Nurses back premiers over health funding

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OTTAWA — Nurses have joined the premiers in pushing the federal government to boost health funding, after delays in negotiations under the Trudeau government.

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OTTAWA — Nurses have joined the premiers in pushing the federal government to boost health funding, after delays in negotiations under the Trudeau government.

“We need to look at it at a national level, because it’s not just something that’s unique to Manitoba, and I think that’s where the federal government can really help out,” Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson told the Free Press in between meetings at the premiers conference, where she was joined by Manitoba Nurses Union head Darlene Jackson.

In Manitoba and elsewhere, nursing unions have sparred with provincial governments over staffing and compensation during the COVID-19 pandemic. On Monday, they were united to raise the alarm about Canada’s hospitals.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Premier Heather Stefanson is pushing the federal government to increase health funding.

“Health care is on the brink of disaster. Canada needs our leaders — the prime minister and every premier — to step up,” reads a statement from the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions.

Stefanson said she spoke with Jackson about how Ottawa could help create more capacity for colleges and universities to train nurses, and integrate nurses who have been educated abroad.

“We really honed in on that,” Stefanson said.

Jackson said Stefanson offered to meet more regularly, and the union plans to take her up on that offer.

“Today’s meeting was a step in the right direction,” Jackson wrote.

“It is certainly my hope that it will be the beginning of a collaboration between two stakeholders who care about the patients in this province. We are long past the point of niceties.”

Yet the national union group said provinces won’t make much progress unless Ottawa loosens its purse strings.

“No one province or territory can solve this on their own. Bringing the federal government to the table is the key to creating and funding solutions,” the federation wrote.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, premiers had pressed the Trudeau government to change its funding formula for health care. The Liberals agreed in 2021 to revisit the issue as the pandemic abated.

Yet on Monday, the Liberals pushed back, noting that provinces haven’t used taxing powers Ottawa devolved in 1977 to help them raise money for health care.

B.C. Premier John Horgan argued that should be part of negotiations that Ottawa refuses to start, which should also include regulatory changes.

“We need to have a human-resources strategy right across the country, so that Quebec is not poaching from B.C., (and) B.C. is not poaching from Manitoba — (that) we have a national plan to recruit, retain and train the next generation of health-care workers,” he said.

Indigenous leaders also met with the premiers Monday, to touch base on efforts to commemorate children who died while attending residential schools, and economic empowerment for First Nations and Métis communities.

Stefanson said that could entail more mining in Manitoba, and projects that emulate the April transfer of Hudson’s Bay Co.’s downtown Winnipeg store into an Indigenous-run housing and services centre.

“There was a real recognition around the table, that that has set the stage nationally, for what that can look like in other provinces.”

On Tuesday, the premiers will discuss labour gaps, affordability and immigration.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

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