Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc says the federal government is aiming to have long-term funding agreements inked with the provinces and territories ahead of presenting the 2023 federal budget.
LeBlanc also confirmed that the federal government is looking at both increasing the ongoing stream of funding to the provinces, known as the Canada Health Transfer (CHT), as well as looking at signing what could be 10-year agreements that would see even more federal money put into specific areas of concern and common priority.
“I don’t think we’re going to have an agreement in the next two weeks, but I hope we have an agreement that will benefit Canadians by the time we have to bring down a federal budget… So you can figure that it’s in the next two or three months that we would need to have the details of an agreement,” LeBlanc said in an interview with CTV National News Ottawa Bureau Chief Joyce Napier at the Liberal cabinet retreat in Hamilton, Ont.
“The upcoming federal budget this spring is the obvious opportunity to book additional federal support for health care, if we can arrive at the right agreement,” LeBlanc said. “The provinces are in the process—the premiers have told me that as well—of doing their own budgets for the next financial year, so they’re also anxious to know what is the right number to put in that column in terms of federal transfers for health care.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s lead minister on liaising with the provinces, LeBlanc said he shares the confidence being expressed by Trudeau and Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos that the two sides are getting close to a long-term agreement. LeBlanc said he’s recently spoken with Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson, who chairs the Council of the Federation, and has plans to touch base with her again mid-week, following the cabinet retreat.
“I would expect in the coming weeks, we’ll be in a position—we hope—to have much more detailed discussions with provinces,” LeBlanc said, adding that he thinks the premiers are right in noting that a five-year agreement wouldn’t be enough to solve some of the more pressing health care challenges as Canada’s population continues to grow and age.
After weeks of momentum—and optimism expressed from numerous premiers about getting to a deal soon that includes the provinces agreeing to being held accountable on metrics such as access to family health teams, reducing surgical backlogs, and improving staffing—LeBlanc said getting to a deal is going to be a top priority at the federal Liberal cabinet retreat.
“Arriving at the right agreement with the provinces that will improve the long-term sustainability and accessibility of our health-care system is always a huge priority for our government,” said LeBlanc.
In an interview on Sunday’s episode of CTV’s Question Period with Vassy Kapelos, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said that while the negotiations over how much money Ottawa will send and with what conditions attached have “ramped up significantly,” he isn’t expecting the federal government will be ready to meet the premiers’ request to see the CHT increase from 22 per cent to 35 per cent of health-care costs. Doing so would cost about an additional $28 billion a year.
“It isn’t my sense that they’ll come with the full amount, let’s put it that way,” Higgs said. “But between where we are and where we’ve asked, there’s a number in there somewhere.”
Higgs said his understanding is those outcomes and the metrics for their success could vary by province, but they could include indicators such as the number of people without a family doctor or the status of critical surgeries or treatment, for example. He said the federal government and the provinces are likely to start by sharing data, and from there ironing out “individual nuances” according to specific provinces.
Should Trudeau secure a long-term funding deal, one of the outstanding questions would be whether it would be future-proof or if a future government at either level could look to tear up the funding deal.
In Vancouver, CTV News asked Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre during an availability whether he’d want to renegotiate or commit to upholding a federal-provincial health funding agreement—should one be reached—and he wouldn’t say.
“I haven’t seen any agreement. All I’ve seen is that Trudeau has delivered nothing on health care for eight years. Our health care is worse than ever,” Poilievre said.
He did voice support for stable funding for provinces, and vowed that a government lead by him would “never cut health care.”
With files from CTV News’ Melanie Nagy and Spencer Van Dyk