Smith returns from ‘productive’ meetings in Ottawa, discusses ‘significant’ health-care funding
Premier Danielle Smith says her trip to Ottawa for the federal government’s health-care meeting with premiers this week was both “constructive” and “productive.”
Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday the federal government will spend $196.1 billion to address Canada’s troubled health-care systems over the next 10 years, pledging $46.2 billion in new funding.
This new cross-Canada offer includes both increases to the amount budgeted to flow through the Canada Health Transfer (CHT) as well as federal plans to sign bilateral deals with each province and territory that are mindful of each system’s unique circumstances.
Speaking publicly on Thursday for the first time since returning to Alberta, Smith said while some premiers were disappointed with the amount of funding announced, Alberta will use it to accelerate existing health reforms.
“I think Alberta’s share will be about $518 million, and I’ve already talked to my health minister about how he wants to deploy those dollars. We’ve already started on(a) very ambitious reforms strategy,” she said.
“We were pleased to see that most of the funding increase was in the Canada Health Transfer– that’s particularly important to Alberta because it’s divvied up on a per-capita basis and it has no strings attached. That, at least, was the right balance–that most of the dollars are coming through with no strings attached.”
Smith said she will meet with her first ministerial colleges next week, potentially on Monday, to see what their response will be, adding it could be anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks before plans for the funding are announced.
Smith said the money is “significant” and her government is going to be able to “do some good things with that.”
“We’re making sure we don’t leave any money on the table.”
Though Smith said her meeting with the prime minister was “positive overall,” she said Thursday that Trudeau has “not yet shown himself to be a friend of Alberta.”
ALBERTA NDP SAYS FEDERAL MONEY IS ‘SIMPLY NOT ENOUGH’
Alberta NDP health critic David Shepherd says while the party appreciates the money, it’s simply not going to be enough to fix Alberta’s struggling health-care sector.
“What we see coming forward now, and the escalators that have been proposed, basically account for the cost of inflation and population growth, so it doesn’t really get us much further ahead,” Shepherd said.
“It’s clear we have a crisis in our health-care system. We need to be making investments. Instead, we have a government that has taken essentially $1.7 billion out of the yearly health-care spending by not accounting for population growth and inflation.
“So these dollars are coming from the federal government, they need to get to the frontlines. That is where we have our crisis. That is where we have a health-care staffing shortage due to this government’s attacks on health-care workers– the chaos they created that exhausted those workers.”
Shepherd said were the Alberta NDP to win in the upcoming provincial election, they’d sit down with folks on the frontline to ask them where the funds need to go.
Smith refuted claims the UCP hadn’t accounted for population growth, pointing to the UCP’s health-care budget, which she said is approximately 42 per cent of their overall spending.
“We had a plan that was announced last year to increase funding $600 million a year (for) last year, this year and next year.
“We’re going to be able to invest more now with the federal government assisting us.”
She said health care in Alberta is “absolutely a priority” for the UCP.
“We have a record number of doctors in our province as of December 2022 – 11,400. From the time that the NDP were in (power), we have 1,800 new net nurses.
“We’re working with our paramedics to make sure that we’re reducing the number of trips that are for treatable conditions at home, or on site. We’re making sure that we have a different alternative to get people transported to routine doctors visits so that we have our ambulances available for the most urgent care.”
WASN’T THE ‘END OF THE WORLD’
University of Calgary political scientist Lisa Young says Smith had a generally calm demeanour during Thursday’s news conference.
“Compared to many of the other premiers, Smith is in a fortunate position that the province would certainly benefit from additional funds coming from Ottawa, but doesn’t necessarily need them with the level of surplus that the province has,” Young said.
“So Smith was able to say, ‘look, we’d like to see more,’ but it certainly didn’t come across that it was the end of the world that the deal wasn’t as generous as might have been expected.”
Young says Smith seemed to be trying to convey that while the funds were welcome, her government was responsible for reforms in the system which will make more of a difference.
“Whether that turns out to be true, it is really difficult to say.”
With files from Mark Villani
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