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

Just Posted

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Over 5K jabbed at Interior Health mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics

The clinics have made stops in more than 40 communities since launching last week

Kimberley residents were treated to the first Farmers' Market of the season, and the feeling of a return to normalcy. Paul Rodgers photos.
WATCH: Kimberley’s first Farmers’ Market of the season

Kimberley residents enjoyed the first Farmers’ Market of the year on Thursday,… Continue reading

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interior Health COVID-19 cases falling slower than the rest of B.C.

More than a third of provincial cases announced Thursday came from the Interior

Students at Creston Valley Secondary School put together an art installation of a replica residential school room. (Photo by Kelsey Yates)
Creston students create art installation of residential school room

The replica was decorated with a small bed, school uniform, and notes written with pleas for help

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

A North Vancouver man was arrested Friday and three police officers were injured after a 10-person broke out at English Bay on June 19, 2021. (Youtube/Screen grab)
Man arrested, 3 police injured during 10-person brawl at Vancouver beach

The arrest was captured on video by bystanders, many of whom heckled the officers as they struggled with the handcuffed man

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Patrick O’Brien, a 75-year-old fisherman, went missing near Port Angeles Thursday evening. (Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)
Search for lost fisherman near Victoria suspended, U.S. Coast Guard says

The 75-year-old man was reported missing Thursday evening

Bruce Springsteen performs at the 13th annual Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert in support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation in New York on Nov. 4, 2019. (Greg Allen/Invision/AP)
Canadians who got AstraZeneca shot can now see ‘Springsteen on Broadway’

B.C. mayor David Screech who received his second AstraZeneca dose last week can now attend the show

New research suggests wolves can be steered away from the endangered caribou herds they prey on by making the man-made trails they use to hunt harder to move along. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Culling cutlines, not B.C. wolves, key to preserving caribou herds: researcher

The government has turned to killing hundreds of wolves in an effort to keep caribou around

Most Read