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Premiers 'disappointed' with Trudeau's $196 billion, 10-year health-care offer

Ottawa's proposal to increase federal health-care transfers by $196 billion over 10 years amounts to just $600 million a year in new money for B.C., far short of the $3.9 billion a year it was hoping for.

B.C. Premier David Eby was muted in his disappointment over Tuesday's announcement in Ottawa for increased health-care funding.
B.C. Premier David Eby was muted in his disappointment over Tuesday's announcement in Ottawa for increased health-care funding. Photo by BLAIR GABLE /REUTERS

Ottawa’s proposal to increase federal health-care transfers to the provinces and territories by $196 billion over 10 years amounts to just $600 million a year in new money for B.C., which Premier David Eby dismissed as “fiscally limited.”

Of the $46 billion in new health-care cash offered by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday, B.C.’s share breaks down to $6 billion over 10 years: $2.7 billion for the Canada Health Transfer and $3.3 billion in bilateral funding for B.C.’s health-care priorities, which include community care and mental health and addiction.

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That $600 million a year is far short of the $3.9 billion B.C. was pushing for if Ottawa increased its share of the Canada Health Transfer from 22 per cent to 35 per cent. It is also a drop in the bucket in the province’s $27-billion health budget, $6 billion of which comes from the federal government.

Eby appeared alongside the 12 other premiers at a news conference in Ottawa following their two-hour meeting with Trudeau on Tuesday.

He said the offer provides “a foundation and some reassurance to British Columbians that we’re having these conversations and we’re moving forward.”

Eby’s criticism of the deal was more muted than other premiers. Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson called the amount “disappointing,” while Quebec Premier Francois Legault said the amount is “insufficient.”

Stefanson, who chairs the Council of the Federation representing Canada’s 13 premiers, could not say whether provincial and territorial will accept the offer. They will discuss their next steps over the coming days, she said.

Terry Lake, a former health minister under the B.C. Liberals, acknowledged that the new funding for B.C. “is not a tremendous amount.”

However, “the premiers risk angering Canadians if they don’t make good-faith attempts to pull this through,” said Lake, who now heads the B.C. Care Providers Association.

Considering Canada’s aging population, Lake is concerned that funding for long-term care didn’t get as much attention in the proposed agreement as it deserves.

The premiers have been asking to sit down with Trudeau for more than two years, as COVID put enormous strain on the health-care system and left provinces with thousands of backlogged surgeries, a burned-out health workforce, and in rural parts of B.C., emergency rooms forced to close temporarily because of staffing shortages.

Trudeau’s offer will bring the Canada Health Transfer to almost $73 billion by 2032-33, which the federal government says is about $17 billion more in total over those 10 years, compared with the existing plan.

Trudeau said the offer includes an immediate and unconditional top-up of $2 billion to the Canada Health Transfer to ease the intense pressure on hospitals.

As well, $25 billion will be sent over 10 years through one-on-one agreements with each province for four priority areas including family medicine, surgical backlogs, mental health and modernizing data-collection systems.

Trudeau says the one-one-one agreements can be flexible but provinces will have to show plans for how they will spend the money and how they will measure progress in those areas.

— with file from Canadian Press

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