Ahead of a high-stakes health summit on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the country’s health-care system is not working for Canadians and that his negotiations with premiers will focus on targeted investments aimed at improving results.
All 13 of Canada’s premiers are in Ottawa for a first ministers meeting with the prime minister, the first in-person meeting of the country’s government leaders in more than two years.
The talks will focus on Canada’s ailing health-care system, which is currently plagued with a number of systemic problems stemming largely from a nationwide shortage of health workers, a troubling reality that has left millions of Canadians without timely access to life-saving health services.
Speaking to reporters ahead of the meeting today in Ottawa, Trudeau didn’t mince words about the troubles facing the health system and the impact it is having on patients and burned-out nurses and doctors.
“Canadians are proud of our universal public health-care system, but we all have to recognize it hasn’t been delivering at the level that Canadians would expect,” he said.
“That’s why sitting down with the provinces, working collaboratively, investing significantly in priority areas is going to move us forward in the right way.”
Trudeau will offer ‘significant’ health funding increase in 10-year deal: sources
Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said he hopes to see a collaborative approach taken during the negotiations with the premiers, to ensure patients and their access to necessary health services is kept at the centre of the discussions.
“We need everyone’s efforts, given the situation in which workers and patients are finding themselves these days and these years, because we know these challenges will continue for years to come,” Duclos said Tuesday morning.
“So, we expect everyone to put forward the resources and the plan that they need to do so.”
The premiers have been calling for Ottawa to increase its share of provincial health costs to 35 per cent, up from what the provinces say is currently only 22 per cent.
This would amount to a $28-billion boost for health care to the provinces and territories.
Trudeau has said he will increase health funding, but wants the provinces to agree to conditions that would ensure the money is targeted to areas where need is greatest.
These key priorities include: better access to family doctors in rural and urban areas, a plan for tackling staffing shortages, better and more timely access to mental-health care, and agreements from the provinces to modernize and share health data.
On Monday, a senior government official with knowledge of the plan told The Canadian Press that Trudeau will lay out a 10-year funding offer to the premiers.
Global News confirmed this with a senior federal government source, who said the offer will have two parts: an increase in the Canada Health Transfer and an offer to do bilateral deals with the provinces that want individual flexibility.
But concerns are being raised about how provinces may allocate this funding after recent moves by some provincial governments to tackle long waiting lists by moving publicly-funded surgeries and health appointments to private clinics.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called on Trudeau Monday to make it explicit in his negotiations with the premiers that any increase in federal funding for health care should not be used to fund private, for-profit health clinics and services.
Duclos said Tuesday part of his role as federal health minister is to uphold the Canada Health Act, which includes principles that stipulate all Canadians should have equitable access to health-care services and that medically necessary care must be provided based on need, not a person’s ability to pay.
“I will do everything that I can do, and I know my colleagues, health ministers in provinces and territories, have also said they would do so, to protect the integrity of our publicly funded health-care system,” Duclos said.
But if that protection of public health care erodes, there are steps Ottawa can take, Duclos warned.
“There are things that I can do as federal health minister, including emitting fines for not respecting the obligations of the Canada Health Act.”
Trudeau says he’ll defend public health care ahead of premiers meeting
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said the focus of today’s talks will be areas of shared priorities between the provinces and the federal government, all with a focus on patient access to care.
Leblanc referenced his own experience, spending two months in a Montreal hospital after a cancer diagnosis in 2019.
“I saw myself, the people who work there, how extraordinary they are, the immediate difficulties they face,” he told reporters in French.
“I’m going to do my small part in partnership with my colleagues and the premiers of the provinces to give hope to the patients and to the people who work in the health-care system that we found a way to improve the circumstances — and fast.”