While it may have taken a national campaign led by Canada’s premiers urging for an increase to the Canada Health Transfer, the federal government has spoken up and said it’s ready to come to the table with provinces and territories on this issue. Premiers continue to be left unsatisfied saying the federal government is still not meeting the mark to support provinces in keeping Canadians healthy. The fight forges ahead, but with increased emergency room visits, hospital backlogs and labour shortages in the sector climbing, time is ticking for Prime Minister Trudeau and Health Minister Duclos to provide an urgent solution in collaboration with the Premiers.
Earlier this month, provincial and territorial health ministers met with Minister Duclos in Vancouver. The official ask was for the federal government to provide an immediate and unconditional injection to the Canada Health Transfer to bring the federal share to 35%. This would mean increasing the size of the CHT by more than $28 billion a year, plus an ongoing annual increase of 5%. B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix, who was the host of the meeting, said that the provinces and territories had settled on a common approach to present Minister Duclos, which reiterated the 35% increase.
During this meeting, Minister Duclos said that the federal government agreed to send more money to the provinces and territories, but under certain conditions, namely expanding human resource and data collection programs throughout the Canadian healthcare system. Beyond that, Minister Duclos did not provide specifics about whether provinces and territories would ultimately get the permanent 35% increase, or if there were other conditions that must be met in order to obtain this. Premiers ultimately rejected the federal government’s terms, while a disappointed Minister Duclos blamed the Premiers’ unilateral focus on funding as the reason a collaborative action plan on healthcare issues was not developed. This leaves Canadians still waiting for a solution to the growing challenge of our fragile healthcare system.
The federal government continues to remind provinces that it provided a total of $2 billion to all jurisdictions this past July to help with a significant backlog in healthcare systems across the country. Along with that, the federal government argues that it has been supportive during the ongoing healthcare crisis when it spearheaded the Coalition for Action for Healthcare Workers, announced a Chief Nursing Officer, and changed measures to ease the entry of foreign physicians to work in Canada.
However, Prime Minister Trudeau said recently that the federal government will still commit to investing “significantly more” in health care, but it wants assurances people have access to a family doctor and to mental health services. The Prime Minister further observed that Canadians “see provincial governments saying that they don’t have any more money to invest in health care and therefore they need money from the federal government, while at the same time they turn around and give tax breaks to the wealthiest,” – and that those Canadians should “ask themselves some questions.” It’s clear that the blame game continues between the federal and provincial governments.
It is not clear when the First Ministers or Health Ministers will gather again to discuss this urgent crisis. In the meantime, healthcare systems continue to crumble and Canadians suffer. A collaborative approach and promising next steps from the federal and provincial governments is keenly anticipated by so many Canadians, no matter which province or territory they are in.