A complaint by Canada's premiers, led by Manitoba's Greg Selinger, that Ottawa will cut $36 billion out of health care over a 10-year period is pure political posturing that indicates the provinces are not serious about coming to terms with the need for fundamental reforms.
The criticism is a delayed response to the federal government's announcement last year that health transfer payments would increase at six per cent annually until the end of 2016, when a new formula would tie the rate of increase to economic growth, although it would never fall below three per cent.
The provinces are saying they need to continue receiving annual transfers of at least six per cent, well above the projected inflation rate, to maintain the health-care system, which is an admission they have no plans to transform a system that is out of control and heading to disaster.
The provinces have received generous transfers for the past 10 years, yet wait times have not improved substantially, wages have increased dramatically, and service has not improved. It's this pattern that the provinces want to maintain, but it has to stop.
Most provinces are already spending close to 50 per cent of their budgets on health care, which is why every expert and report has said the current way of doing business is not sustainable. Yet the best the premiers could do during their meeting in Halifax this week was offer a few fuzzy ideas about bulk buying of drugs and searching for ways to control rising salaries -- both of which Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty dismissed as being tamer than what he already is doing. And at that, they don't come close to addressing the fiscal crisis posed by skyrocketing health-care costs.
It's not just spending that needs to be re-examined, but also the way services are delivered and funded; yet the premiers are unprepared for the difficult decisions that will, eventually, have to be made.
In Manitoba, Finance Minister Stan Struthers promised new efficiencies last April that could save $100 million a year, but it's still unknown where those savings might be found.
The new federal funding formula will undoubtedly put pressure on the provinces, but that is a good thing if it forces them to face reality and implement real reforms. Business as usual doesn't work anymore.