Premiers press for better health deal

Canada’s premiers appear determined to push Ottawa to change its take-it-or-leave-it plans for health transfer payments, with Quebec Premier Jean Charest suggesting the federal government is trying to ram through the offer without any discussions.

VICTORIA — Canada’s premiers appear determined to push Ottawa to change its take-it-or-leave-it plans for health transfer payments, with Quebec Premier Jean Charest suggesting the federal government is trying to ram through the offer without any discussions.

“We have always, in Canada, because of our federal system of government, had a dialogue on this, an exchange of information and then decisions were made,” Charest said Monday.

“Never have I witnessed a process by which the federal government, as they did only a few weeks ago here in Victoria, come in and say: ‘This is it.’ No discussion, no exchange of information, nothing at all. I’ve never seen it.”

Charest also suggested there appears to be an economic divide among the provinces that splits along East-West borders, but he didn’t elaborate on his perceptions as he entered the meetings.

“On Canada generally, what I see is interesting and also quite simple,” he said. “There’s two realities in Canada; there are the economies of oil, gas and potash and others. That’s the reality of Canada and once we know that we need, I think, to be able to make decisions accordingly and that’s the financial situation of the country and we need to take that into account as we move ahead.”

All the premiers were unanimous Monday in their call for changes to Ottawa’s plans for a per-capita health funding formula, saying that does not factor in the elderly, whose health costs rise as they age.

“Equal funding is not necessarily equitable funding,” said Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter. “This is the problem. We have 16 per cent of our population currently over the age of 65 in our province. We’re going to move from 16 per cent over the age of 65 to almost 30 per cent over the next 20 years.”

Dexter said federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s per-capita-based funding model introduced last month at a finance ministers gathering in Victoria places “an extraordinary burden on the system.”

Dr. John Haggie, president of the Canadian Medical Association president, said the premiers have an opportunity to look at new ways to fund and improve the system despite Ottawa’s insistence on a strict funding model.

“The opportunity lies in how the provincial and territorial premiers approach that funding envelope,” said the surgeon from Gander, Nfld., who is at the Victoria meetings. “I think there’s a lot of scope within there to do things without necessarily demanding simply more dollars.”

Haggie said the Canadian Medical Association conducted nationwide surveys that suggested nine out of 10 Canadians want national health-care standards, meaning the same level of care across the country.

But the surveys also suggest Canadians were not as supportive about leaving health-care standards up to Ottawa, he said.

Aboriginal leaders expressed concern they were not invited to the Council of the Federation meetings, even though the council has always stressed its commitment to working with aboriginal organizations.

The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, which represents the interests of off-reserve, non-status and status aboriginals and Metis people, issued a statement Monday saying potential positive results of the current meetings are diminished if aboriginal interests are not presented.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark, who earlier praised much of Flaherty’s decision to provide health funds to the provinces without strings, said the per-capita plan requires tweaking because it does not take into account that seniors cost more to health care as they age.

“Otherwise what we will see is a system where we’re not able to support seniors care across the country,” she said. “The money that would previously have gone to supporting seniors’ care will be going to support people who are in middle age or younger.”

Flaherty was accused late last year of imposing a new federal health funding plan on the provinces and territories during what Ontario, Quebec and four other provinces said were unprecedented, one-sided meetings.

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