Premiers, PM meeting opportunity for ‘real dialogue’: Stefanson
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Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson is cautiously optimistic, after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invited the country’s premiers to negotiate a new health-care funding agreement next month in Ottawa.
Stefanson, who chairs the Council of the Federation, was at the forefront of a December call for a first minister’s meeting on the Canada Health Transfer.
The council of provincial and territorial premiers wants the federal government to increase its share of annual health funding to 35 per cent from 22 per cent, via the transfer.
Late last year, the premiers, led by Stefanson, presented a united front to demand Trudeau set a date early in 2023 to open a dialogue on funding. A meeting of health ministers in November ended without an agreement.
Trudeau and the premiers are scheduled to meet Feb. 7.
“I’m hoping that we can come to some sort of a resolution sooner rather than later,” Stefanson said Wednesday. “It would have been great to have sat down quite some time ago.”
The Manitoba leader said the meeting is positive news and a step in the right direction, after the council put forward a proposal for a new funding agreement two years ago. However, the premier is not expecting a deal to be reached at the early February meeting.
“We’ll sit down there, we’ll see what the proposal is, it’s going to take time to digest what that proposal is and so, I don’t want to preempt or predispose what will take place or transpire at that meeting,” Stefanson said.
“I just hope there’s an opportunity to sit down and have a real dialogue there.”
The Trudeau government has signalled it is prepared to increase health spending; however, provincial and federal leaders have clashed over how those dollars will be spent, with the provinces demanding full autonomy on health priorities.
Meanwhile, Ottawa wants expanded sharing of health data and the use of common key health indicators before providing more cash to the provinces.
On Wednesday, Trudeau said the meeting will start the “hard work” of developing bilateral agreements with provinces while moving forward with a framework on data, health information and results.
Stefanson said the provinces, including Manitoba, have no problem being accountable for the delivery of health-care services, but declined to comment on the potential sharing of data and outcomes without seeing what the federal government has in mind.
She reassured Manitobans “any moneys that are earmarked by the federal government for health care will go to health care.”
“There’s been talk about data sharing, but it’s talk,” she said. ““We’ll see what that proposal says and look forward to acting on behalf of Manitobans.”
The premier added the council is not asking for bilateral agreements with the federal government. “Our proposal’s been on the table for some time and it goes back to that bottom line Canada Health Transfer.”
Inking a new agreement before the provincial spring budget will depend on what the federal government brings to the table, Stefanson said.
“It’s the start of a dialogue, but we’ve been looking for this for some time, and I think we’re gaining some momentum now that we’ve got a meeting,” the Manitoba premier said. “So I think we’ll just keep that momentum going.”
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.