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The Globe and Mail

Premiers divided over new federal health-care plan

Canada's premiers and territorial leaders remain divided over the new federal health-care funding plan, with one suggesting Canadians may have to get used to what he called "roughly comparable" health care in different parts of the country.

Manitoba's Greg Selinger raised the possibility Sunday as leaders gathered in B.C.'s capital for a Council of the Federation health-care meeting that has been shaped by a non-negotiable funding plan that is to last through to 2024.

Mr. Selinger said the Canada Health Act will continue to act as a framework for health care, but there's room for flexibility on innovation.

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"That doesn't mean they have to be the same types of services. There could be lots of innovation in there to respond to specific needs in each province," Mr. Selinger said in an interview.

Later, in a news conference, he elaborated.

"Every province should be able to roughly offer comparable levels of service – not necessarily the same service, but comparable levels of service to their citizens, and every jurisdiction has different needs," he told reporters after a tour of a patient-care centre at Royal Jubilee Centre aimed at highlighting innovations in health care.

"The underlying principle is the ability to offer comparable levels of service even if they are different, and to do it in such a way that it respects the overall framework of the Canada Health Act."

Under the federal plan, health-care transfers will keep growing at 6 per cent a year until 2016-17, with increases after that tied to economic growth. Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has said increases won't drop below 3 per cent no matter what level of growth exists after 2016-17.

Mr. Selinger said it's too soon to say whether leaders will be able to bridge divisions over the federal plan. When it was announced by Mr. Flaherty last month, six provinces immediately rallied to oppose the new funding formula, which was imposed without negotiations. This week's meeting, which ends Tuesday, marks the first time premiers and territorial leaders have gathered to try to figure out how to manage Canada's health-care system in light of the new funding reality.

"My feeling is everybody will be listening to each other's concerns. We'll see whether there's a consensus arrived at."

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B.C. Premier Christy Clark, whose government initially seemed supportive of the funding plan, said, "There's a range of opinions about it – no question about it."

Ms. Clark has lately expressed concerns about its ability to fund seniors' care.

She said the goal, among premiers, is to figure out how to deliver health care in a consistent way, but one that is also unique among provinces.

PEI's Robert Ghiz said he expects provinces are going to have different priorities in health care.

"We realize Alberta is going to have their demands the same as Prince Edward Island has our demands," he said. "We respect every jurisdiction across the country."

He said the federal per capita funding focus won't allow PEI, with its small, aging population, the same resources to match health care elsewhere in Canada.

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"Per capita doesn't work for Prince Edward Island."

Nova Scotia's Darrell Dexter said that over the next 20 years, his province's ratio of residents over 65 will move from 16 per cent to 30 per cent.

"That's going to be an extraordinary burden on the system," he said, suggesting the only way to manage that change is with equity in funding.

"This current proposal does not do that."

He said innovation hinges on a stable funding regimen, which the federal funding plan won't allow.

"If you're going to be able to innovate, you have to have the financial resources to do so."

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