OTTAWA — Manitoba has signed on to Ottawa’s health-funding agreement, securing an extra $5 million for the province after a months-long stalemate it argues isn’t over yet.

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OTTAWA — Manitoba has signed on to Ottawa’s health-funding agreement, securing an extra $5 million for the province after a months-long stalemate it argues isn’t over yet.

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott said Monday that Manitoba has clearly ended its five-month stretch as the only province or territory not to sign on to the new funding model.

"We have made our deal, that the provinces and territories are all clear in their understanding of," Philpott told the Free Press. "That is where things stand for the next five years."

However, the province says it intends to continue pushing Ottawa for more money.

For now, Manitoba has accepted its share of the $11 billion Ottawa has promised for mental-health and home-care programs. The funding tops up three per cent annual increases in health transfers, used to pay for doctors and procedures.

In December, Premier Brian Pallister led the charge against the federal government’s decision to cut annual increases in health transfers to 3.5 per cent from the previous six per cent, urging the other premiers to join forces in a unified effort to get a better deal.

But, in a matter of weeks, any support he had vanished, leaving Manitoba standing alone.

The province will get $400 million of the $11 billion; $218 million for home care and $181.6 million for mental health and addictions.

Provincial Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said Monday $10.9 million of that funding will be used in the first fiscal year. While that’s just 2.7 per cent of the decade-long spend, it follows gradual increases outlined in the federal budget so provinces can plan services in advance.

The province has also secured an extra $5 million to use this year to help battle the opioid crisis and the high rate of chronic kidney disease affecting Manitobans, particularly Indigenous people.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES</p><p>Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (right) meets with Premier Brian Pallister in Winnipeg in July. </p>

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (right) meets with Premier Brian Pallister in Winnipeg in July.

Manitoba wasn’t the only province to secure extra funding after putting up resistance with the feds. British Columbia secured $10 million to deal with the opioid crisis, and Alberta got $6 million for the same reason.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was in Winnipeg late last month for the opening of the Canada Summer Games, discussed health funding in a meeting with Pallister.

The two have even sparred over phrasing; Manitoba has refused to use Ottawa’s term, "health accord," to describe the negotiations.

After failing to reach a deal with the provinces in December, the Liberals took an extra half per cent incentive off the table and stuck to the three per cent increase former prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government had mandated in a 2011 bill. That kicks in now until early 2022.

The feds said that target would push provinces to get their largest expenditure under control, but premiers argued it would unfairly burden them during a time of rising costs.

Manitoba spends about 40 per cent of its budget on health care.

Pallister objected to a slowdown in health funding last fall, before Ottawa advanced an offer, and escalated his rhetoric.

In June, he called it "a dangerous deal," accusing the Trudeau government of using a divide-and-conquer approach to health negotiations, and claimed Ottawa was holding $60 million in promised funding for Winnipeg’s Factory of the Future manufacturing research facility hostage. The Liberals denied both allegations.

While Goertzen said Monday he welcomes the new money for mental-health and home-care programs, he said the province will continue to fight the decision to effectively cut annual health transfers.

"We’re going to get to the point, at some point in the future, where the federal government is hardly providing any funding to health care in provinces," he said. "So it was very important to raise those issues and to lead the charge in that, and we won’t stop doing that."

Asked whether the standoff was worth the hit to Manitoba’s relations with Ottawa, Goertzen said, "It was the right thing to do." He was optimistic the province could somehow get Ottawa to offer more money, adding he spoke with his federal counterpart, Philpott, over the weekend.

Manitoba has secured additional federal health funding Health, Seniors and Active Living Minister Kelvin Goertzen announced Monday in the Manitoba Legislative building. (Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Manitoba has secured additional federal health funding Health, Seniors and Active Living Minister Kelvin Goertzen announced Monday in the Manitoba Legislative building. (Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press)

Goertzen said another issue involves the cost of air transport for northern Manitoba residents who need treatment in Winnipeg; he said there’s a $40-million outstanding bill Ottawa has yet to pay. And he criticized the federal Liberals for campaigning in 2015 on a promise to negotiate with the provinces, and then presenting an inflexible offer.

"There have been legions of studies, non-political studies, that will say that the federal government’s contribution to health care as it stands right now isn’t sustainable," he said.

But Philpott said that justifies clawing back the increases.

"Doing better in health care is not always about spending more money," she said. "We know countries spend less than we do and get better health incomes than we do."

Provincial NDP Health Critic Matt Wiebe said Pallister's months-long disagreement "didn’t get us a better deal" while creating "a climate of confrontation" with Ottawa. Though Wiebe agreed that the federal government should have offered more funding, he said Pallister’s "grandstanding" didn’t sway the feds.

In any case, Manitobans won’t be getting health funding later than other provinces, according to Philpott’s office. While the funding kicks in during this fiscal year — which began April 1 — the allocated money doesn’t move out of federal coffers for a few more months.

Kate Kehler, executive director of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, said Manitobans are in dire need of the new mental-health and home-care funds.

"We know that we’ve got youth who are suffering and families who are struggling," said Kehler, whose group regularly speaks with front-line staff.

Manitoba teens face six-month waits to be evaluated for mental-health issues, said Kehler, while many home-care staff don’t get paid for travel time. A system designed to make patients comfortable at home (and out of costly hospital beds), is bare-bones, she said.

"It provides the very minimal, basic amount of care."

— with files from Jane Gerster

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

 

Dylan Robertson

Dylan Robertson
Parliamentary bureau chief

In Ottawa, Dylan enjoys snooping through freedom-of-information requests and asking politicians: "What about Manitoba?"