(Ottawa) Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has little intention of pulling out the federal government’s checkbook to follow through on his provincial counterparts’ demand to increase health transfer payments by $ 28 billion per year.
Already grappling with a deficit of 381 billion this year, and having given to the provinces a sum of 19 billion to help them face the health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, Justin Trudeau will argue to his counterparts that Ottawa has some already done more than enough at the first ministers’ conference this Thursday.
In anticipation of this summit meeting, Mr. Trudeau, his principal ministers and their close associates have endeavored to underline the considerable financial effort deployed by the federal government during the crisis to date.
And reports that the province of Ontario had a $ 12 billion relief fund that was still unused when the second wave began to hit this fall, supports their position.
Certainly, the provinces have allies in Ottawa: all the opposition parties support them in their crusade to obtain an increase in federal transfers so that the federal government pays 35% of the cost of health care in the country. . Right now, Ottawa is paying about 22% of the total bill through health transfer payments that will be $ 42 billion this year and hit $ 51.1 billion in 2025-26.
In her economic statement in which she confirmed that the deficit would be at least 381 billion, last week, the Minister of Finance, Chrystia Freeland, did not foresee any sum that would allow to meet the expectations of the provinces.
In the Commons on Wednesday, Justin Trudeau rejected the demands of the Conservative Party and the Bloc Québécois to grant the provinces’ wishes on the eve of his meeting with the premiers of the provinces.
Since the start of this pandemic, we have been there with the provinces and territories to protect Canadians, to invest in the health care system. From the start, we transferred half a billion dollars more, in addition to the record health transfers that were given this year.
“Later, with the security stimulus deal, we added another half a billion. In total, it is around 25 billion that we transferred to the provinces, in addition to screening tests, in addition to protective equipment, in addition to vaccines now, ”added Mr. Trudeau.
“In his last economic update, the Prime Minister announced a billion for CHSLDs, hoping to give the provinces a bone. A billion attached to a package of unacceptable conditions is strictly federal interference. The provinces are able to administer their funds themselves. Has the Prime Minister lost confidence in the provinces? “Asked Conservative MP Richard Martel, demanding” stable, predictable and unconditional transfers “to the provinces.
A “unanimous request”
Ahead of the meeting, at the office of Prime Minister François Legault, who chairs the Council of the Federation this year, on Wednesday we reiterated “the unanimous request” expressed many times by the group of premiers of the provinces and territories.
“All governments have the same priority: to provide quality health care to their citizens. But funding for health care has become a huge problem for the provinces and territories. With COVID-19, the aging of the population, the costs of new technologies, the costs of drugs, it will only get worse, ”his spokesperson, Ewan Sauves wrote in an email.
Without wanting to comment on the effect of refusing Ottawa, he argued that “the federal government has the means to do more”, and that the provinces and territories for their part “need budgets. , recurring, and a fair and equitable federal partnership ”.
Asked Wednesday about his expectations, Mr. Legault pleaded that Ottawa is seeing its income increase faster (4.1%) than that of the provinces (3.5%), and that health spending is increasing at an annual rate of 5%.
“I don’t expect this to be fixed [aujourd’hui]. I think we will also talk with the leaders of the opposition in Ottawa. The situation may change until the next federal election. But there is an urgent need to restore funding that is more proportional to the ability to pay of each government, ”said Mr. Legault.
“There is only one expense that increases by 5% per year, and that is health. […] Yes, the federal government has significantly increased its spending, but on a non-recurring basis. So there is a big, big deficit this year. But if we do a projection over a few years, well, they will have a much smaller deficit than that of the provinces, ”he also said.
On the eve of this meeting, the Federation of Specialist Physicians of Quebec (FMSQ) gave its “full support” to the Prime Minister. “The federal government quickly released large sums to cushion the impact of the health crisis on the economy and citizens; we must now realize that COVID-19 will have a prolonged impact on the population and the network. We must prepare to meet the needs and rebuild our health system, ”said the president of the FMSQ, the Dre Diane Francœur, in a press release.
According to her, the crisis caused by COVID-19 will have cascading effects that will extend over several years.