At one time Canada’s healthcare system was the envy of the world. A publicly funded system that provided everyone with equal and timely access to healthcare now seems like a blast from the past. The pandemic highlighted, and in some cases accelerated, the cracks in Canada’s healthcare system.
Prime Minister Trudeau publicly committed to addressing the healthcare crisis, and last week he met with all thirteen of Canada’s Premiers to strike a deal. Following their meeting, it was announced that the federal government will provide $196.1 billion over 10 years to provinces and territories, including $46.2 billion in new funding.
The new funding includes a number of elements, including a $17-billion increase to the annual Canada Health Transfer over five years and $25 billion in new money for 10-year bilateral deals that would be negotiated individually with each province and territory.
Unsurprisingly, the reaction from the provinces was mixed. Ottawa’s relationship with the provinces can be as cold as a winter night in Saskatchewan, and Premier Scott Moe’s reaction to the healthcare funding only put more ice on the relationship. It is unclear if healthcare will be the issue that thaws the chilly federal-provincial dynamic.
Despite an awkward handshake with the Prime Minister, Premier Danielle Smith will take time to consider the deal, while standing in solidarity with Saskatchewan to protect the personal health information of Albertans from being shared with the federal government.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford was singing a slightly different tune, noting that he felt a deal was very close for Canada’s most populous province. The sticking point? Timeline. Ford would like to see more money over a longer duration of time, believing the plan needs to extend beyond 10 years to help with long-term planning. While his government is not keen on the federal conditions tied to the deal, Ford understands the importance of getting a deal done and finding solutions to a healthcare system he promised to fix in the past two elections.
For as much as Ontario doesn’t like conditions on healthcare dollars, Quebec dislikes them even more. Premier Francois Legault was one of the first provincial leaders to criticize the federal government, saying Ottawa was in no position to tell the province how to spend money on their healthcare system and balked at the conditions, noting that Quebec will not accept any strings that do not fit into his government’s plan for healthcare. However – that doesn’t mean a deal is off the table. Expect to see both sides give a little before inking a healthcare agreement that suits la belle provence.
Despite some mixed signals from Canada’s two largest provinces, it is clear that the federal and provincial governments are taking the right steps to address underlying issues and challenges, in order to reform the healthcare system. Beyond solving a national crisis, Ottawa is extending an olive branch to the provinces, and it is one that both sides recognize is a necessary, though imperfect, arrangement.. This extension of goodwill is well timed ahead of what will be more challenging negotiations around equalization payments between the federal and provincial governments, later this year.