital is often a long airlift away.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is on his annual summer trip through the Arctic, was in the capital of the Northwest Territories Thursday to tell the regions premiers the additional money would be coming.

The agreement, called the Territorial Health System Sustainability Initiative, was originally signed by the former Liberal government in 2005 and then extended by the Conservatives in 2010. It was set to expire in March of next year but Mr. Harper's announcement extends it once again to 2014.

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"It is more difficult to deliver health care in the North," Mr. Harper said at the Stanton Hospital, the largest facility of its kind in the territories, serving both the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

"All three territories have used this funding in their own ways but, of course in similar ways, to that when it's your child who's sick, or your husband who's injured or your wife who's about to give birth, northern health care can be up to the standards we expect in less remote parts of the country."

The extension of the territorial agreement will take the additional funding to the end of the current 10-year Canada Health Accord, which will expire in 2014 and be replaced with a new accord, Mr. Harper said.

The territorial premiers had asked for an extension of the agreement when they met with all of the other premiers in July.

Floyd Roland, the Premier of the Northwest Territories, Nunavut's Eva Aariak and Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski were on hand for Mr. Harper's announcement.

The agreement provides the three territories with an additional $60-million over two years, to be divided between them, to help pay for the higher costs of providing health care in the North that arise as a result of distance, the reduced availability of medical professionals and costly medical equipment, and higher rates of certain diseases like diabetes and tuberculosis.

The money will be used to continue reforms of the health care system in the North and to offset medical transportation expenses.

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Health care in the territories has sometimes been compared to that in developing countries.

The Stanton Hospital alone requires hundreds of millions of dollars of renovations. So the money announced Thursday will not solve the many problems faced by those who deliver health care in the North.

But Mr. Roland said without the extension of the agreement the territories would have been facing even greater challenges in the delivery of health services.

"By extending it, that means we can invest in programs like hiring nurse practitioners, extending our programs in dialysis, for example, and a number of other areas," Mr. Rolan said. "By this, now, we get to work on the same par as the provinces when it comes to the renewal of the Canada Health Accord."

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