The federal government reached agreements in principle for new health care funding with five provinces on Thursday, quickly cementing the 10-year spending plan Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced just over two weeks ago.
Mr. Trudeau was in Halifax to announce the agreements in principle with Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island. Deals with the eight other provinces and territories remain outstanding but the federal government has made it clear that it will not offer more money than what Mr. Trudeau announced on Feb. 7 at a meeting with the premiers.
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The Prime Minister thanked the five provincial leaders for “stepping up and starting to really improve health care systems for their citizens at a time of crisis.”
After years of demands from the premiers for an annual $28-billion increase in federal health funding, Mr. Trudeau made a much smaller offer. Including previously committed funding hikes, Ottawa would increase its health care spending by $196.1-billion over the next 10 years.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Feb. 23 that his government has signed health care agreements with all four Atlantic provinces and Ontario.
The Canadian Press
Of that spending, $46.2-billion was new, and will be divided up largely between a modest increase to the Canada Health Transfer (sent automatically to provinces and territories on a per-capita basis) and $25-billion for bilateral agreements.
Ontario’s share of the bilateral funding amounts to $8.4-billion over 10 years, while Nova Scotia will get $1.01-billion, New Brunswick $900-million, Newfoundland and Labrador $749-million and PEI $288-million.
The agreements in principle include no new specifics. Instead, they confirm that the premiers have formally accepted Ottawa’s conditions for the new money and will enter talks for the bilateral deals.
Those agreements are meant to improve access to primary care, mental health care and electronic health information and reduce surgical and diagnostic backlogs. The federal government has said provincial and territorial governments will be able to determine which areas they prioritize with the new funding.
A federal press release said the provinces will have to present an initial three-year action plan as part of the bilateral deals. They will detail what targets the provinces will achieve with the new money and how soon.
The Prime Minister said that premiers could set their own targets. For example, in the area of increasing primary care coverage, he said the provinces and territories could set a goal that 75 per cent or 95 per cent of their populations have a regular family care team.
“We’re looking for ambitious targets that are reasonable for them, that they can hit,” Mr. Trudeau said.
The comments appear to walk back his 2019 and 2021 election promises, in which the Prime Minister said his government’s health care spending would “make sure that every Canadian has access to a family doctor or primary health care team.”
Since then the gap in coverage has only grown. In 2019, Statistics Canada said roughly 4.6 million people did not have a regular health care provider. According to the Angus Reid Institute, as of last year that number sat at more than six million.
Asked whether Mr. Trudeau is still promising a doctor for every Canadian, his office said it had nothing else to add.
Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc have been leading the talks for Ottawa and since Mr. Trudeau presented his plan they have been criss-crossing Canada to get premiers on board. They concluded their meetings in Quebec City on Thursday.
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The ministers said they expect more provinces to sign agreements in principle next week.
Mr. Duclos said the provincial and territorial action plans will allow Canadians to track progress and compare results.
Speaking at a news conference in French, he later told reporters “the federal government is not going to be policing the health care system across the country.”
Nova Scotia Health Minister Michelle Thompson said her province will hire more health care workers and expand the ways people can access care. Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey said the new funding is critical to modernizing the system.
Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones said in a statement that the additional funding will bolster the province’s investments in health care, as the government implements its new plan for “connected and convenient care.”
With reports from Lindsay Jones and Jeff Gray.