Ottawa’s push for bilateral health deals has stalled

Ministers from 10 provinces and territories are again calling on Prime Minister Trudeau to meet face to face to resume negotiations

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. Trudeau is approving Kinder Morgan's proposal to triple the capacity of its Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby, B.C. — a $6.8-billion project that has sparked protests by climate change activists from coast to coast. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick


OTTAWA – The federal government’s push to close bilateral health-funding deals with individual provinces and territories appears to be losing momentum.

After talks to establish a national funding framework fell apart last month, the feds reached side deals with New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

But health and finance ministers from the 10 other provinces and territories are now repeating their call for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to meet face to face with the premiers to resume negotiations.

In a letter Tuesday to their federal counterparts, they reiterated their objection to Ottawa’s last offer — increasing health transfers by 3.5 per cent per year and $11.5 billion in targeted funding over 10 years — because it simply isn’t enough.

“Canadians expect and deserve their governments to provide long-term sustainable support so that public health care is strong today and for future generations,” reads the letter addressed to Health Minister Jane Philpott and Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

“The new federal government was elected, in part, on a mandate to engage in a constructive dialogue with provinces and territories to secure the future of health care.”

Later Tuesday, a Trudeau spokeswoman said there were no immediate plans for a first ministers meeting on health.

In the letter, the provinces once again pointed to what they describe as an evidence-based estimate that predicts health-care costs to rise by 5.2 per cent annually. The ministers said this figure has been backed by independent organizations such as The Conference Board of Canada.

The feds have argued that they put forward a “historic” offer that is the best they could do within the confines of their own narrow fiscal framework.

Philpott has said Ottawa wants to transform the system because health-care outcomes in Canada are average compared to similar countries — even though Canadians pay some of the highest per-capita costs in the world.

A spokesman for Philpott wrote in an email Tuesday that the lines of communication with the provinces and territories remain open.

The federal efforts to reach bilateral deals appeared to drive a wedge between provinces and territories.

After the federal-provincial talks collapsed in Ottawa, the provinces seemed united in their opposition to the federal proposal. However, three provinces broke ranks and inked their own deals with the feds.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard has called the federal government’s divide-and-conquer approach on health care “deplorable.”

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.