Premiers say health care funding talks with Ottawa are urgently needed

VICTORIA — The provinces say they are accountable “every day” when it comes to their budgets as the federal government insists any additional health-care funding will come with strings attached.

At the second and final day of the summer meeting of all 13 provincial and territorial leaders, B.C. Premier John Horgan said it’s now urgent for Ottawa to sit down and discuss an increase in funding for health care, which all provinces say they are struggling to afford — especially with increased demands of the pandemic.

The premiers reiterated their call for the federal government to boost health care transfer payments to 35 per cent of what they spend, instead of the current 22 per cent.

However, the federal government said it actually already provides about one-third of health care costs to provinces and territories — and that any additional funding would come with accountability measures.

“It’s difficult to to make comments about accountability when we’re accountable every day,” Horgan told reporters Tuesday morning. “At our legislatures, we’re accountable to our budgeting processes, and certainly in British Columbia, I can say without any doubt that every dollar that is expended is debated in our legislature.”

By raising the issue of accountability, Ottawa is “creating a problem that doesn’t really exist,” Horgan added.

“The so-called strings make it sound like there’s some sort of a serf relationship here … We are equal orders of government. There’s not a hierarchy here. We are the same and we’re saying we need to sit down collectively and figure out where we go from here.”

On Monday, Horgan said Canadians want federal and provincial leaders to “sit down like adults” and find solutions to health-care issues instead of bickering over numbers.

That came after Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc turned up the heat, saying Ottawa wants to ensure the provinces spend the money as intended, and not on tax cuts or to run up surpluses.

Horgan, who chairs the Council of the Federation, said provinces and territories have been waiting for eight months to sit down with the federal government to talk about health care, and can’t wait any longer.

But Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos says the federal government has been working with provinces to restore the country’s ailing health systems throughout the pandemic, despite claims to the contrary from Canada’s premiers.

Duclos did not offer a timeline for the federal government to engage in negotiations about their funding needs. Previously, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said those conversations will happen when the pandemic has passed.

Currently, federal contributions to provincial health systems grow in line with a three-year moving average of nominal gross domestic product.

Based on that formula, health transfer payments to provinces increased by 4.8 per cent in the most recent federal budget, amounting to an extra $12 billion projected over the next five years compared to pre-pandemic estimates.

With files from The Canadian Press


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