Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Provinces, Territories Refuse Federal Government's Offer on Health Care Funding

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Provinces, Territories Refuse Federal Government's Offer on Health Care Funding

Article excerpt

Feds, provinces agree to disagree on health $

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OTTAWA - The federal government pulled billions of dollars off the negotiating table Monday after failing to reach a long-term health-care funding agreement with frustrated provincial and territorial health and finance ministers.

Ottawa attempted to sweeten its offer somewhat at midday in the face of withering criticism that it wasn't bargaining in good faith, but the additional $3.5 billion over 10 years wasn't enough to bridge the widening gap between the two sides.

"We were working today to have partners with the provinces and territories," Finance Minister Bill Morneau told a news conference. "We were unsuccessful in that effort."

Ottawa offered $11 billion over 10 years for home care and mental health, as well as $544 million over five years for prescription drug and "innovation" initiatives, on top of a 3.5 per cent annual increase in health transfers.

That offer is now off the table.

Heading into the talks, Morneau warned that if no deal could be reached that federal support would revert back to what the Liberals have long said they would do: limit the annual increase in health transfers to three per cent, or nominal economic growth, and provide $3 billion for home care.

The annual transfer payment increase is poised to drop next April to three per cent a year -- half the six per cent it has been since 2004.

"We were disappointed that the provinces and territories did not feel that they could accept this offer," said federal Health Minister Jane Philpott.

Monday's talks appeared doomed from the start, with the provinces accusing the Trudeau government of refusing to negotiate a new federal health-care funding framework, instead putting forward what they considered a lacklustre take-it-or-leave-it offer.

Quebec Health Minister Gaetan Barrette had threatened to walk out if the federal government didn't put more money on the table.

In the end, it was Ottawa that was accused of shutting down the talks.

"Let's be clear, we did not walk away from this meeting ... It was the federal government that closed the meeting, ultimately," said Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa.

"We are here to negotiate at the directive of the first ministers; by the prime minister himself, who invited the ministers of health to attend as well to find a solution. We didn't have the opportunity here today to have that discussion."

The federal government put forward a unilateral approach, Sousa added.

Earlier Monday, Philpott ducked questions about the concerns of the provinces, describing Ottawa's earlier offer of mental health and home care cash as "historic" and "transformative."

"They can't continue to make ultimatums, to make threats," said Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen, who added that the provinces have long been demanding health-funding negotiations with Ottawa. …

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