(Quebec and Ottawa) François Legault says that the refusal of his federal counterpart, Justin Trudeau, to increase health transfer payments to the provinces during the meeting of the first ministers is “a missed opportunity”.
And if Ottawa judges that the time is not opportune to discuss this file because of the pandemic, Mr. Legault already gives another appointment to Mr. Trudeau, who heads a minority government: the next election campaign, which could occur next year.
At the end of the virtual meeting of the first ministers, Mr. Legault issued this warning by stressing that 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, which support the demand for increased health transfers.
Having become an ally of François Legault, the Premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, has also demanded “a clear answer” from the Trudeau government about this question “of capital importance” no later than the date of federal budget, expected next spring.
The provinces and territories are demanding that Ottawa increase its transfers to finance 35% of health care costs, whereas they currently cover 22%. This demand would force Ottawa to increase health transfers by $ 28 billion per year.
Mr. Trudeau told us that, in his opinion, because of 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 provinces and [tous les] territories in Canada.
François Legault, 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 so that the federal government does its fair share in funding health care, ”said Premier Legault.
The pandemic first
In Ottawa, Justin Trudeau acknowledged that the federal government will have to increase its total contribution to the financing of health care. But he pleaded that everyone’s top priority should be supporting Canadians during the pandemic, and said the issue of health transfers will be addressed in due course.
He recalled that the federal government had deployed its entire financial arsenal since the start of the crisis, again noting that $ 8 out of $ 10 invested by governments for nine months came from Ottawa.
He also stressed that the federal government will pay the entire bill for the purchase, distribution and administration of vaccines, without however specifying the details of the costs of the unprecedented national vaccination campaign that will be set in motion. starting next week.
On the contrary, qualifying the meeting with his provincial counterparts as “very productive”, Mr. Trudeau said he hoped that the spirit of collaboration between Ottawa and the provinces would 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. It is the priority, moreover, of the provinces, ”he said at a press conference.
I recognized that we will have to increase long-term health transfers. But our priority now is to help Canadians get through this pandemic.
Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada
But when Ottawa agrees to increase transfers, there will be conditions, Trudeau suggested, because Canadians have a right to know how this money will be spent.
But François Legault quickly repeated 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. 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 health care growth is around 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.
François Legault, Premier of Quebec
The premiers of the provinces would have proposed to Justin Trudeau to hold a second meeting on this delicate question at the beginning of winter 2021. Mr. Trudeau would have however refused, affirmed Thursday François Legault.
The leader of the Bloc Québécois, Yves-François Blanchet, who supports the request of the provinces, accused Justin Trudeau of having “fooled the prime ministers by pretending to be open to increasing Ottawa’s share while from the start, he had no intention of responding to the request of the prime ministers ”.
“Mr. Trudeau can say all the nice empty phrases he wants, his actions speak much more. The Prime Minister of Canada has just abandoned our health care workers and our hospital networks today. And for him, that’s the end of the discussion. “