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Health ministers gather, call for transfer hike

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Manitoba Health Minister Audrey Gordon joined her provincial and territorial counterparts Monday in Vancouver to present a united front in calling for increased health-care funding with “no strings attached.”

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Manitoba Health Minister Audrey Gordon joined her provincial and territorial counterparts Monday in Vancouver to present a united front in calling for increased health-care funding with “no strings attached.”

The group is asking Ottawa to increase the Canada Health Transfer to 35 per cent from its current 22 per cent, and will meet Tuesday with federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.

“We won’t waver in that unanimous voice,” Gordon said in a phone interview from Vancouver following a news conference with all the provincial and territorial health ministers.

Manitoba Health Minister Audrey Gordon wants the federal government to provide health-care funding to provinces based on their individual needs with no strings attached, she says. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

“I’m hoping that minister Duclos is open to having those discussions and making that a reality. We want adequate, stable and predictable funding through the Canada Health Transfer.”

On Monday, prior to the ministers’ news event, the federal government said it is ready to increase health-care transfers, but the jurisdictions must commit to expanding the use of common key health indicators and to build a “world-class” health data system for the country.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in Montreal the government has committed to investing “significantly more” in health care, but it wants assurances people have access to a family doctor and mental-health services.

The provinces are each targeting their individual health-care spending where it’s needed and being transparent about it, Gordon said.

“We all have, in our jurisdictions, indicators, performance measures and metrics. We’ve been producing that information all throughout the (COVID-19) pandemic,” Gordon said, noting a dashboard has been set up by the province to track the surgical and diagnostic backlog in Manitoba.

“What we’re looking for is not for the federal government to sign individual agreements with jurisdictions and say, ‘This is what you must produce.’ Allow us that independence and autonomy to make the decisions that need to be made in our jurisdiction (for) our unique challenges.

“The funds are being used and they’re being tailored toward the unique needs of our province. We want to be able to make those decisions with no strings attached in the funding we receive from the federal government.”

At the news conference, British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix said, given what the territories and provinces have been through with COVID-19, there needs to be a national conference on health transfers to reach a funding agreement. He hoped such an agreement would be included in the next federal budget, he said.

The last time Canada’s health ministers met face-to-face was in Winnipeg in 2018.

The key issues addressed at that conference included mental health and addictions, federal legalization of cannabis, pharmaceutical drug coverage, and the need for short- and long-term federal funding “to meet evolving health-care challenges.”

Four years later, those evolving challenges have devolved into a full-on crisis, the ministers said.

In Manitoba, health-care consolidation prior to the COVID-19 pandemic stretched thin hospital staffing levels that are now at a breaking point, observers say.

The Council of the Federation (the alliance of premiers and territorial leaders chaired by Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson) launched an advertising campaign last month, blaming a chronic shortage of doctors and nurses on the lack of funding support from the federal government.

After Monday’s meeting, the situation demands particular urgency because “this is going to be a difficult winter,” Dix said, referring to an expected spike in respiratory illnesses including, but not limited to, COVID-19.

There are staffing shortages across Canada and the ministers meeting was a chance to share best practices for recruiting and retaining health-care staff, and to discuss ways to standardize procedures “to ensure we’re not poaching from each other,” Gordon said.

“It’s about working together ensuring there’s labour mobility” for health-care staff moving between provinces, for those recruited outside Canada, and for those who want to return after retiring or resigning from the system, Gordon said.

— The Canadian Press

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

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.

History

Updated on Monday, November 7, 2022 8:40 PM CST: Fixes typo of word, waver

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