November 22, 2019

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Singh's Concordia siren song off-key

Opinion

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says if his party forms a coalition government with the Liberals after Monday’s federal election, he’ll work towards reopening the emergency department at Concordia Hospital.

Singh, who made the pledge Wednesday from Hudson, Que., knows the federal government has no ability to do that. He’s trying to deceive Manitoba voters in an effort to win votes in the Winnipeg riding of Elmwood—Transcona.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says he’ll work towards reopening the emergency department at Concordia Hospital. (Sasha Sefter / Free Press files)

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says he’ll work towards reopening the emergency department at Concordia Hospital. (Sasha Sefter / Free Press files)

Health care is a provincial jurisdiction. The federal government has no say whatsoever on how a province organizes its hospitals, including decisions on where, or how many, emergency rooms an area should have.

Singh is aware of this, but has decided to mislead voters in Elmwood—Transcona (where Concordia Hospital is located) because NDP incumbent Daniel Blaikie is in jeopardy of losing the seat to Conservative challenger Lawrence Toet.

Singh puts Concordia ER on federal election map

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"Health-care delivery is certainly provincial, but health-care investments come federally," NDP leader Jagmeet said Wednesday. (Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press)
"Health-care delivery is certainly provincial, but health-care investments come federally," NDP leader Jagmeet said Wednesday. (Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press)

Posted: 16/10/2019 7:00 PM

HUDSON, Que. — If it were to become part of a coalition government, the federal NDP would push for the emergency room at the Concordia Hospital to be reopened.

“We know that people in Winnipeg really desperately need access to 24-hour emergency care,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said in an interview on Wednesday, in between campaign stops in Quebec.

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The only influence Ottawa has over the delivery of health-care services is through the enforcement of the Canada Health Act. The federal government sends $40 billion a year to the provinces ($1.47 billion to Manitoba in 2019-20) in health-care transfers.

In order to be eligible for this funding, provinces must adhere to the five principles of the CHA: public administration, comprehensiveness, universality, portability, and accessibility.

The act defines each of those principles. Failure to comply with the act (such as allowing a doctor to charge a patient for an insured service) can result in the federal government deducting a portion of a province’s transfer. That’s the hammer Ottawa carries.

Nowhere in the act does it allow the federal government to micromanage provincial health-care programs. Health care is a provincial jurisdiction in the constitution; nothing in the CHA interferes with those separation of powers. The preamble in the legislation confirms this.

Provinces don’t get federal health-care funding based on how many hospitals or ERs they have; Canada Health Transfers are based solely on the size of province’s population. Ottawa does occasionally provide additional funding to provinces for specific health-care services or capital costs, but those usually expand or enhance existing programs (such as home care). They’re also done with provincial consent.

Nowhere in the act does it allow the federal government to micromanage provincial health-care programs. Health care is a provincial jurisdiction in the constitution; nothing in the CHA interferes with those separation of powers. The preamble in the legislation confirms this.

Even if the federal government approached Manitoba with a cash proposal to reopen Concordia’s ER, the province would turn it down. The closure of the ER (which was converted to an urgent care centre) is part of a clinical consolidation plan to improve access to health-care services by pooling resources at three acute care hospitals in Winnipeg.

It wasn’t a cost-cutting measure, nor a move to reduce access. Regardless of whether one agrees with the plan or not, it was an operational decision made by the province. Ottawa has no input into that whatsoever.

If a province were asking for federal dollars to open or expand a hospital ER, that would be different, but it’s not the case.

Singh, a lawyer and a former Ontario MPP, knows the federal government cannot order, persuade or negotiate with a province to turn an urgent care centre into an emergency room if it conflicts with a province’s priorities. (Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press)

Singh, a lawyer and a former Ontario MPP, knows the federal government cannot order, persuade or negotiate with a province to turn an urgent care centre into an emergency room if it conflicts with a province’s priorities. (Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press)

Singh, a lawyer and a former Ontario MPP, knows well the federal government cannot order, persuade, or negotiate with a province to turn an urgent care centre into an emergency room if it conflicts with a province’s priorities.

Singh’s campaign director, Jennifer Howard — a former Manitoba finance minister — also knows this. She would have been the first to balk at any attempt by the federal government to intrude into provincial jurisdiction when she was a senior cabinet minister.

Singh is hoping he can convince voters in Elmwood—Transcona that, if they re-elect Blaikie (and if the federal NDP hold the balance of power in a minority government), they could somehow get the province to alter its clinical consolidation plan and reopen Concordia’s ER.

It won’t happen.

Besides, voters in Manitoba already had their say on the Tory government's health-care plan, including changes at Concordia and other hospitals. They voted in favour of it.

tom.brodbeck@freepress.mb.ca

Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck
Columnist

Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.

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