Manitoba

Give up trade barriers in trade-off for health-care dollars, Pallister tells fellow premiers

Brian Pallister believes his fellow premiers would give up interprovincial trade barriers if it meant more health-care money from Ottawa.

'The provinces have jealously guarded for a long time their right to create silos,' Manitoba premier says

Brian Pallister, right, at a September meeting with Justin Trudeau. On Tuesday, the Manitoba premier argued he and his provincial counterparts could likely be convinced to give up interprovincial trade barriers in exchange for more federal health-care money. (Trevor Hagan/The Canadian Press)

Brian Pallister believes his fellow premiers would give up interprovincial trade barriers if it meant more health-care money from Ottawa.

Manitoba's premier called a news conference Tuesday to champion his proposal, which he framed as the establishment of  a "grand bargain" in a news release.

"I am proposing that we seek a commitment for stable federal health-care funding in return for our support for federal legislation establishing a Canadian economic union," he said in the release.

At the Manitoba Legislature, the premier said he has sent a letter to each province and has the backing of a number of other premiers.

"The provinces have jealously guarded for a long time their right to create silos in our Confederation, and that needs to be relinquished," said Pallister, who has campaigned for months against provincial trade barriers he likens to an unnecessary tariff.

"If we're going to recognize federal authority here, there's going to need to be a trade-off," Pallister said.

"I think the logical one is that we have greater assurance that we have a partnership with the federal government on [health] funding."

Manitoba was the last province to sign an agreement on a health-care pact with Ottawa in 2017, which prescribed an annual funding increase of around 3.5 per cent — down from the six per cent increases Manitoba became accustomed to.

The province and the federal government are still wrangling over the details of a bilateral agreement in principle to get money for mental health and home care flowing, however.

Health transfers not enough

"Provinces have the responsibility for delivering health care, and that requires more adequate and more stable federal funding than we've seen in recent years," he said Tuesday at the Manitoba Legislature.

Pallister is arguing the provinces would give up the economic advantages from trade barriers for greater health transfers. He previously made that pitch in an op-ed last December in The Financial Post. 

Pallister wouldn't say to what degree federal health transfers should rise, but argued an annual five per cent increase should be the minimum.

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said Tuesday he's disappointed Manitoba hasn't yet signed the agreement for mental health and home care.

"While we agree with Premier Pallister on the long-term economic benefits of reducing barriers to trade within Canada, it is surprising and disappointing that his government is neglecting its obligations on health care by delaying the signing of a bilateral agreement with our government that would benefit all Manitobans," LeBlanc said in an emailed statement.

In the meantime, Manitoba's premier said he's working collaboratively with the federal government on a number of issues, including additional money for mental health and addictions, which he has been negotiating for more than 17 months

He's also at the table debating Manitoba's share of the new national housing strategy, and he wasn't keen to hear Toronto MP Adam Vaughan calling CBC Radio's Cross-Country Checkup on Sunday to blast what the Ontario politician perceives as Manitoba's inaction, he said.

"Federal Liberal MPs have a challenge right now getting their own house in order," he said, in an apparent reference to the SNC-Lavalin affair. "We'll do the housing policy negotiations in the appropriate way, and not on call-in shows."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: ian.froese@cbc.ca.

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