Fed-bashing health ads won’t solve anything

There is nothing new about provincial premiers calling on the federal government for increased health-care funding. It’s a collective demand they typically make every year.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/11/2022 (216 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There is nothing new about provincial premiers calling on the federal government for increased health-care funding. It’s a collective demand they typically make every year.

Federal politicians tend to respond with platitudes about how committed they are to sustainable funding for Canada’s medicare system, but want assurances more money would result in better outcomes. The provinces say only they can decide how health care dollars are spent because each jurisdiction is unique. Ottawa ultimately provides a modest increase to the Canada Health Transfer, and the back-and-forth begins all over again the following year.

The provinces, through the Council of the Federation, are at it again this year: they want more money from Ottawa for health care. Only this time, they have taken a more sinister approach by launching an advertising campaign that blames a lack of federal funds for Canada’s doctor and nursing shortage. Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson, the current chair of the council, is leading the charge.

“As federal health-care funding disappears, so will our doctors (nurses),” the ad, featuring images of concerned-looking doctors and nurses, ominously warns.

There is an argument to be made that Ottawa and the provinces need to sit down and figure out a better method of funding health care. However, this ad campaign is more about deflecting criticism away from poorly run health-care systems at the provincial level and less about a genuine need for more federal dollars.

<p>A billboard ad by the Council of the Federation.


A billboard ad by the Council of the Federation.

Manitoba doesn’t have a doctor or nursing shortage because it lacks funding from Ottawa. If it were solely a matter of money, the Progressive Conservative government would not have cut hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes over the past seven years. It would have used that money to ensure health care was adequately resourced.

One of the main reasons Manitoba has a shortage of doctors and nurses is because the province rushed the implementation of its 2017 hospital consolidation plan and excluded staff input from the process. Thousands of health-care workers were reassigned while government cut funding for acute care services. Hundreds of front-line staff quit or retired early, rather than accepting new positions many didn’t feel qualified for.

As a result, Manitoba hospitals entered the COVID-19 pandemic severely short-staffed, causing a further wave of resignations and early retirements due to staff burnout. The domino effect has been devastating: front-line workers have been discouraged from working in a health-care system that is chronically under-resourced. None of that was caused by a lack of federal funding.

                                <p>Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson</p>


Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson

Health-care transfers from Ottawa are not “disappearing,” as the provincial ads suggest. Canada Health Transfers to the provinces have increased from $30 billion a year to $45 billion since 2013-14, an average annual increase of 4.6 per cent. Is it enough? That’s debatable. However, it’s a far cry from suggesting federal funding is drying up.

Manitoba has seen its annual health-care transfers increase from $1.1 billion to $1.56 billion during that period (excluding COVID-19 top-ups). Federal equalization payments to Manitoba — the unconditional grants so-called have-not provinces can spend on anything they choose — have also soared by more than $1 billion (from $1.8 billion to $2.9 billion a year) since 2013-14.

Combined with other transfers, Manitoba receives the highest per-capita funding from Ottawa of any province west of New Brunswick.

Money is there for health care, including resources to recruit and retain doctors and nurses. What’s at issue here is how that money has been spent. Running menacing and misleading ads attacking the federal government won’t solve anything.

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