Trudeau, first will meet Feb. 7 to discuss health care deal

A healthcare worker is pictured In the Emergency Department at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children on November 30, 2022.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acquiesced to the demands of premiers and will meet with them in Ottawa next month to hammer out a new spending deal on health care.

Mr. Trudeau announced the talks in Hamilton on Wednesday, saying he had invited all of the premiers to gather on Feb. 7. He made the announcement at the closing press conference of his three-day cabinet retreat.

“What we’ll be doing in two weeks when we sit down is rolling up our sleeves and talking about what we’re proposing as the shape of the path forward for health care in this country,” the Prime Minister told reporters, while declining to give any specifics on just how much money Ottawa will put on the table.

“The most important thing for Canadians is that we build a system that improves right now, but that can hold and continue to serve Canadians in this public, universal model for decades to come.”

The premiers have asked for the federal government to dramatically increase its share of health care costs from 22 per cent to 35 per cent as systems across the country buckle under the strain of staff shortages, surgery backlogs and clogged emergency rooms.

In French, Mr. Trudeau told reporters that the government has proposed an “appropriate amount” to the provinces but more discussions are needed. He downplayed expectations for the Feb. 7 gathering, calling it a “working meeting” and not one where a final agreement will be signed.

The Premiers had scheduled their own meeting in Ottawa on Feb. 13 in the hopes that the Prime Minister would join them. Ontario Premier Doug Ford quickly accepted Mr. Trudeau’s invitation to earlier talks.

“We have a lot to discuss, including making sure the federal government properly funds the health care people rely on,” Mr. Ford said.

Since a meeting of Canada’s health ministers ended in acrimony in November, Ottawa has signaled it is willing to negotiate a 10-year health funding deal that will see a hefty increase for both the Canada Health Transfer and bilateral financial agreements with individual provinces and territories.

In exchange for billions in new money that provinces and territories have been requesting, they will have to agree to national accountability measures and reforms to improve their health care systems. Quebec and Ontario initially objected to Ottawa’s demands, but last week agreed to accept the conditions, including the creation of a national health data system.

During the last federal election campaign, the Liberals pledged billions in new spending for primary care and a dedicated mental health care transfer. They also pledged hundreds of millions to expand virtual care and health care access in rural areas. Those promises were not budgeted in their first post-election budget last year.

Beyond the cash promises, Mr. Trudeau said he wants to establish standardized data-sharing between provinces and ensure the investments come with better results in health care outcomes.

“It’s not just about money,” he said.

The Prime Minister said his goal is to improve access to family doctors and primary care, establish more reliable emergency room service, address surgery backlogs, and ensure better and quicker access to mental health care.

More to come.

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