Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff kicked off a day of party pledges on health-funding transfers on Friday by vowing to maintain the annual six-per-cent increase after the current health-care funding accord with the provinces expires in 2014.
Ignatieff issued the promise in an open letter to Canadians as he was set to tour a hospital in Hamilton.
"The provinces are coping with budgetary deficits and spiraling health care costs. It is critical that a new federal government commits to investing in health care beyond 2014, so that provinces can get on with the job of reforming our health care system," Ignatieff said.
"We must ensure it will be there when every Canadian family needs it."
The existing health accord was signed in 2004 and must be renegotiated for the annual increases to continue.
'We are planning on a six per cent ongoing increase for health transfers. We have been very consistent on this.' — Conservative Leader Stephen Harper
Ignatieff said backing away from the health deal would be "irresponsible."
Ignatieff said signing a new health accord would become "an immediate priority," if the Liberals form the next government.
When Conservative Leader Stephen Harper released his party's platform on Friday, he said he would continue the six-per-cent health transfer increases, though he didn't specify they would go beyond 2014.
"This government has been very clear not just in this document but in all our budgets," Harper said.
"We are planning on a six-per-cent ongoing increase for health transfers. We have been very consistent on this."
A Conservative spokesman later said the transfers would continue past 2014, the first time the Conservatives have pledged to maintain the escalator clause at six per cent after the 2004 health accord concludes. Leona Aglukkaq, who was the health minister in the last session of Parliament, has only ever pledged to maintain them until 2014.
In an interview with CBC's Power & Politics with Evan Solomon on Friday evening, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty confirmed the base figure will remain the same.
"The annual growth figure that we've been using these past several years will continue at six per cent," Flaherty said. Asked by Solomon whether that would continue past 2014, Flaherty said yes.
The 2011 budget, which did not get to a vote before the election was called, said any increases past 2014 haven't been legislated and are subject to change.
NDP Leader Jack Layton said his party is committed to increasing the funding for health care according to the formula of six per cent, but insisted action must be taken now on the issue.
"We see these other parties coming in and talking about what they’re going to do four, five years from now. What we need is action now to hire more family doctors and nurses, to get more home-care in place and more long-term care in place," Layton said Friday in Esquimalt, B.C.
"I think Canadians are going to have to ask themselves the question: Who do you trust to negotiate with the provinces here," he said.
Federal transfers to hit $36.1B by 2016: Liberals
The Liberals say health transfers to the provinces will be $30.2 billion in 2013-14 and that will increase to $32.1 billion in 2014-15. Provinces will see $36.1 billion flowing in health transfers by 2016, according to the Liberals.
The party did not say how long the funding commitment would last. But confirmed it would be a "significant period."
Ignatieff has criticized Conservative spending on corporate tax cuts, prisons and F-35 fighter jets.
The Liberal leader said many provinces are grappling with their own budget deficits and require stable health funding beyond 2014.
The campaign commitments surrounding health care come the day after David Dodge, the former governor of the Bank of Canada, co-authored a new report for the C.D. Howe Institute that said if the current rates of health spending hold steady, health spending will account for 19 per cent of GDP in 2031, up from 12 per cent in 2009.
The Liberal leader said at a media event in Hamilton, Ont., that the federal government must work with the provinces to find ways to save on health-care costs.
But he said the commitment to 6-per-cent annual increases in health transfers will provide for a "stable financing frame."
"We have an aging population, we have increasing pressure on health-care costs," Ignatieff said.
"At least we’re the party that’s saying that’s our priority. His priority is jets, jails and corporate tax cuts."
Tories release platform
Ignatieff's open letter on health-care funding was released hours before the Conservatives formally released the party's election platform in Mississauga, Ont.
Harper promised Thursday he'd abide by the separate health deal signed by Quebec in 2004.