OTTAWA — Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says the prime minister told him "I'm not your banker" in a rebuke to his request for more health funding at a meeting in 2016, when both were rookie first ministers.
"I feel passionately about it and I want the prime minister to feel the same passion," Pallister told the Free Press on Thursday.
Pallister said he told Trudeau about a Manitoba woman who had noticed a lump in her breast and waited months for appointments, tests and consultations while the cancer grew.
"It comes down to thinking with your head in the absence of your empathy," he told reporters Thursday, as all premiers reiterated their call for a boost in federal health transfers to the provinces.
"When I raised this story, a true story, with the prime minister, he looked across the table at me and said, ‘I’m not your banker.’"
The Prime Minister’s Office said it had no knowledge of that remark.
"We don’t know what the premier is talking about," wrote spokesman Alex Wellstead, adding that the PMO is focused on collaborating on COVID-19.
The snub allegedly occurred during a December 2016 meeting Trudeau held with the premiers in Ottawa, which focused on a climate-change framework, Pallister said.
The premier said he tried to link cost-sharing on a carbon levy with sharing health expenses, and Trudeau suggested they discuss that at a dinner.
It was over the meal that Pallister said he told the story about the Manitoba couple who had tearfully explained their delayed cancer diagnosis.
"I was trying to get him to understand the impact of wait times on Canadians, and "I'm not your banker' didn't sit with that," Pallister said in an interview.
"I'm not breaking a confidence right now; I want to be clear on that."
The exchange occurred when Trudeau was just over a year into his first term, and Pallister had been premier for eight months.
"To be fair, he was a new prime minister at that point in time too, and maybe he felt somewhat threatened by the subject."
With a federal budget in the offing, premiers held a virtual news conference Thursday to reiterate their demand for a big increase in the unconditional transfer payment the federal government sends provinces and territories each year for health care.
They reiterated their request for an extra $28 billion, on top of $42 billion they already receive.
The federal government rejected that same demand this past September, saying it wanted to avoid any structural, long-term costs until after the pandemic for fear of ruining Ottawa’s credit rating.
Pallister called that nonsense, pointing out the Liberals keep extending COVID-19 relief programs.
"This government making a fiscal argument doesn’t even bear a response," he said.
The COVID-19 funding package Ottawa sent to provinces last fall serves as a model for health-care spending, Pallister argued. It includes a general agreement about how to spend the money, but no strict rules on how to allocate it.
The current practice of the federal government holds to a formula that caps the rise of health transfers at three per cent per year, regardless of demographics, with some side allocations for specific initiatives such as home care.
Pallister expects health care to be a key issue in the next federal election, which could happen this year.
"I'm having trouble understanding what the federal government thinks is a higher long-term priority for Canadians than their health-care system," he said.