Family Dinner with First Ministers

3 minute read

A few weeks ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced he was hosting a first ministers’ meeting on February 7 to discuss federal healthcare funding agreements. It was the first sign that the deadlock may have been broken.

After all, it was only a few months ago that federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos brought the provincial health ministers together in hopes of negotiating a deal. Unfortunately, those hopes were shortlived, with the premiers releasing a joint statement claiming “no progress” had been made before the meeting formally concluded. 

Walking away with growing frustrations, both sides claimed the other was responsible for stalling negotiations. Will tomorrow end with the status quo upheld, or will Canadians finally see the light at the end of the long, dark tunnel of funding healthcare reform?

Setting the table 

All parties agree that healthcare in Canada needs improvement, to put it mildly. Still, there is a lack of consensus on how much federal funding should increase, where best to allocate these funds, and how to report on progress. 

The federal government’s tone has shifted significantly since their standoff in November. Both sides have agreed on shared priorities, including improving overall access, reducing surgical and diagnostic backlogs, improving recruitment and retention of healthcare workers, increasing mental health services, and modernizing the health system to facilitate sharing data electronically. Minister Duclos recently shared his “optimism” about reaching an agreement sooner rather than later, stating discussions are becoming “increasingly aligned.”

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey both hope to finalize a deal. B.C. Premier David Eby said he would participate in the meeting without “red lines” or “preconditions.” Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson said Canada’s Premiers are looking forward to “ongoing constructive discussions with the Prime Minister” in a statement released on behalf of the group on January 30. 

In early January, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith stated she wasn’t interested in waiting for federal funding to reform the province’s healthcare system, leading some to believe that Alberta might sit this one out. But last week, her office confirmed she plans to attend the Ottawa talks. 

The meat of the matter: data 

While the federal government’s request for sharing patient data was initially met with resistance, Canada’s Premiers have taken a more conciliatory tone in the last few weeks. 

Despite hedging his bets about funding dollars, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs was optimistic about shared data informing the way each province’s bilateral deal is structured. 

Last month, Ontario Premier Doug Ford committed to sharing health data and accepting some conditions with increased federal funding. Quebec Premier Francois Legault did the same. With two of Canada’s largest provinces on board, all others will likely follow suit. 


Calls to improve intergovernmental relationships are spreading across cabinet portfolios. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland spent last Friday with provincial finance ministers, asking her counterparts to “seize the [economic] moment” created by the U.S’s Inflation Reduction Act. Freeland stated that healthcare and transitioning to a clean economy were the two largest pressures on the upcoming federal budget. 

With interest rates and other economic pressures continuing to rise, Freeland emphasized the need to invest strategically while maintaining fiscal restraint. This might explain the Prime Minister’s about-face regarding Ford’s plans to increase the use of private providers. 

Last week, a request for emergency debate about the privatization of healthcare from the federal NDP was denied. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh believes the increased use of private service providers is a slippery slope to a two-tiered system with Trudeau responding, that he wouldn’t let that happen. 

Dessert, anyone?

The proof will be in the pudding. All signs point to a deal on the horizon. Or, more accurately, 13 deals. Here’s hoping everyone makes it through the meeting and emerges with a deal that serves all Canadians.

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