A Liberal government would negotiate a new health accord with the provinces and territories that includes long-term funding for improved home care for an aging population, party leader Justin Trudeau said Wednesday.
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The country's previous $41-billion, 10-year Canada Health Accord expired in March 2014 and was not renewed by the Conservative government. The move prompted an outcry from groups representing health-care providers and patients, who argued that the health-care needs of some provinces would be deeply underfunded in the absence of an agreement.
As part of a renewed focus on improving the Canadian health-care system, Trudeau said, the Liberals would invest $3 billion over the next four years to provide additional and improved services for the nearly two million people currently receiving care at home.
A Grit government would also place significant emphasis on the construction of new affordable housing for seniors and seniors' facilities, including long-term care homes.
Money for those commitments would come from a separate $20 billion that Trudeau previously promised for what he is calling "social infrastructure."
"We are at a critical junction in the history of health care in Canada," said Trudeau during a campaign stop at a seniors' home in Surrey, B.C.
He was alluding to data released from Statistics Canada this week that showed there are now more Canadians over the age of 65 than there are under the age of 15.
"Stephen Harper and the Conservatives have had 10 years to plan for this fundamental shift that everyone saw coming, yet they have done nothing," he said.
"The odds are good that we all know one who has used the home-care system, maybe a family member or a close friend. And as our population ages, the number of Canadians in need of long-term care will only rise."
In addition to improved home care, the new health accord would prioritize boosting access to and reducing the costs of prescription drugs for the provinces and territories by buying them in bulk, as well as increasing access to improved mental health services, particularly for veterans and first responders living with post-traumatic stress disorder.
There would also be an effort to encourage "pan-Canadian collaboration" on innovative new health-care practices so that they can be adopted and implemented by providers across the country.
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Trudeau also said he would sit down with leaders from each of the provinces and territories to discuss a possible increase to health transfers from the federal government to the provinces. When the Tories decided not to renegotiate the health accord that expired in 2014, they also decided to slow the rate of increases in federal health-care transfers, starting in 2017 — a change that would mean as much as $36 billion less for provincial coffers over the next 10 years.
"Harper has refused to discuss the future of our health-care system. In fact, he has refused to sit down with the provinces to talk about it," Trudeau said. "Instead, he has worked unilaterally to undermine it."
Conservatives defend record
But Health Minister Rona Ambrose, the Conservative candidate for Sturgeon River-Parkland in Alberta, issued a statement disputing Trudeau's claims. She said the government has "significantly increased" health transfers to the provinces under Harper's watch.
Since 2006, health transfers have climbed to $34 billion from $20 billion, and they will hit $40 billion by the end of the decade, Ambrose said.
"While health-care transfers to the provinces are now at record levels under our leadership, on their watch the Liberals cut health care by 30 per cent to balance their budget on the backs of the provinces."
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has promised to use any budget surpluses his government might achieve to reverse the cut to the health transfers implemented by the Conservatives.
Murray Rankin, the party's candidate for Victoria, said Trudeau's announcement falls far short of the $4.8 billion needed to meet the critical six per cent health-care escalator.
"You can't restore federal leadership on health care, or have a meaningful conversation with the provinces, if cuts are the first thing on the table," he said in a news release.
The Canadian Nurses Association applauded key parts of the Liberal plan, including the shift from hospital to community-based care, and a commitment to collaborate and innovate with provinces and territories to meet regional needs.
"The federal government must work to unite Canada's health-care system across the regions so that all Canadians are guaranteed the same access to safe, high-quality health care," the association wrote in a statement. "The government can also foster better care by identifying local innovations that can be scaled up into national solutions."
While the Liberal plan was "scarce" on implementation details, the nurses association called it a "positive start."