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Wynne calls for further meetings with Trudeau on health care

However, Trudeau has no plans ‘at this point’ to meet the premiers on health


 
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne take part in a joint news conference in Ottawa, Thursday, January 29, 2015 ahead of a meeting of Canadian premiers. Wynne says she would drop the idea of creating a provincial pension plan if Trudeau becomes the next prime minister. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA – A day after health-funding talks broke down, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne renewed a call for Justin Trudeau to examine the contentious issue face-to-face with provincial and territorial leaders.

Negotiations on a new, long-term funding plan for health appeared to collapse Monday when the provinces rejected what they described as an inadequate offer from the federal government.

But Wynne told The Canadian Press on Tuesday that Ontario officials are already re-engaged with Ottawa on the issue and are once again pushing for the prime minister to get personally involved in future discussions for a new health-care deal.

“We need to see that conversation happen,” Wynne said of a first ministers meeting.

“I hope that we’ll see that opportunity in the not too distant future.”

She’s not the only premier requesting a meeting with Trudeau on health, Quebec Finance Minister Carlos Leitao said late Monday.

Leitao participated in a joint phone call with the premiers on Monday because Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard was unavailable.

During the call, he said the premiers agreed that health talks should be continued at the first ministers level.

Trudeau, however, has no plans “at this point” to meet the premiers on health, his spokeswoman Andree-Lyne Halle wrote in an email Tuesday.

In September, provincial and territorial leaders wrote to Trudeau requesting a meeting on health funding, but the prime minister declined. Trudeau and the premiers had fruitless discussions on the issue earlier this month when they met for climate-change talks.

On Monday, finance and health ministers from the provinces and territories refused to accept an offer from the Trudeau government following meetings in Ottawa.

After a deal couldn’t be reached by the end of the day, the federal government pulled its offer.

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But at least on some fronts, federal-provincial talks were still alive Tuesday.

Late Monday, New Brunswick Finance Minister Cathy Rogers confirmed that her province was continuing discussions with Ottawa on a potential bilateral deal. In a statement, Rogers said she was pleased with the federal offer for New Brunswick.

Federal sources say other provinces may also be considering bilateral agreements with Ottawa, but they didn’t identify which ones.

Wynne insisted Tuesday that Ontario is staying focused on a national deal, which she believes would be in the country’s best interest.

Saskatchewan Health Minister Jim Reiter agreed that a national agreement would be the best option, though he added that provinces can certainly negotiate one-on-one with Ottawa, if they wish.

Either way, Reiter predicted a lot of health-care chatter across Canada.

“I’m sure the phone lines are burning up across the country right now – I don’t know what’s going to come out of this,” he said.

On Monday, the provinces declined the federal offer because they said it was too low. They warned it would starve their critically important health budgets – and hurt their ability to provide services to the public.

They also accused the federal government of imposing an ultimatum.

“To have a proposal on the table that’s actually worse than what Stephen Harper was putting forward – it’s a real problem,” said Wynne, who has long been a close political ally of Trudeau’s.

The feds have insisted they put forward an “historic” proposal – and that it was the best they could do within their own tight fiscal framework.

They also wanted to “transform” the system, federal Health Minister Jane Philpott said in an interview late Monday.

“We pay some of the highest per capita costs in the world for health care and our outcomes compared to similar countries are somewhere middle of the road,” Philpott said. “That’s concerning.”

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In its offer to provinces Monday, Ottawa proposed investments of $11 billion over 10 years for home care and mental health, as well as $544 million over five years for prescription drug and “innovation” initiatives. It also said it would lock in a 3.5 per cent annual increase in health transfers.

After the meetings, federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau said that Ottawa’s support would revert back to a legislated annual increase in health transfers of three per cent, or nominal economic growth. The annual transfer payment increase is poised to drop next April to three per cent a year – from the six per cent increase in place for over a decade.

In addition, the lack of a deal with provinces has also cast doubt on the future of a Liberal campaign promise to have the federal government invest $3 billion in home care.

When asked about the election pledge, Morneau would only say the Trudeau government remained committed to home care and mental health.

“They’re only one year into their term, so I would hope that they’ll follow through on that commitment,” Reiter said.

Many provinces, including Ontario, have been looking for an annual increase in federal health transfers of 5.2 per cent, which they say is in line with independent estimates from organizations like The Conference Board of Canada of how much is needed from Ottawa for them to maintain their systems.

With files from Jennifer Graham in Regina


 

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