Manitoba prepared to wait 'forever' on a health deal with Ottawa, premier says

Premier Brian Pallister's determination not to sign a health-care agreement with Ottawa could stretch as long as he's in office, he suggested Thursday.

Brian Pallister says health accord not an accord without proper negotiations

Premier Brian Pallister said Thursday he's willing to wait 'forever' to get a better health-care funding deal from Ottawa. (CBC News )

Brian Pallister's determination not to sign a health-care agreement with Ottawa could stretch to as long as he's in office, the Manitoba premier suggested Thursday.

Pallister was asked how long Manitoba's hold-out status on the federal health accord might last and his answer was firm.

"We can go forever. Because it's a bad deal. Because it's a dangerous deal," Pallister told reporters at a briefing on carbon pricing, another file where Manitoba has taken a position contrary to most provinces.

The federal health-care deal, he also said, "is not an accord and should never be referred to as an accord. There has never been a negotiation. Never been a meeting between the premiers of the provinces and the prime minister."

A meeting of provincial health ministers and Ottawa was held in December, but it failed to reach a funding agreement.

Other provinces and territories have since signed their own side deals, with each province receiving extra funding for specific regional issues. Manitoba is now the lone province without an agreement.

Under the proposed deal, Manitoba would see an increase of approximately 3.5 per cent each year for five years in health-care funding from Ottawa.

'It's dangerous for health care': Pallister

Pallister wants extra money for Indigenous health issues and funding for diabetes, and is resolute in his decision not to make a deal with the federal government.

"Eight Liberal-led provinces eventually signed on to it. That's their choice. I'm not signing on to it because it's dangerous for health care; dangerous for Manitobans. Every single study says so — find me one that says it isn't," Pallister said.

NDP health critic Matt Wiebe says Pallister's language is not helpful in negotiating with Ottawa. (CBC News )
The opposition NDP was quick to jump on Pallister's stance. Health critic Matt Wiebe said the comments are no way to negotiate.

"I don't think this is the kind of language that is helpful in negotiations. It doesn't get us any closer to a deal and it doesn't get any additional money for Manitobans," Wiebe said.

"So, it is the kind of political games the premier has been willing to play all along and I think this has been ratcheted up to another level."

Political scientist Paul Thomas said Pallister has to satisfy his political base on many files, from health care to carbon pricing. But he said Pallister has to be cautious, as Manitoba doesn't have the economic strength or political clout of B.C., Quebec or Ontario.

"We've been a 'have-not,' or as [former Premier] Gary Filmon insisted, a 'have-less' province," Thomas said.

"And we need that federal policy leadership to be matched with some federal dollars … we've always had to accept that Ottawa will use its spending power to launch new policy initiatives or shared cost initiatives."

Ultimately, Thomas said, Manitoba will have to take whatever extra health funding dollars the feds will send and put it in the provincial pool of already stretched resources.

"We may not like it when [Ottawa] does it unilaterally, but we have to live with it."