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Why we Congratulated the Council of the Federation

I experienced two different meetings of the Council of the Federations in Halifax last week. One was inside the Marriott Harbourfront Hotel and it was filled with Premiers, their staff, members of the media, interviews, and NGO workers all holding their breath to see if anyone would talk about their issue and what they would say.

The other Council of the Federation meeting that I was a part of took place in the streets of Halifax, on a boat in the harbour, and in a packed townhall at Dalhousie University. I must admit this second Council of the Federation meeting was a lot more fun!

But it’s the first experience- the one in the hotel- that I want to discuss in this blog. I believe that the outcome of the first meeting is partially a result of the on the ground mobilization that Canadians did in Halifax during the Council of the Federation meeting and through the National Day of Action a week before.

When the Council of the Federation meeting first started the pressing issue for the premiers and the media was the Northern Gateway pipeline and the possibility of an Eastern pipeline. The Canada Health Transfers- the money that the federal government gives to the provinces for health care- was tossed out in conversation by some premiers, but it was a side-note and not picked up or further questioned by media.

By Thursday, the situation had completely changed and health care became the topic of the day. The Premier’s released their report: From Innovation to Action. This report came from the innovation working group the premiers had struck at the last Council of the Federation meeting in January.

The report is a good start. Canadian Doctors for Medicare is accurately referring to it as “good steps, but baby steps”. However, despite some concerns and criticisms that we have- and I’ll get to those below- the report is generally pretty decent but it does not go far enough and reinforces the need for the federal government to be at the 2014 Health Accord negotiating table. On Friday, at the conclusion of the Council of the Federation meeting the Council of Canadians issued a media release congratulating the Premiers on an important and solid meeting that focused on some of the important issues.

We are please that the premiers found a strong and united voice to call the Federal government back to the 2014 Health Accord negotiating table. We urge them to continue this call. But we are concerned that the premiers are focuing on only having the federal government participate in the funding of health care. We think it’s critical that they participate in social policy, setting national standards, protecting health care from trade agreements such as the Comprehenisve Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the European Union. Our big ask this week was for the premiers to call Harper back to the table and we’re pleased they’ve done so. Now we ask that they be louder, stronger and demand more than just a return to the financial table.

We were also pleased that the premiers called out the federal government for cutting $36 billion in the Canada Health Transfer from 2017-2024. Our calculation was a $31 billion cut and we’re pleased that the premiers used perhaps more realistic GDP growth to forcast a bleaker financial picture. The premiers also crunched the numbers on the new equalization formula and found an additional $16 billion cut from 2014-2019. The provinces, especially the poorer provinces, are going to suffer if billions of dollars are removed from health care. Poorer provinces like Nova Scotia are more at risk with cuts to the CHT and equalization because they also have an aging population who require more health care services. We encourage the premiers to take aging populations into consideration when they begin to press the federal government for a new funding formula. But we applaud them on this first step.

To save costs the premiers looked to programmes such as bulk buying prescription drugs. We agree that this is a crucial next step. However, the premiers have agreed to only look at three to five drugs to purchase in bulk. Meanwhile, Canadians are struggling now, more than ever, to fill their prescriptions because of their cost. For chronic care patients, three to five drugs purchased in bulk is simply not the savings they desperately require. In 2004, the premiers and the federal government- then led by Paul Martin- negotiated an Accord which included a national pharmaceutical strategy. If Canada were to implement a full pharmacare programme, the provinces and Canadians would not only save $10.7billion a year, everyone would have access to the prescription drugs they needed regardless of their benefits plan, their income, or their health conditions. Harper scrapped the pharmaceutical plan and while we had high hopes that the premiers would try to continue with the 2004 plan, it looks like it got cut from their agenda.

Three to five pharmaceuticals being bulked purchased is a start. But the Council of Canadians urge the premiers to return to the 2014 Health Accord negotiating table with the Harper government and hammer out a pharmaceutical deal. The premiers should that they are not being controlled by Puppet Master Harper’s strings, but it looks like the Puppet Master himself is but a puppet to big pharma.

They are other areas that we’d like to see the provincial government work on, like: mental health care, vision care, dental care and continuing or home and community care- none of which are looked at with much depth in the Innovation report.

But again, not all the news is bad. And we applaud the premiers on promoting collaborative and team based health care where multiple health professionals work together to the full scope of their practice- meaning they can perform all the duties they were trained to do and not just those that other health professionals do not want to do. We’re also pleased that they looked at the innovation which is happening in the public sector across Canada and promoted cost saving and quality improving practices.

We encourage the premiers to continue calling Harper back to the 2014 Health Accord negotiation table. Cutting more than $50 billion from public health care is certainly not in keeping with the values of the people of Canada.

For more photos of the events see the bottom of our webpage here.