Atlantic premiers seem resigned to the idea that the federal Trudeau government is unlikely to change the formula for health transfer payments to help provinces with older populations.
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The premiers met Wednesday with several federal cabinet ministers, and emerged from the meeting saying there are other ways Ottawa can help cover the higher health care costs of provinces with aging populations.
"I want to make sure we don't think there is this one mechanism that is going to be the end-all, fix-all of this immense challenge before us, which is an aging population," Premier Brian Gallant said at a news conference.
"We're not just talking about `oh the population is getting older so we need more money for health care.' We have to look at all of the mechanisms at our disposal."
But that's a shift from the Gallant government's position in October, when Health Minister Victor Boudreau explicitly endorsed the federal Liberal campaign promise to negotiate "a long-term agreement on funding" that took into account the aging population of some provinces.
"To have demographics included in the formula, so that's part of the formula, is something that I think is very important," Boudreau told CBC News last October.
Other options available
Now, Gallant says there are a range of options Ottawa can use, such as targeted funding for home care and senior care programs.
"It's not necessarily important which vehicle is used to help a province facing challenges with an aging population," he said.
"Whether it's transfer payments or another program dedicated to helping seniors ... it's all the same to us. We'd be supportive of that."
In 2011, the federal Harper government announced it would change the funding formula as of this year, ending guaranteed six-per-cent-a-year increases and replacing it with a formula based on population and economic growth.
On both of those criteria, New Brunswick stands to see little increase in transfers from Ottawa, even though an aging population is likely to drive up costs.
Federal Treasury Board president Scott Brison, one of five Liberal ministers who met with the premiers, downplayed the chances of a change to the transfer payment formula.
"One of the best ways to [help the provinces] is to invest with provinces by supporting more home care, more support for seniors health care," he said.
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil acknowledged at the same news conference the Liberal campaign talk is unlikely to become reality.
"The funding formula on a per-capita basis is going to be very difficult for any government to make substantive changes to," he said.
Gallant even sought to downplay the greying of the population in Atlantic Canada, telling reporters it's a national problem that happens to be hitting this region "a little before the other provinces."
And he said even measures such as infrastructure spending can "counter the aging population" by creating jobs that make it possible for younger people to stay in the region.