Federal health care deal ‘dangerous, risky:’ Manitoba premier

WINNIPEG — Premier Brian Pallister says Manitoba will continue to be the lone holdout on a federal health care deal he called “dangerous, reckless and risky,” even if it means forgoing funding for mental health and home care.

The other provinces have signed on to the deal which limits annual health-transfer increases to three per cent a year — half the six per cent annual increase set out in the last long-term agreement with the provinces.

But the federal government has offered up extra money for specific projects in various provinces including opioid addiction.

“The federal government is taking 20 times as much money off the table for health care under this proposal as it’s laying out in incentives and inducements,” a visibly angry Pallister said Friday.

“Why would I take a nickel on behalf of Manitobans — what kind of premier would I be — if I accepted that inducement of that shiny nickel now and sacrificed a whole dollar over the next decade for health care?”

Manitoba has been the only holdout since March when the federal government signed health agreements with Quebec, Ontario and Alberta after months of heated negotiations.

Pallister has written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking that any deal include $6 million per year for the next ten years to combat kidney disease as well as more support dealing with health-care issues in indigenous communities.

A spokesperson for Health Minister Jane Philpott said 12 other provinces and territories have accepted the $11-billion deal on top of $37 billion in annual funding through the Canada Health Transfer — a $1 billion increase over last year.

The federal government says Manitoba residents risk losing a cut of extra mental health and home care funding if Pallister doesn’t sign on too.

“We hope that Manitoba will be able to sign an agreement with the federal government, as funds will be available to them for mental health and home care. However the transfer of those funds cannot occur until an agreement is reached,” said Health Minister Jane Philpott’s spokesperson Andrew MacKendrick in an emailed statement.

That would contravene Canada’s health care act, Pallister said.

“It doesn’t support the idea of two-tier health care very well,” he said. “The idea that the federal government would move ahead with funding health care services in Saskatchewan and Ontario but not Manitoba doesn’t sit very well with me.”

The overall transfer increase being offered is not enough to keep up with the rising cost of health care, Pallister said. The deal is “dangerous, reckless and risky for the sustainability of health care” no matter how many other provinces sign on, he said.

“Every worthy cause had to have somebody standing up for it,” said Pallister, predicting other premiers will join him in the coming years. ”Right now, I don’t mind standing alone.”

But the Opposition NDP accused Pallister of playing games with Ottawa and said Manitoba residents will ultimately pay the price.

“His reckless comments will not help improve mental health or home care services,” health critic Matt Wiebe said in a statement. “The premier needs to stop the confrontational public comments, face facts and actually negotiate a deal with the federal government.”

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