The Hamilton Spectator
Health-care deal was an easy sell
Let’s step back for a moment and take a measured look at what has happened on Parliament Hill in the past two weeks.
For the first time in memory (in mine, at least), the party in power has all four opposition parties lined up in support of not one, but two, of the government’s core social policies.
First came the five-year, $30billion national program negotiated last March to make $10a-day daycare available to families across the country. That legislation, Bill C-35, passed second reading — approval in principle — on Feb. 1 by a vote of 323 to 0.
Next came the refinancing of the Canada Health Act. Last week, the Liberals offered the provinces $196.1 billion over 10 years to support their healthcare services.
The meeting on Feb. 7 produced three intriguing developments: the premiers acknowledged that the federal well is not bottomless and, with reservations here and there, bought Ottawa’s offer; they conceded that the feds were within their rights to require that provincial health services meet basic national standards; and they agreed their health ministries would report their performances, as measured against the national standards.
If the health-care negotiations follow the daycare pattern, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will give the premiers time to reflect. Then he’ll pick them off one at time by extending a carrot — a share of the $25 billion he set aside for provinces with particular funding needs, such as for family doctors, mental health, surgical backlogs and data systems.
He won’t have as much picking off to do this time. The Atlantic provinces are ready to sign; Ontario’s Doug Ford could barely wait to opt in; Quebec Premier François Legault grumbled about constitutional interference, but wild horses couldn’t keep him from the Ottawa money; Trudeau’s fiercest foe, Alberta’s election-bound Danielle Smith, did her math and realized the deal would bring her province $518 million in new money.
The tiger turned pussycat. “We’re going to be sure we’re not leaving any money on the table,” she declared.
Back on Parliament Hill, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre experienced a similar transformation. After attacking Trudeau personally for months for a broken health-care system — for refusing to meet the premiers, for closing his elitist ears to the pleas of ordinary Canadians and for acting like a drunken sailor wasting money on useless causes while citizens were left unattended in emergency rooms across the land.
He had to know what was coming last Tuesday when he saw premiers nodding, not shaking, their heads as Trudeau addressed them. Next day, he did a 180, as he had on daycare. He assured reporters that he was all in with the Liberals. As prime minister, he would, of course, honour the 10-year agreement.
Poilievre is trying to move his party closer to the “mushy middle,” where the votes are. But his comfort zone is in opposition. His instinct, as was John Diefenbaker’s, is to attack and blame, not to reflect and seek compromise. The sight of a microphone can set him off, as it did last week. After telling reporters he would honour Trudeau’s agreement, he might have smiled and turned away.
Instead, he launched his familiar attack on the prime minister, claiming that Trudeau had wasted so much money that he didn’t have enough for today’s health needs, let alone leave enough for a future Conservative government to fix a broken system.
A question for Poilievre: Sir, as PM, would you try to build a world-class health system, or would you do nothing and blame the Liberals?