Montreal

Quebec expecting feds to reduce health transfers

Quebec's health minister says the federal government has indicated it plans to let the annual increase in provincial health transfers fall to half its current level by the end of the year.

Gaetan Barrette says Ottawa will reduce annual increase from 6 to 3 per cent

Quebec Health Minister Gaetan Barrette said Ottawa has signalled it will revisit the health-transfer escalator without input from the provinces. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Quebec's health minister says the federal government has indicated it plans to let the annual increase in provincial health transfers fall to half its current level by the end of the year.

As efforts to forge a new federal-provincial health accord continue, Gaetan Barrette says his officials have been told that Ottawa has no appetite to keep the escalator at its current level of six per cent.

The annual increase in transfers was part of the of last health accord that expired in 2014. The previous Conservative government refused to renegotiate it and unilaterally declared it would end in 2017.

The thorny issue of health transfers is expected to be front and centre during next week's meeting of provincial and territorial premiers in Whitehorse.

Barrette's scary situation

Barrette says such a shortfall in health transfers would create a scary situation for cash-strapped provinces that face emerging heath-care costs linked to factors such as aging baby boomers.

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott would only say that the transfer provides a stable funding base and that any additional cash would be focused on priority areas like home care and mental health.

"Decisions on federal funding linked to a new health accord will be made once the areas for reform are identified through negotiations with the provinces and territories,'' Philpott said in an email.

Health Minister Jane Philpott said any additional health-care cash would be targeted at priority areas like home care and mental health. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The federal government has said it remains committed to boosting health-care funding, even though its maiden budget contained no money for home care or a new health accord with the provinces.

That health-care cash was omitted even though the Liberals had made an "immediate commitment" to invest $3 billion over four years to deliver more and better home care, including palliative care, starting with a $415-million infusion this year.

'Don't call us'

Finance Minister Bill Morneau has said the health commitments were left out of the March budget because negotiations with the provinces had yet to provide a clear direction.

Barrette said a three-per-cent escalator would amount to a "freeze" in the level of health services for Canadians.

So far the talks, which are set to resume in September, have not been positive enough, he added.

"We're not even discussing — we are being told — that the escalator will go from six [per cent] to three,'' Barrette said in an interview.

"It hasn't been said (quite this) way, but it was close to: 'Don't expect too much and don't call us.'"

Last month, Quebec Finance Minister Carlos Leitao warned that lowering the annual escalator for health transfers would carve as much as $400 million out of his province's budget.

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