Western premiers demand ‘sustainable’ federal funding for health care at meeting in Regina

Western Canadian premiers are meeting in Regina on Friday and are demanding “sustainable” funding for health care from the federal government.

The annual meeting of provincial and territorial leaders from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut was virtual in 2021.

During a Friday morning press briefing, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and British Columbia Premier John Horgan focused on federal health transfers.

Premiers across Canada have pressured the federal government to increase its share of the health transfer to 35%, or $28 billion a year, from 22%.

Horgan said the delivery of health care is “pressing and urgent”.

“Never have we been at such a critical point,” Horgan said.

Moe and Horgan said the pressures of the pandemic and subsequent increases in wait times for surgeries and diagnoses have heightened the urgency for Ottawa to pay a higher share of healthcare costs.

“It’s not your regular lineup. It’s built over decades,” Horgan said.

Horgan cited Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s earlier comments about a willingness to discuss the funding deal.

Following the meetings of the first ministers in 2021 Trudeau said“We’ll be there to increase those transfers. But that conversation needs to happen once we get through this pandemic.”

Horgan said that while the pandemic continues, “now is the time to have that conversation.”

He said federal ministers had discussed the issue with premiers and mentioned provincial and territorial leaders were “trying to shuttle diplomacy.”

“Is it just about money? Yes, because it translates into services for people,” Horgan said.

“We need to get to it as soon as possible.”

Moe said the provinces are working to make the federal government “an equitable and comprehensive funding partner in delivering health care services across the country.”

Horgan said he had “tested” the healthcare system due to his own cancer diagnosis and treatment over the past year.

Moe and Horgan said health transfer may sound like “accounting practices,” but it’s crucial to health care in the country.

“Being in the birthplace of medicare, talking about the future, it’s very fitting. There’s nothing more Canadian than public health care.” said Morgan.

Horgan and Moe are the longest-serving provincial premiers in Canada.

Horgan said he had been at the Premiers’ Table for five years and “the number one issue was health care and service delivery”.

Moe said recent announcements from the federal government, like $2 billion for surgical waits, are welcome and that three-to-five-year funding deals are “appreciated” but fall short of the demands of premiers .

Moe said short-term deals don’t offer the cost certainty of increasing the transfer.

“[Canadians] want sustainability in their healthcare services,” Moe said.

Moe said he was “confident” that the federal government will continue this discussion, but added that he was frustrated and angered by the delay and lack of commitment.

Horgan said the right time for Trudeau and the federal government to come to the table would be the Council of Federations meeting of all Canadian prime ministers July 10-12 in Victoria.

The Western Premiers will hold a media briefing at 2:55 p.m. CST.

Other issues to be discussed at Friday’s meeting include the economy and labor market, supply chains, trade and infrastructure, energy security and sustainable development.