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NEWS: Harper may be vulnerable on Canada Health Accord

The Globe and Mail‘s Jane Taber reports, “Never mind getting tough on crime: Canadians want Stephen Harper and his majority government to figure out healthcare with the provinces, according to a new survey. …Healthcare and the upcoming negotiations with the provinces as the 2014 deadline approaches topped worries about eliminating the deficit or job creation through tax cutting measures.”

“(A new Nanos Research poll) suggests 59.2 per cent of respondents believed working with the provinces on healthcare is an immediate priority compared to 44.1 per cent who said that eliminating the deficit was most pressing and 35.3 per cent who viewed crime-fighting as the top priority for the country. 41 per cent of respondents wanted the government’s focus to be jobs. Only 20.3 per cent, meanwhile, believed reforming the Senate was an issue to be dealt with immediately compared to 19 per cent who felt that strengthening the Canadian Forces was the key issue.”

“In terms of healthcare, (Nanos Research president Nik) Nanos notes that ‘politically committed federal Conservative supporters’ were most concerned about this issue and that of eliminating the deficit. ‘The only possible vulnerability relates to (the government’s) strategy on healthcare and the expected discussions on the Canada Health Accord,’ the pollster said. But he noted that Mr. Harper’s pledge to keep increases in healthcare spending at 6 per cent annually ‘effectively inoculated him from a short-term political vulnerability. As we enter a period of multiple provincial elections where healthcare will be among the top provincial election issues, one can expect that Canadians may also examine Harper’s strategy on managing the healthcare issue beyond the election commitment.'”

Provincial elections will be held in Prince Edward Island on October 3, Manitoba on October 4, Ontario on October 6, Newfoundland and Labrador on October 11, and in Saskatchewan on November 7. British Columbia is expected to have an election prior to their fixed election date of May 2013. A provincial election in Alberta is expected sometime between October 2011 and March 2012. And Quebec is expected to have a provincial election sometime in 2013.

On May 29, the Globe and Mail‘s Andre Picard wrote, “The Canada Health Transfer, which currently provides $27-billion in cash and $13.6-billion in tax points, expires in 2014.” And there are those who believe, “There won’t be a new health accord. …Instead of a long-term deal with all 13 provinces and territories, we can expect a short (two-year) extension of the current deal… (And) instead of an omnibus deal with all provinces and territories, …the new majority government (may) propose signing a series of bilateral agreements.” Picard also noted, “For all the talk about coming negotiations on the health accord, the fact remains that Mr. Harper has never committed to a first ministers’ meeting on health.” He emphasizes, “There is no legal obligation to have a meeting, nor does there need to be a single agreement.”

In November 2010, the Globe and Mail reported, “Canada’s provinces are bracing for a showdown with the Harper government as they approach the deadline for a new federal medicare-funding deal… The (federal) transfers are crucial because about 20 cents of every dollar the provinces spend on health care comes from Ottawa. They are slated to receive annual increases of 6 per cent until the Canada Health Transfer Program expires in fiscal 2013-14. …(In terms of a) new health care funding deal, (Finance Minister Jim) Flaherty hinted in his annual economic update (in October 2010) that he wants to tie the increase in transfers to inflation and economic growth, both of which are projected to remain in the range of 0 to 2 per cent in coming years. The provinces, many of them deep in deficit, would be hard pressed to take up the slack without raising dedicated revenues or cutting into other social programs or money for schools and post-secondary education.”