B.C. Premier-elect John Horgan listens during a post-election news conference, in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

B.C. Premier-elect John Horgan listens during a post-election news conference, in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Premiers’ demands for long-term health funding increase takes back seat to pandemic

The federal government this year will transfer to the provinces nearly $42 billion for health care

A first ministers meeting today that was supposed to be devoted to long-term, federal health care funding seems destined to be hijacked by a more urgent priority: surviving the COVID-19 pandemic.

Premiers asked for the meeting in September and wanted it focused exclusively on their unanimous demand that Ottawa add at least $28 billion a year to its annual health transfer payment to provinces and territories.

But while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s willing to discuss the issue, he has been clear that getting through the pandemic is more pressing, as far as he’s concerned.

As host of the daylong meeting, he’s scheduled the first half to focus on the rollout of vaccines to inoculate Canadians against COVID-19, the first of which is slated to begin delivery next week.

The second half of the meeting, to be conducted via teleconference, will be devoted to health care funding and improving health care in general.

On Wednesday, premiers were scaling back expectations, saying it will take multiple meetings to come to any resolution on health transfers.

Ontario’s Doug Ford is hoping to persuade Trudeau to commit to a resolution in time for increased funding to be included in the next federal budget.

The premiers’ demand for more health care cash comes as the federal government is facing an unprecedented deficit approaching $400 billion, with more billions yet to be doled out to help Canadians weather the pandemic and the shattered economy to eventually bounce back.

So premiers can hardly be surprised that Trudeau doesn’t seem in any rush to deal with their decades-long complaint that Ottawa is not paying its fair share of annual health care costs.

The federal government this year will transfer to the provinces nearly $42 billion for health care, under an arrangement that sees the transfer increase by at least three per cent each year.

But the premiers contend that amounts to only 22 per cent of the actual cost of delivering health care and doesn’t keep pace with yearly cost increases of about six per cent.

They want Ottawa to increase its share to 35 per cent and maintain it at that level, which would mean an added $28 billion this year, rising by roughly another $4 billion in each subsequent year.

In calculating the federal share, the premiers include only the cash transfers they get from Ottawa. They do not include the billions in tax transfers they also get — essentially tax room vacated by the feds so that provinces and territories can increase their taxes to help pay for health care.

In a 2008 report, the auditor general of Canada pegged the value of the tax transfer for health care at $12.6 billion.

Nor do the premiers include any of the money the federal government has transferred to them specifically to combat the COVID-19 health crisis.

On top of the annual transfer this year, the federal government has given the provinces an extra $19 billion to help them cope with the fallout from the pandemic, including more than $10 billion specifically for pandemic-related health-care costs.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland promised $1 billion more for long-term care homes, which have been hardest hit by the pandemic, in her fiscal update last month.

The federal government has also spent billions purchasing personal protective equipment, rapid testing kits and lining up purchases of potential vaccine candidates.

Trudeau has noted repeatedly that Ottawa has footed the bill for 80 per cent of all the money spent by governments in Canada to fight COVID-19.

But the premiers say all that extra money is one-off; what they need is an increase in annual health transfers to ensure stable, predictable, long-term funding.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusHealthcare

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

West Shore RCMP is asking for the public’s help in locating Mackenzie Courchene, a Langford teenager.
MISSING: Mackenzie Courchene last seen in Langford on March 2

West Shore RCMP is asking for the public’s help in locating the Langford teenager

Rendering of the proposed Esquimalt public safety building. (Courtesy Township of Esquimalt)
Esquimalt blazes new trail toward modern public safety building

Township using alternative approval process for first time to gauge public support for proposal

Landmarks such as Howard the giant gnome at Galey's Farm in Saanich make a stunning backdrop for celebratory dance in the Greater Victoria Festival Society trailer for its coming Dance Victoria campaign. (Screeshot/Greater Victoria Festival Society)
Residents’ videos help campaign Dance Across Victoria

Celebratory dance clips to be compiled into Greater Victoria Festival Society video

Reynolds Secondary School’s spring musical Freaky Friday features Grace Fouracre as teen Ellie Blake (left) who swaps bodies with her overworked mother, Katherine, played by Nadia Lurie. (Photo courtesy Reynolds Secondary School)
Saanich high school goes virtual with Freaky Friday musical

Reynolds Secondary theatre program to livestream performances March 9-12

Saanich Fire Department. Black Press Media File Photo
Fire displaces three Saanich families from two homes

Saanich firefighters found the fire had spread to a neighbouring home upon arriving

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
‘It’s been a good week’: Tam hopeful on vaccines as pandemic anniversary nears

Tam says the addition of two new vaccines will help Canadians get immunized faster

Const. Allan Young. Photo: Abbotsford Police Department
Manslaughter charge laid in Nelson death of Abbotsford police officer

Allan Young died after an incident in downtown Nelson last summer

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

The Port Alice pulp mill has been dormant since 2015. (North Island Gazette file photo)
Parts recycled, life returning to inlet as as old Port Alice mill decommissioned

Bankruptcy company oversees de-risking the site, water treatment and environmental monitoring

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Ex-B.C. teacher who was CFL kicker charged with assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Sweet taught in Mission School District for 10 years, investigators seek further witnesses

(Black Press Media files)
Medicine gardens help Victoria’s Indigenous kids in care stay culturally connected

Traditional plants brought to the homes of Indigenous kids amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Most Read