Pre­miers ask for more health fund­ing, ex­press hes­i­ta­tion on phar­ma­care

The Peterborough Examiner - - FRONT PAGE - AL­LI­SON JONES

MIS­SIS­SAUGA, ONT. — Canada’s pro­vin­cial and ter­ri­to­rial lead­ers agreed Mon­day to press the fed­eral gov­ern­ment for higher in­creases to health-care fund­ing, but most ex­pressed hes­i­ta­tion about a na­tional phar­ma­care pro­gram.

The pre­miers also emerged from a meet­ing in Mis­sis­sauga with a call to Ottawa to strengthen a pro­gram that pro­vides a fi­nan­cial top-up to pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments suf­fer­ing eco­nomic down­turns — a key request of Al­berta.

The first ministers ar­rived at a con­sen­sus on four pri­or­ity ar­eas of eco­nomic com­pet­i­tive­ness, the Fis­cal Sta­bi­liza­tion Pro­gram, health-care and in­fra­struc­ture fund­ing, and north­ern pri­or­i­ties.

They’ll look to raise the is­sues with Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau early in the new year, at their first joint meet­ing with him since a fed­eral election that ex­posed re­gional di­vi­sions and re­duced Trudeau’s Lib­er­als to a mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment.

A spokesper­son for Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land said she is “open and keen” to dis­cuss those is­sues.

The pre­miers re­it­er­ated their call for a 5.2 per cent in­crease in an­nual health-care trans­fer pay­ments from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, but called for fed­eral trans­fers to come with opt-outs “with full fi­nan­cial com­pen­sa­tion.”

Sev­eral pre­miers said that now may not be the right time for a na­tional phar­ma­care pro­gram — a prom­ise the Lib­er­als made dur­ing the fed­eral election and that will re­quire dis­cus­sion with the prov­inces — with fund­ing needed to ad­dress hos­pi­tal over­crowd­ing and grow­ing wait times.

“If you can’t sus­tain health care, all the mul­ti­tude of ser­vices that we of­fer ef­fec­tively, then you will have line­ups grow, as they have grown over the last num­ber of years right across the coun­try in ev­ery cat­e­gory,” said Man­i­toba Pre­mier Brian Pal­lis­ter.

“If you can’t get that right, don’t start with an­other pro­gram ... Don’t start broad­en­ing health care when you can’t get it right now.”

Bri­tish Columbia Pre­mier John Hor­gan said many prov­inces al­ready have sig­nif­i­cant phar­ma­care plans, so the pri­or­ity should be a “more eq­ui­table dis­tri­bu­tion of re­sources to de­liver health care.”

But New­found­land and Labrador Pre­mier Dwight Ball, who has been sup­port­ive of na­tional phar­ma­care, said that in ag­ing prov­inces such as his own, dis­eases are be­com­ing more com­plex and drugs are be­com­ing more ex­pen­sive.

“What­ever the com­mit­ment is, it has to be long-term, it has to be the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, but I do be­lieve that no mat­ter where I go, Cana­di­ans want to en­ter­tain and want us to ex­plore the op­tions around a na­tional phar­ma­care pro­gram,” he said.

The pre­miers agreed that the Fis­cal Sta­bi­liza­tion Pro­gram should be more re­spon­sive to eco­nomic down­turns, such as re­mov­ing a per capita cap, low­er­ing a non­re­source rev­enue thresh­old and mak­ing changes to retroac­tive pay­ments.

Al­berta Pre­mier Ja­son Ken­ney has called for the cap to be re­moved, as the money his province has re­ceived is barely scratch­ing the sur­face of the fi­nan­cial im­pact of low oil prices. He thanked his fel­low pre­miers Mon­day for mak­ing fis­cal sta­bi­liza­tion amend­ments a pri­or­ity.

“This was a tremen­dous mo­ment of sol­i­dar­ity,” he said. “I’ve been try­ing to con­vey to Al­ber­tans that we are not alone, or iso­lated in the fed­er­a­tion, that there are pro­vin­cial and ter­ri­to­rial gov­ern­ments who get what we’re go­ing through and who un­der­stand our ask for a fair deal in the Cana­dian fed­er­a­tion.”

Saskatchew­an Pre­mier Scott Moe also cred­ited his fel­low pre­miers for ad­dress­ing re­gional eco­nomic dis­par­ity, par­tic­u­larly in his province, Al­berta and New­found­land and Labrador.

“They were un­wa­ver­ing in their sup­port for rec­om­mended changes to the Fis­cal Sta­bi­liza­tion Pro­gram,” he said. “I would say that to­day they had our backs and I will com­mit to them that we will have theirs when needed as well.”

They also talked about de­vel­op­ing re­sources re­spon­si­bly and get­ting them to all mar­kets, but the some­what vaguely worded com­mu­nique does not specif­i­cally ref­er­ence pipe­lines, an area of dis­agree­ment among the pre­miers.

The pre­miers also avoided other di­vi­sive is­sues, such as car­bon pric­ing and Que­bec’s con­tro­ver­sial sec­u­lar­ism law known as Bill 21.

NATHAN DENETTE THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Scott Moe, cen­tre, pre­mier of Saskatchew­an speaks to the me­dia as Doug Ford, left, pre­mier of On­tario, and Fran­cois Le­gault, pre­mier of Que­bec, right, lis­ten dur­ing a meet­ing of the Coun­cil of the Fed­er­a­tion in Mis­sis­sauga on Mon­day.

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