Premiers seek to pressure Ottawa for increased health-care funds


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An advertising campaign by Canada’s premiers that blames doctors and nurses leaving the health-care system on cuts to federal funding is drawing both support and skepticism.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/10/2022 (212 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

An advertising campaign by Canada’s premiers that blames doctors and nurses leaving the health-care system on cuts to federal funding is drawing both support and skepticism.

The ads created for the Council of the Federation — led by Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson — depict a doctor or a nurse with the message: “As federal health-care funding disappears, so will our doctors (nurses).”

The messages say federal funding has fallen to 22 per cent of the cost of health care in Canada, and it continues to decline. “Provinces and territories are doing their part but we need the federal government to restore health-care funding now to keep our systems strong.”

The Council of the Federation leader said the group is asking for it to increase to 35 per cent. (The cost of health care was once split 50-50 in the 1960s.)

“We all want better health care for Canadians,” Stefanson said Friday in an interview. “We trying to sit down at the table and have a negotiation.”

At the present rate, the Canada Health Transfer would decline to cover just 19 per cent of health-care costs by 2033, according to a Deloitte study commissioned by the Canadian Medical Association and released in September.

Theresa Oswald, Doctors Manitoba chief executive officer and NDP health minister from 2006-13, supports the premiers’ call.

“As a former health minister, I had a front-row seat to dwindling federal funding a decade ago, and today I have a front-row seat to how a lack of federal funding is exacerbating challenges in our health-care system and risking losing doctors to other jurisdictions,” she said Friday.

Doctors Manitoba president Dr. Candace Bradshaw, too, said the federal government needs to step up.

“The challenges in our health-care system are national in scope and just too massive to leave to the provinces to handle alone,” said Bradshaw. “It’s time for an all-in solution, with provinces and the federal government working together so physicians have the resources they need to care for all Canadians.”

The Manitoba Health Coalition says it supports the premiers’ call for federal government increasing health transfers to cover 35 per cent — but with conditions.

Increased federal funding for health care must not be used to pay down provincial deficits, cut taxes or create more profits for private interests, coalition provincial director Thomas Linner said.

“There needs to be more checks and balances on that funding. There needs to be more dedicated funding towards specific areas and not just be left up to the premiers.”

When asked if the premiers would agree to conditions being attached to how federal health-care dollars should be spent, Stefanson said there needs to be local autonomy. “Every province and territory has unique needs,” she said.

As for being held accountable for where and how a province would spend more federal money for health care, Stefanson said they’re already held accountable by the people they serve.

“I would reassure Canadians we have every intention of putting this toward baseline (health-care) funding.”

The ad campaign is responding to what Canadians want, the Manitoba premier said. “What we’ve seen and have been hearing is that Canadians want to see different levels of government come up with positive solutions for better health care across the country.”

The premiers are presenting a “united front” to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government, said University of Winnipeg political science Prof. Félix Mathieu.

“The federal government would prefer to negotiate the terms of their contribution on an ad hoc basis, reaching differentiated deals with the provinces,” Mathieu said.

Such a united front could also make it harder for the premier of any one province to negotiate its own à la carte deal with Ottawa, he said. And it could convince Ottawa to increase unconditional health-care transfers to avoid criticism from the opposition.

Canadians are aware of serious issues with the health-care systems and the governing Liberals don’t want to be associated with the cause of these problems, Mathieu said.

“I believe this is quite clever from Canada’s premiers, as they were able to control the message so far, forcing Ottawa to respond in one way or another.”

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the premiers’ ad campaign is misleading, and accused some of having “squandered” federal transfer payments to provide tax cuts, rather than using them to pay for health care and social services.

“Consider how many of these premiers, when they get extra money from the federal government for health care, have given corporate tax cuts and property tax cuts,” he said Friday.

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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