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Finance Ministers Meet in Victoria

Jim Flaherty, Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney, and provincial finance ministers are meeting in Victoria last night and today to discuss health care transfer funding. Although few details have emerged, Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan has said that it’s been made clear that the 6 per cent escalating transfer that was negotiated by the former Liberal Federal government will not be continued past 2016, despite Jim Flaherty’s April 9th election campaign promise that it would. Instead a variety of options have been suggested including tying funding to growth in the economy – which is currently forecasted at about two per cent per year.

As Bob Rae has pointed out in several news stories, tying health care spending to different economic indicators which are not connected to the problems we face in home care (like the cost of technology, or higher expectations of quality) seems pretty random. What most stories have failed to highlight, is that it’s downright dangerous to leave health care funding in such an unpredictable state. What happens when we fall into the predicted economic recession? If our GDP isn’t growing, then we will not be investing in health care? When Canadians are losing their jobs and their benefits due to a recession, our government will cut back our public health care services?

Cutting public services, especially the ones that we need when we’re most vulnerable is just irresponsible. Fiscal restraint is important, finding savings in our public health care system through innovation is the right way to go, and science-based evidence shows that public health care is cheaper and safer than private, so it seems that we should be investing more now in population appropriate, public health care.

Yet our government is telling provinces to bring in more private health care and reduce their spending overall. At the same time, the Federal government is negotiating a new trade agreement with the European Union (CETA) that will increase Intellectual Property Regimes on drugs making them more expensive for all of us and delay our ability to access generic drugs. In other words the Harper government is increasing the cost of health care for us, giving more of our money to large multinational corporations, and decreasing their share of health care payments to the provinces. More money for them, less money and less health care for you. Sound fair? We don’t think so either. And we’re not alone.

Several provinces are also crying foul. The Atlantic provinces who have been meeting together in advance of the 2014 health care accord, met again last week to discuss the percentage of expenditure the Federal government is currently contributing to the provinces for health care. When Medicare was first introduced the split was 50-50. Now, the Federal government contributes 19 per cent of the health care expenditure in Newfoundland and Labrador, 20 per cent in Nova Scotia, and 23 per cent in Ontario.

It takes stable and predictable funding to create and implement thoughtful social policy. If provinces are not given this type of funding, and are instead left to predict possible GDP revenue, how are they to implement or expand much needed care programs like home care and long term care? Alberta’s Finance Minister may think that having a “fair share” of health care isn’t important, but it is to Canadians. That’s why we have health care in Canada, and it’s the job of the Canada Health Act to ensure that every Canadian has the same quality and level of care across every province and territory. It’s time the Federal government stepped up and performed its job. We need adequate, predictable funding for the provinces and national care standards set by the federal government so that all people have care in Canada from cradle-to-grave. Dear Flaherty, enough passing the buck already- it’s time to be accountable to Canadians.