Canadian Press: NDP health critic Don Davies sets his sights on Health Minister Jane Philpott

Spending squabble looms as pressure mounts on Liberals over health spending

Canadian Press

OTTAWA — A fresh bout of bickering over health care spending loomed on Canada’s political horizon Monday as the federal Liberal government came under opposition fire for its apparent refusal to fully restore transfer payments to the provinces.

In the House of Commons on Monday, NDP health critic Don Davies set his sights on Health Minister Jane Philpott, who told CTV’s “Question Period” on the weekend that she doesn’t plan to restore a six per cent escalator on health funding.

“Canadians were lead to believe that the Liberals would sit down with the provinces and negotiate a long-term funding formula, not impose one on them, which they are doing,” Davies said later in an interview.

“I don’t think Canadians expected that.”

Philpott defended the government’s approach to the upcoming negotiations on health care, saying she intends to work together with the provinces and territories to reach a health care agreement that establishes shared goals.

Philpott has repeatedly tried to play down a growing outcry from the provinces, some of which appear to be bracing for a fight over how much money the federal government is willing to provide.

“There are a number of areas where we think … the federal government can play a role in supporting the provinces in things that are really providing a pressing challenge to them,” Philpott said outside the Commons.

“They’re doing a great job delivering care. We see this as important as well. We want to be a good partner. We’ve told them that this federal government’s interested in health and we’re going to put money on the table to show it.”

An annual increase in transfers was built into the last health accord, which expired in 2014, but the previous Conservative government refused to renegotiate it and declared it would end in 2017.

Starting in April of next year, the transfer’s annual increases will be tied to Canada’s nominal GDP growth, which could have a significant impact in a sluggish economy. The escalator would provide a guaranteed minimum increase of just three per cent — not six per cent as was stipulated in the previous agreement, a measure of generosity meant to offset the impact of an aging population.

A number of provinces, including Quebec and Ontario, have already expressed concern about the lower escalator, setting the stage for potentially tense negotiations in the months ahead.

Philpott has already said publicly that she wants a new deal to address issues like bulk drug purchases, pharmacare and mental health services, among others. A face-to-face meeting between the federal minister and her provincial and territorial counterparts is expected in October, but no date has been announced.

The Canadian Cancer Society, which has been watching the political rhetoric with a wary eye, urged both sides to avoid getting bogged down in a battle over money and instead focus on how best to arrive at badly needed reforms.

“I am concerned and I think lots of Canadians would be concerned about a conversation that sounds like it is more like a bank transfer than a health care policy,” said Gabriel Miller, the organization’s vice-president of public issues.

“That aspect of things needs to absolutely be reset.”

Canadians have — and deserve timely answers to — pointed questions, such whether or not they can expect critical medications will be covered by medicare should they be diagnosed with cancer, Miller added.

“I think you have to create the conditions for the talks themselves to be more productive … They need to look into the television camera and tell Canadians exactly what they propose to do,” he said.

“You’ve got to tell Canadians what they are entitled to receive as individuals and as families.”

Last spring, Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s federal budget, the Liberal government’s first, included no money specifically set aside for a new health accord with the provinces.

“It’s certain that we want to have objectives to improve our health system,” Morneau said in French on Monday when asked about whether this year’s budget would be any different.

“It’s also certain that it’s not only money that’s important.”

Morneau’s maiden budget also appeared to ignore a Liberal campaign promise to immediately invest $3 billion over four years in home care, including palliative care. Philpott has indicated she wants that to change next year.

Dr. Camilla Zimmermann, the head of palliative care services at Toronto’s University Health Network, said Canada needs a national vision and standards to ensure all Canadians can have fair access to end-of-life care.

“The health accord is one reason to do that,” said Zimmermann, citing the recent debate over the government’s assisted-death law as evidence that palliative services are top of mind for Canadians.

Zimmermann received a Canadian Cancer Society grant for research that focuses on the effectiveness of early versus routine specialized palliative team involvement in patients with metastatic cancer.

“If we are going to talk about a right to access medical assistance in dying, we should definitely have a right to access proper palliative care.”

— With files from Andy Blatchford

— Follow @kkirkup on Twitter

Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press

Read more posts about: ,