More than other premiers, Manitoba’s Heather Stefanson needs a health-care deal with Ottawa
If politics is theatre, then Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson appears comfortable in the role she’s playing in the latest round of health-care talks.
Stefanson is in Ottawa, where Canada’s premiers and territorial leaders are slated to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about a new health-care funding deal Tuesday.
On Monday, CBC News and most other media outlets in Canada reported aspects of the 10-year deal he’s expected to place on the table.
Several hours later, when Stefanson addressed reporters in her role as the head of the Council of the Federation, which includes the premiers and territorial leaders, Manitoba’s premier said she knew nothing of the contents of the deal and lamented she was not provided with a head’s up.
“I would have liked to have seen the proposal ahead of time. There’s no question,” Stefanson told reporters at a news briefing.
“If we had had it ahead of time, we could have had a more fulsome discussion.”
The deal is supposed to include more cash added to previously announced increases to the Canada Health Transfer, as well as additional cash injections into the specific funding deals Ottawa has with each province and territory. The new money would flow as soon as the federal budget passes.
Stefanson, however, said there is no expectation a deal will be reached between her colleagues and the prime minister on Tuesday.
Playing it cool is a good tactic for any negotiator, but let’s be clear: Manitoba, home to less than four per cent of Canada’s population, will not make or break this particular deal, assuming it is the result of a negotiation and not a funding package presented as a fait accompli by the prime minister.
The stakes, however, are very high for this premier in particular. Only she and Alberta’s Danielle Smith are heading into elections this year.
Some form of positive health-care news is utterly crucial for Stefanson and her Progressive Conservative government, which has been trailing badly behind Manitoba’s opposition NDP in every recent poll.
“The premier really has to make a move on health care to get more money secured for Manitoba,” said Chris Adams, an adjunct professor in political studies at the University of Manitoba.
“Now of course we’re a smaller player in Canada when you compare us to the other provinces. But I would say that striking a deal with the federal government getting increased funding is critically important.”
There may be some history weighing on Stefanson. A health-care crisis was a big factor in knocking off the last PC government in Manitoba, Adams noted.
“The health-care system can make or break a government, and one has to look at the 1999 provincial election, in which [former PC premier] Gary Filmon lost power,” Adams said.
“One of the biggest issues was hallway medicine at a time when the federal government was doing cutbacks to social spending across Canada.”
The Filmon government had to contend with Jean Chretien’s federal government, which took scissors to the federal budget in an effort to tame a massive federal deficit after the Liberals took power in 1993.
The Trudeau Liberals are an entirely different fiscal creature. This government has shown little reluctance in spending and is under a similar form of pressure to devote dollars to health care.
An Angus-Reid poll published on Monday suggested two-thirds of Canadians don’t like the quality of the care they’re receiving.
The poll suggested 68 per cent of those surveyed consider health care to be poor or very poor. As well, 45 per cent of respondents blame both the federal and provincial governments for this mess, according to the poll.
Angus Reid conducted a randomized survey of 1,726 members of the firm’s proprietary sample over the first three days of February. Had the firm utilized a purely random sample, the poll would have a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Even if Canada’s leaders work out a health-care deal, the money may not flow to Manitoba quickly enough to make a difference in health outcomes prior to the Oct. 3 provincial election.
But there is no political downside to offering hope. And Stefanson is not hurting herself in her current role in Ottawa, where she’s serving as the face of Canada’s provinces and territories.
“It’s like when we see a prime minister internationally doing things on a stage,” Adams said. “It gives her stature. People see her as someone that people are listening to across Canada.
“So I would say it can do nothing but help her.”
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