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 and Yukon 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.
Prime Ministers Talk Affordability, Ukraine and Arctic Sovereignty
At the end of the conference, Moe and the Premiers of Alberta, Manitoba, Yukon and the Northwest Territories held a press briefing.
Other issues discussed at Friday’s meeting included the economy, energy security, the war in Ukraine and sovereignty in the Arctic.
As the premiers ask Ottawa for more funding for health care, they have said they don’t want the federal government to “intrude” on areas of provincial and territorial jurisdiction.
“They share their concern about the federal government’s lack of provincial and territorial consultation in developing its 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan,” the first ministers’ joint press release said.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the “most important issue” for western Canadians is the cost of living given inflation.
“This is a crisis caused by two things. A lack of investment in oil and gas exploration development, fueled in part by the anti-energy policies of Ottawa and other governments,” he said. said Kenney.
“Second, it comes from Putin’s outrageous invasion of Ukraine, which rightly led to an embargo on Russian oil exports.”
Kenney said Western Canada can be a “solution to the global challenge of energy poverty.”
“Canadians shouldn’t be hit so hard by high energy prices,” Kenney said, referring to the country which has significant oil and natural gas reserves.
Northwest Territories Premier Caroline Cochrane and Yukon Premier Sandy Silver also shared concerns about the impact on the rising cost of living.
War in Ukraine
The joint premiers’ press release began with a request for “timely sharing of information” on settlement assistance for Ukrainian refugees.
“Western premiers would also welcome an ongoing discussion on federal resources to ensure Ukrainians can access the services they need to transition to life in Canada,” the statement said.
Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson spoke about Ukrainian refugees recently settled in Manitoba,
“What is happening at home with their loved ones is absolutely horrific. This in an unnecessary war that has been imposed on Ukrainians,” Stefanson said.
“We will ensure that people who come here seeking refuge have the support they need while in our country and our province.”
The prime ministers said they discussed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and “other foreign activities in the Arctic and their implications for Arctic security.”
“Western Premiers agreed that the Arctic is essential to Canada’s security, sovereignty and economic prosperity, and that significant federal investment through development and a presence increased in northern and arctic regions is necessary to support thriving communities,” the joint press release said.