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Harper breaks ‘health accord’ promise to Ontario

In December 2011, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty unilaterally announced a non-negotiable federal funding plan that runs to 2024. Under the Harper government’s plan, federal health care transfers will continue to increase by 6 per cent per year until 2016-17, but after that (and the 2015 election) the transfer payments will be tied to the rate of economic growth, now at about 4 per cent.

The resulting loss in provincial funding for health care has been estimated at $36 billion over the 10-year period of this 2014 Canada Health Accord.

But the Canadian Press reports, “The federal Conservatives have betrayed Canada’s most populous province by breaking their promise over health-care funding, Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews charged Tuesday. The Harper Tories promised all provinces a six per cent increase in health transfers, but they’re only giving Ontario 3.4 per cent in 2014-15, she said.” The percentage equates to a $300 million reduction for Ontario.

“Flaherty was unavailable for comment Tuesday, but a spokeswoman said health transfers are rising. ‘Not only are health transfers continuing to grow, but Ontario’s health transfers are at a record high’, spokeswoman Marie Prentice wrote in an email. …The province’s share of federal health dollars will increase from $11.9 billion this year to $12.3 billion next year.” This statement dodges the prior commitment to a 6 per cent increase.

In January 2012, Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page said he expects that under the Harper government 2014 ‘accord’ formula federal transfer payments to the provinces would grow on average at about 3.9 per cent annually from 2017-2024. But he also forecast that provincial health care bills will grow by 5.1 per cent per year.

Roy Romanow has previously stated that as a result of this funding mechanism, our public health care system will grow weaker, we’ll have more privatization in more provinces, more for-profit medical companies will be doing business, more public-private partnerships, and we’ll see a patchwork-quilt series of programs by the provincial governments based on their fiscal capacity.

Last week, Council of Canadians vice-chairperson Leo Broderick said, “We believe the federal government must negotiate new health care with the provinces and territories before March 31 or Canadians will see the end of a cohesive national health-care system.”

Ontario should keep in mind another promise Harper has made recently regarding health funding for Ontario.

The Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association has estimated that Ontario’s annual drug-plan costs will increase by $1.2 billion a year under the extended patent provision agreed to by Harper in the recently signed Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.

When CETA was signed in October, Postmedia reported, “The Conservative government expects all provinces and territories to support the deal and says it will compensate jurisdictions adversely affected by the EU’s increased cheese access and the additional patent protection on pharmaceutical drugs. …Harper said the government will compensate provinces for the higher drug costs, although there won’t be any impact for at least eight years.” The Canadian Press added, “A government official said Ottawa has been anticipating the provincial reaction, saying there will be a response after the announcement on what compensation might be available and to which sectors.”

In mid-October, “Ontario Economic Development Minister Eric Hoskins said his government will support the agreement in principle but said he is concerned about the impacts on the province’s pharmaceutical, dairy, wine and spirits industries.” 

Will the Wynne government now reconsider this position of trust in the Harper government? With a provincial election widely expected in the spring, the electorate will have an opportunity to ask this of all parties.

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