(Quebec and Ottawa) François Legault describes the meeting between Ottawa and the provinces to discuss an increase in health transfers as a “missed opportunity”. If the federal government judges that the time is not opportune to discuss the issue, Quebec warns it: the provinces and territories “form a united common front” and have not said their last word.
The premier of Quebec, who is also this year president of the Council of the Federation, promised Thursday during a press briefing in the National Assembly that he would submit the issue to the opposition parties in Ottawa. The provinces and territories are asking that Ottawa increase its health transfers in order to finance 35% of provincial spending in this sector, rather than the current 22%.
While the government of Justin Trudeau is in the minority in the House of Commons, Mr. Legault believes that “the pressure will be strong” on the Canadian Prime Minister to change his mind.
“Mr. Trudeau told us that, in his opinion, because of COVID, the COVID situation, this discussion was premature. We believe that, on the contrary, the COVID situation adds to the problem of financing health care in all the provinces and territories in Canada, ”said the Premier of Quebec.
“We were united before the meeting. We are always united after the meeting. And the provinces and territories will fight to the end for the federal government to do its fair share in funding health care, ”he added.
The pandemic first
In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged that the federal government must eventually increase its total contribution to the financing of health care. But he added that his government’s top priority is supporting Canadians during the pandemic and that the issue of health transfers will be addressed in due course.
He recalled that the federal government has deployed its financial arsenal since the start of the crisis, and that eight dollars out of 10 dollars invested by governments for nine months have come from Ottawa.
He asserted that the federal government will pay the entire bill related to the purchase, distribution and administration of vaccines, without however specifying the details of the costs of the unprecedented national immunization campaign which will be set in motion at starting next week.
Describing the meeting with his provincial counterparts as “very productive”, Trudeau said he hoped that the spirit of collaboration between Ottawa and the provinces will continue in the coming months.
“We have increased health transfers by tens of billions of dollars this year, the assistance given to the provinces for the health care system during the pandemic. We will continue to invest all that is necessary to help all Canadians across the country to get through the pandemic. This is our priority. This is the priority of the provinces. I recognized that we will have to increase long-term health transfers. But our priority now is to help Canadians get through this pandemic, ”he said.
For his part, François Legault reiterates that the provinces and territories will not put up with an increase in health transfers that would be made in a targeted manner by Ottawa, which would impose its conditions.
“I made sure that all the provinces adhered to our consensus and that they would not negotiate separate“ deals ”bilaterally. Well, at the same time, I know the little history of Quebec. There are provinces which, for all kinds of reasons, may be tempted to negotiate conditional bilateral agreements. I take that into account. We are not interested in Quebec, ”he said.
According to calculations made by Quebec, the provinces and the federal government find themselves in a fiscal imbalance. “Despite the significant deficit for the current year [en raison de la COVID-19], the federal government should, within ten years, if nothing is changed, return to a balanced budget. On the other hand, when we add the situation of all the provinces and territories, we should, if nothing is changed, end up with an annual structural deficit of more than $ 100 billion per year, ”estimates François Legault.
This deficit is explained by the faster increase in health care costs in the provinces than by the increase in revenue generated, says Mr. Legault.
“There is a consensus that the normal growth, in quotes, in health care is about 5% per year. On the other hand, when we look at the average revenue growth of the provinces and territories, it is around 3.2%. So we all understand that there is a significant shortfall, ”explains the Prime Minister.
The premiers of the provinces would have proposed to Justin Trudeau to hold a second meeting on the issue of health transfers at the beginning of the winter of 2021. The latter would however have refused, said Thursday François Legault.