Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre pledged that if he became prime minister, he would maintain the 10-year spending plan on health transfers announced this week by the Liberal government but said he can’t immediately commit to adding more funding.
Meanwhile, Ontario’s Health Minister said there is “no doubt” the province will accept the new health care funding, even as she expressed concerns about a lack of long-term investment in the deal.
Canada’s health care deal: A look at the numbers and the provinces on board so far
Several other provinces also signalled their lukewarm acceptance of the federal offer, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau presented to provincial and territorial premiers Tuesday in Ottawa.
The offer amounts to $196.1-billion over 10 years, but only $46.2-billion of that is new money above and beyond what would have occurred under the existing formula that increases the size of health transfers in line with economic growth.
Speaking with reporters Wednesday ahead of a caucus meeting on Parliament Hill, Mr. Poilievre said the Liberals were unable to spend more on health care because the government has wasted billions in less important areas such as outside consultants.
Mr. Poilievre pointed out that under Mr. Trudeau, the size of the federal debt has doubled, yet problems in health care remain.
“Health care is broken and the federal government is broke,” he said. “Obviously, a future Conservative government led by myself will keep in place these additional sums and honour the commitments made yesterday.”
Mr. Trudeau responded Wednesday, stating that while many premiers are “very eager to roll up their sleeves and get to work” on the details, “the Conservatives once again offer only cuts and austerity, not support for Canadians.”
Of the new money, $25-billion over 10 years will be delivered through bilateral deals that Ottawa will negotiate with each province and territory over the coming weeks.
Premiers said Tuesday that they intended to take a few days before formally responding to the proposal. However, the overall tone of their initial reaction suggested they were resigned to accept the deal and focus on the bilateral talks.
Ontario was the first to signal it would accept the offer. “There is no doubt that any new health care spending and investments, we will accept,” Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones told reporters on Wednesday. “I will say, I do have concerns about the timelines.”
Ms. Jones said funding increments of five and 10 years make it difficult to pursue longer-term projects, such as hospital infrastructure. Ontario would also like to see more money invested in home and community care, she said.
Ms. Jones, along with Ontario Premier Doug Ford, is set to meet with federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc on Thursday in Toronto. “I look forward to getting the deal done,” Mr. Ford said Wednesday.
Quebec Premier François Legault told reporters on Wednesday that he and his fellow premiers have been asking Mr. Trudeau’s government for an increase in funding for the past 2½ years.
“We’ll continue to fight to get more,” he said. “We got one-sixth of what we were asking for. So it’s better than nothing, but it’s not enough for sure.”
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey said Ottawa’s offer includes “big wins,” but he’s disappointed there wasn’t a greater influx of cash. “It’s not the quantum we were looking for,” Mr. Furey told reporters Tuesday. “There will always be an element of disappointment in that, but I think the transformational piece combined with the ability to have more cash immediately is good for Newfoundland and Labrador.”
PEI Premier Dennis King echoed the thoughts of other Atlantic premiers, stating that he’s pleased with the new funding, but the offer falls short of what was originally requested through the Council of Federation.
Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston said the offer is productive and he’s encouraged by the new structure of health care funding, adding that it’s “incremental” and a “sliver of movement” toward recognizing the needs of Nova Scotia’s aging population. “I would’ve been pleased to see more, but we’ll work with what’s in front of us,” Mr. Houston told reporters Tuesday.
The offer allots $154-million of new money to Nova Scotia’s $6-billion health care budget – a plan Mr. Houston said he is still analyzing.
“Our costs will go up faster than that new money will be absorbed … but I thought it was a productive meeting,” he said.
The premiers of Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan reiterated on Wednesday that the proposal was far less than what the provinces had asked for, and said they would be reviewing the deal. The premiers are set to meet again virtually on Friday.
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said the federal offer would stabilize funding, but it is not enough.
“It’s good news that their rapidly declining share of health care costs – on what should be a shared-cost program – is being arrested and stabilized,” he told reporters in Victoria. For British Columbia, he said the federal share of health care spending would rise from 23 per cent to almost 24 per cent. “They’ve got to do better.”
The new transfer amounts will be included in the coming federal budget, which has not yet been scheduled.
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet described Ottawa’s spending plan as insufficient and challenged NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh to oppose the plan.
The Liberal minority government has a supply-and-confidence agreement with the NDP, in which the smaller party supports the government on confidence votes, such as budget votes, in exchange for action on a list of NDP policy priorities, such as dental care.
“Here in the Parliament, we have something that provinces do not have. We have the ability not to adopt the budget,” Mr. Blanchet told reporters on Wednesday. “So I hope since our position is already clear, that the NDP will show some courage and act according to the fact that this is insufficient.”
Mr. Singh told reporters Wednesday that the federal proposal is a failure, but added that he is not prepared to say how his party will vote until the full federal budget is released.
“There’s nothing in this agreement or in this offer that reduces wait times in hospitals and emergency rooms, or surgeries. And that to me, is how we’re going to judge this deal. And so far, it is a failure,” he said.
Mr. Poilievre was asked Wednesday whether the Conservatives are in favour of spending more on health care than what the Liberals announced this week.
“I can’t commit to a dollar figure until I’ve seen how badly Trudeau has ruined the federal finances,” he said.
With reports from Lindsay Jones in Halifax, Dustin Cook in Toronto, Alanna Smith in Calgary and Justine Hunter in Victoria
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