Two more provinces have relented in the health-care fight with Ottawa and have signed 10-year deals that will give them more money for home care and mental health, but will reduce the increase in the annual transfer of federal funding.
Nova Scotia and Newfoundland announced Friday that they would be joining New Brunswick, which struck a similar agreement the day before, in accepting terms very similar to what federal ministers tabled earlier in the week during negotiations around a new long-term health accord.
Provinces and territories left the meeting on Monday saying they were united in opposition to the federal offer, which they said would ultimately reduce the federal contribution to health spending from the current 23 per cent. When New Brunswick broke ranks on Thursday to announce that it had come to its own arrangement with Ottawa, ministers in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia expressed frustration that the provincial and territorial solidarity had collapsed.
On Friday, British Columbia weighed in on the new developments: "British Columbia is disappointed by the approach Canada has taken to deal with the provinces and territories, cutting side deals instead of dealing with all provinces on a transparent and multilateral basis," Health Minister Terry Lake said in a statement. "British Columbia stands with the rest of the provinces and territories that represent well over 90 per cent of all Canadians who want a fair deal for their citizens."
The fact that there are three separate bilateral agreements, with possibly more to come, suggests the federal Liberal government now has the upper hand in what could still be a protracted and difficult set of discussions around a new health accord.
But ministers in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia say they are glad to have the certainty of a deal for their own provinces.
"Over the last couple of days of fairly intense discussions, principally between the Premier of this province, finance and the Finance Minister federally, and a parallel discussion between myself and [Federal Health Minister Jane] Philpott, we have moved and come to some closer understanding," Newfoundland Health Minister John Haggie said in a telephone interview Friday afternoon. "This agreement won't buy transformative change, but it will certainly allow us to begin to address those two areas [home care and mental health] of particular concern."
Dr. Haggie said his province is experiencing similar challenges to those that exist in the other Atlantic provinces related to the health needs of an aging population. The money that is being offered by the federal government will go some distance to address that, he said, and Newfoundland has been given assurances that it will be able to create youth mental-health programs that are tailored for that province.
Meanwhile, in Nova Scotia, Finance and Treasury Board Minister Randy Delorey said his province's deal was also the result of many good discussions throughout the week. "With this agreement," Mr. Delorey said, "we have arrived at stable, predictable funding that will ensure we can prepare a long-term plan to improve the health-care services available for Nova Scotians."
The agreements will give Newfoundland and Labrador an additional $87.7-million from the federal government over the next 10 years for home care and $73-million for mental health. Nova Scotia will get $157-million for home care and $130.8-million for mental health.
The annual increase in the Canada Health Transfer will be cut from 6 per cent, where it has been since 2004, to a minimum of 3 per cent or the nominal growth in GDP, whichever is higher. But if any province or territory subsequently strikes a better deal, the agreements in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and New Brunswick will be sweetened to match it.
The proposal put forward on Monday by Ottawa would have provided $11.5-billion over 10 years for mental health and home care, as well as a new health-transfer formula that would fix the rate of annual increases at 3.5 per cent for the next five years, without allowing for increases to the growth in GDP.
Dr. Philpott praised those provinces that have stepped forward to reach unilateral arrangements with Ottawa. "We are committed to working with our provincial and territorial counterparts to improve health care for Canadian families, including mental health and seniors' care," she said in a statement.