Provinces spend health transfer on health care, says Eric Hoskins

Hoskins on federal concern about provincial spending: 'I think that's the one element in the last 24 hours that has come out that most disappoints me'

TORONTO — Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins said Tuesday he is “most disappointed” by Ottawa’s suggestion that federal health dollars require greater transparency at the provincial and territorial level.

Hoskins made the comments Tuesday as Health Minister Jane Philpott met with provincial and territorial ministers who disagree with the federal government on a proposed reduction in the rate of health funding increases.

The federal Liberals are looking to slash the current rate of increase to three per cent from six per cent starting in April, despite the opposition of premiers and their ministers.

The federal government has also developed a refrain that every health care dollar needs to go to health, Hoskins said — an assertion he challenged.

“They do; they always have,” he said. “Similarly, we need to know that the partnership is a fair one and that the level of contribution reflects their obligations.”

Hoskins went on to add he can say with “absolute confidence” that every single dollar transferred to his province for health goes towards its intended purpose.

“Frankly … I think that’s the one element in the last 24 hours that has come out that most disappoints me,” he said.

Somehow there’s a suggestion that provinces and territories don’t share the goal and aren’t acting with the same “good faith and fairness” to ensure money is well spent, Hoskins added. “It is invested.”

On Monday, Philpott said it’s vital that the provinces and territories start getting more for their money on health care.

“There are countries in this world, and there are many of them, developed countries … that are getting far better value for money than we are,” she said.

The following day, however, Philpott seemed anxious to qualify her message.

“Obviously health is a big part of provincial and territorial budgets and they are using money to spend on health,” she said. “Investments that we make, new investments that we make, need to go to health priorities, to better health, better outcomes for Canadians.”

Canada Health Transfers currently flow into the general revenue pool; Philpott said further investment will require more detail so the federal government can know what to “expect.”

Hoskins wasn’t the only minister looking to challenge Philpott. Alberta’s Sarah Hoffman said she’d be more than happy to provide Ottawa with evidence of the needs in her province.

“I am very happy to show her any of our public financing records, to bring her into hospitals to show her the great work that is happening every day,” Hoffman said.

“There are certain things we can’t change. We can’t change the fact we need nurses and doctors and high-functioning buildings.”

Hoskins also disagreed with the suggestion the provinces and territories haven’t done their homework to come up with innovative ideas.

“We have done our part,” Hoskins said.

In fact, he said, the provinces and territories have provided the federal government with “significant detail” on shared priorities including home care, mental health and access to medications.

“With regards … to the amount of funding that is required to sustain the current system, we all know that it is well in excess of the three-per-cent that the federal government is suggesting and there are numerous independent third-party reports that speak to that.”

A reduction in the rate of increase of the Canada Health Transfer will mean a $1-billion shortfall nationally in 2017-18, Hoskins said.

A six-per-cent annual increase has been in place since the last health accord was negotiated in 2004.