Jane Philpott holding Quebecers 'hostage' in spat over user fees, Gaétan Barrette says
Quebec's health minister hardens tone with Ottawa in dispute over conditions to federal transfer payments
Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott is holding Quebecers "hostage" by threatening to claw back health transfers if the province continues to allow user fees, her provincial counterpart, Gaétan Barrette, said Tuesday.
Barrette accused Philpott of singling out Quebec in her campaign against user fees, which are proscribed by the Canada Health Act.
Philpott's office has been circulating a letter the minister sent to Barrette earlier this month. It warned the province it stands to have its federal health transfer reduced by the amount patients in Quebec are charged in user fees, estimated to be $50 million to $100 million annually.
Speaking to reporters at Quebec's National Assembly, which returned from its summer recess today, Barrette said no other provinces that permit extra billing received a similar letter from Philpott.
"They're using us to play politics," Barrette said of the federal government.
Quebec announced last week that it would abolish user fees over the coming months, despite having passed a bill last year that codified their use.
However, even with Quebec's announcement, Philpott suggested Monday that Ottawa would still seek to recoup the equivalent amount that patients had already been charged in user fees during the 2014-2015 fiscal year.
"We are the only province that has taken such a drastic position on user fees," Barrette said. "Instead of saying 'Bravo,' they're saying, 'We're going to cut.'"
"It's really to take the population hostage to play politics."
Ottawa is currently in the process of negotiating a multi-year health accord with the provinces. Philpott has signaled its key feature will likely be more money for home care.
But she has also said Ottawa will have conditions attached to the money it distributes to provinces.
Successive Parti Québécois and Liberal governments in Quebec have long rejected conditions attached to federal health transfers.
Asked if he was seeking to apply pressure on Ottawa in the context of the health accord negotiations, Barrette said he didn't have a choice.
"It's a battle we have to win," he added. "We're talking about the interests of our citizens."