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This article was published 1/2/2019 (970 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — The Pallister government still hasn't signed Ottawa's health-funding agreement, more than a year after ending a long standoff with the federal Liberals over the deal.
The first round of funding has flowed to Manitoba, and Health Canada believes all three outstanding provinces will sign on by the end of the March.
However, the bulk of federal funds earmarked for both mental health and home care require provinces to sign a bilateral agreement, which also holds provinces to reporting how they use the cash. That has provincial NDP Leader Wab Kinew worried about why Premier Brian Pallister's government hasn't yet signed on.
"The accountability is not there," Kinew told the Free Press on Friday morning.
"Without the reporting requirements, who's to say Pallister's not just going to take the mental health money and, instead of using it to fight addictions, just use it to cover up for funding cuts that he's making in other areas of the health-care system?"
The party used a freedom-of-information request to obtain a section of the August 2018 binder bureaucrats prepared for Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen when he took on the post that month.
The document shows the accord hadn't been signed, and Friesen's office confirmed Friday the talks are ongoing.
The Liberals put up the mental health and home care cash to sweeten the deal for provinces, after curtailing billions in the health-care transfers used to pay for doctors and procedures. Friesen's briefing binder shows Manitoba's share amounts to $410.5 million over 11 years, with just over half weighted to home care.
A bill in Parliament pushed through part of that cash to provinces for the 2017-18 year. The rest of the funding is outlined in two bilateral agreements which run until March 2022 and then 2027. Those contracts require provinces to report how they use the cash, which Kinew said is crucial.
"If (the Tories) announce they're spending some money, we won't know if that was over-and-above what was already there, or are they just announcing money that they've pulled from another program somewhere else."
Friesen did not address Kinew's concerns about how money is allocated, nor why the deal remains unsigned. Instead, he listed existing mental health commitments, like downtown meth treatment beds and tenders posted for rehab centres.
"We will have more to say when these negotiations conclude," Friesen wrote.
Health Canada said it's confident Manitoba, Alberta and Nunavut will all sign their health accords by the end of this fiscal year.
"Bilateral agreements with the remaining jurisdictions that have not yet been signed and announced are progressing well, and are expected to be concluded by March 31, 2019," wrote spokesman Eric Morrissette.
Still, Kinew doesn't understand why Pallister hasn't yet inked the deal: "If health care was a top priority for him, as it is for the average Manitoba family, there'd be a signature on this deal."
Kinew had a similar concern about the $4.2 million the PCs agreed to match last December through a federal fund meant to treat Manitobans who have used meth and opioids. He said he'll be eyeing next month's budget to see how that cash is accounted for, and that isn't "backfilling the cuts" elsewhere.
Health care is almost always the largest expenditure for each of the provinces, whom successive federal governments have tried prodding into finding ways of cutting costs. In Manitoba, health spending ate up 39 per cent of the last budget.