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Health-care talks go off the rails with no new deal between Ottawa and provinces

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A day that began full of optimism that the federal government was prepared to offer provinces and territories a significant increase in health-care funding through the Canada Health Transfer ended in disappointment and finger-pointing as talks broke down without a deal to announce.

Provincial and territorial health ministers met Tuesday with Jean-Yves Duclos, their federal counterpart, but before the meeting was even over, Canada’s 13 premiers released a statement through the Council of the Federation saying no progress had been achieved.

“Premiers are disappointed with the lack of a federal response on the critical issue of sustainable health funding. They continue to call on the federal government to increase the CHT so that its share of provincial and territorial health care costs rises from 22% to 35%, and to maintain this level over time,” the statement said.

The premiers say they have been requesting a First Ministers meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for more than two years.

“Despite repeated invitations and efforts by Premiers to engage with the Prime Minister, he has not engaged in a meaningful dialogue with Premiers on a renewed health care funding partnership,” the premiers said.

A scheduled joint news conference featuring Duclos and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix, along with the other 12 provincial and territorial health ministers, was cancelled and each side held their own media availability.

Dix said the federal government withdrew from the news conference and a joint communique that was supposed to be released because it was unhappy with the statement released by the premiers – but he stood by the message and emphasized the provinces and territories want Trudeau at the table.

“For the past year, the federal government has not responded to these requests for a meeting between the prime minister and premiers with respect to the Canada Health Transfer – and that is disappointing but not discouraging,” Dix said.

Duclos says if the provinces want a meeting with Trudeau about more money, they are going to have to bring some assurances to the table in a meeting with him first.

“Premiers keep insisting on money and a First Ministers meeting,” Duclos said. “Once again, I will be very clear, before we start talking about the means we need to talk about the ends and that can only happen and continue to happen at the health ministers’ table and premiers need to let that happen.”

Provinces and territories are facing a health-care staffing crisis and the feds want them to come up with a pan-Canadian solution which is something the provinces were not prepared to agree to on Tuesday.

At the news conference, Dix pointed to varied and unique plans already in place that are tailored to the needs of each province and territory.

“We’re just going to continue the work to build out our health-care systems, to make the massive investments required, the ones that you’ve seen the last few weeks in B.C. and countless other jurisdictions in the country,” Dix said.

The provinces and territories also failed to endorse an agenda item called the Pan-Canadian Health Data Strategy, which is something the federal government has identified as a necessary requirement before the Canada Health Transfer will be increased.

Dix was critical of Ottawa for not participating in the joint communique and news conference.

“That’s disappointing but it’s not the most important thing,” he said. “The most important thing on both those questions is that every jurisdiction has put forward massive investments.”

While federal and provincial/territorial politicians engage in finger-pointing, frontline health-care workers are pointing out that a million British Columbians do not have access to a family doctor.

“The way that I look at it is care delayed is care denied,” said Dr. Courtney Young, a B.C. cardiologist.

She says B.C. desperately needs more GPs who can provide the kind of preventative care that can help patients avoid traumatic medical incidents like cardiac arrest or late-stage cancer diagnoses.

“At the end of the day, timely access to quality care ultimately leads to better outcomes which is something we can all agree on,” Young said. “If we kind of take a few steps backwards and again focus on primary prevention where people aren’t actually in the hospital, that will certainly help.”

The two days spent around the table represent the first time all of Canada’s health ministers have met in person in five years, but as they make their way back to their respective capitals they are no closer to a new Canada Health Transfer deal which the provinces and territories claim they so desperately need. 

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