Health-care system ‘hasn’t been delivering’ as it should, Trudeau says ahead of funding talks

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday he recognizes the strained health-care system needs a cash injection to help it overcome staffing issues, surgery backlogs and an acute shortage of family doctors.

Trudeau is meeting with Canada’s premiers in Ottawa today to begin negotiations to determine just how big a cheque the provinces will actually get to help them prop up a faltering system.

“Canadians are proud of our universal public health-care system but we all have to recognize it hasn’t been delivering at the level that Canadians would expect. That’s why sitting down with the provinces, working collaboratively and investing significantly in priority areas, is going to move us forward in the right way,” Trudeau told reporters ahead of his “working meeting” with the premiers.

The federal government has said it is prepared to increase the Canada Health Transfer (CHT) and sign bilateral funding agreements with each of the provinces and territories — but Ottawa wants its money targeted at priority areas like primary care and mental health.

Ottawa also has demanded that the provinces improve their data collection to better track health-care performance and outcomes.

WATCH | Trudeau says health care is not ‘delivering at the level that Canadians would expect’:

Trudeau says health care is not ‘delivering at the level that Canadians would expect’

6 hours ago

Duration 0:27

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau discusses health care ahead of meeting with premiers.

Sources told CBC News Monday that Trudeau will present a 10-year funding plan to the premiers, with money set to flow as soon as the next federal budget this spring.

‘We don’t want conditions’

Trudeau will present a plan today — but it may not be palatable to premiers who have been clear about what they want: a multi-billion-dollar hike to the CHT each year with few strings attached.

“We don’t want conditions. What we want is to be able to apply our plan. We already have a plan for health care in Quebec and we need more financing from the federal government,” Quebec Premier Francois Legault said Tuesday.

Legault also said that if Ottawa’s funding demands align with the province’s existing priorities, he’s willing to go along.

“If we have the flexibility with the federal money to be able to finance what we want to finance, we’ll be happy,” he said.

The premiers want Ottawa to increase its share of health-care costs from the current 22 per cent to 35 per cent.

The federal Liberal government has said the 22 per cent figure doesn’t reflect the entire funding picture.

In 1977, some tax points were transferred from Ottawa to the provinces, which allowed them to collect a larger share of all tax revenues to fund social programs like health care. Those tax points, Ottawa argues, should count for something.

Canada spends roughly $330 billion a year on health care, according to data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

Last year, the CHT cost the federal treasury $45.2 billion. Even before today’s talks, it was set to increase to $49.1 billion in this fiscal year.

WATCH | The National discusses Canada’s health-care crisis:

Canada’s health-care crisis: Problems, solutions and privatization

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In the face of a health-care crisis, Adrienne Arsenault brings together patients and health-care workers with different perspectives to discuss the problems, potential solutions and whether there’s a role for more privatization.

On the desired size of a CHT hike, Legault also appeared Tuesday to be softening his previous stance.

“We are open to a first step in the right direction,” Legault said in French, adding that “a substantial amount would be welcome, even if it isn’t the total amount.”

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson is the current head of the Council of the Federation, the group that represents the premiers. She said she’s not expecting a deal to materialize today.

The premiers haven’t seen any details of a potential health-care agreement — they only know what’s been leaked in the press.

“Today is the first time we will, as premiers, be awarded the opportunity to see what the proposal looks like. So we look forward to seeing that,” she said. “I think we’re optimistic we can work together.” 

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