New Brunswick

Health money talks with Ottawa already underway: Gallant

Premier Brian Gallant says negotiations are already underway for a bilateral health funding deal between New Brunswick and Ottawa after broader federal-provincial discussions collapsed on Monday.

New Brunswick not abandoning united front with other provinces despite pursuit of separate deal, says premier

Premier Brian Gallant says other provinces have dissented from a national consensus of premiers on other issues and he is no different in pursuing a separate health-care funding deal with Ottawa. (CBC)

Premier Brian Gallant says negotiations are already underway for a bilateral health funding deal between New Brunswick and Ottawa after broader federal-provincial discussions collapsed on Monday.

"We're in talks," Gallant said in a year-end interview Tuesday with CBC News. "There's nothing official yet, but talks are going well. We are hopeful that we will get a deal that will represent our realities here in New Brunswick."

Federal health and finance ministers failed to reach an agreement with their provincial and territorial counterparts Monday because Ottawa wanted to tie home-care and mental-health money to specific targets.

We are hopeful that we will get a deal that will represent our realities here in New Brunswick.- Brian Gallant, premier

Ottawa was offering a 3.5 per cent general increase as well as additional money for those two areas, but it wanted the provinces to agree to report to the federal government on how the additional money was spent.

The provinces refused to sign on to that condition and asked for a meeting of premiers with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Finance Minister Bill Morneau declared the talks a failure and said the offer of home-care and mental-health money was no longer on the table.

After the meeting broke up, Finance Minister Cathy Rogers told CBC's Power and Politics that New Brunswick would pursue its own deal with the Trudeau government.

Provinces caught off guard

That caught some other provinces off guard. Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins said Tuesday he had "no doubt" New Brunswick would still prefer a national funding deal signed by the federal government and all the provinces and territories.

He said Ontario had not been approached by Ottawa about its own bilateral deal and said he wasn't worried that individual provinces would now splinter off to sign individual agreements.

"I don't think that's going to happen to any significant extent," he said. "There was a very strong consensus … We're all committed to a process to have that negotiation."

Gallant said New Brunswick wasn't abandoning the united front all provinces had forged. If the federal government re-starts discussions with all the provinces and territories, "we'll be part of it," Gallant said.

He did, however, compare his pursuit of a separate deal to other premiers who have dissented from the national consensus on other issues.

"So I'm maybe doing the same thing now, but I'm doing it in a way because I want to work with the Trudeau government to get a deal that's going to work for our health care system and senior care here in New Brunswick."

Without an agreement with all provinces and territories, Ottawa says it will fund only the 3.5-per-cent increase in basic health transfers in the coming year, and nothing more.

After the meeting ended, federal health minister Jane Philpott said she was disappointed the provinces "did not feel like they could accept this offer and that they couldn't find ways to use these resources immediately, to be able to get care out to Canadians."

N.B. compromise rejected

New Brunswick had suggested a last-minute compromise to tie some of the home-care money to the size of provinces' aging populations and some of the mental-health money to the size of their youth populations.

"We thought it would be a very good formula, and very good financial support coming from the federal government for many of the provinces, if not all of them," Gallant said Tuesday.

The New Brunswick proposal was rejected, Gallant said, but it "sparked conversations between the federal government and ourselves when the talks with the whole group fizzled out."

Gallant said some provinces believe Ottawa is not really abandoning its hope of a national deal on home care and mental health. But he says he thinks it really is, and that's why it's time to work on a bilateral agreement.

"The federal government has said, `Now that the talks are done, we're pulling those two funds … some premiers believe them, some don't," Gallant said.

"I believe that they're serious about delivering on their promise to also be fiscally responsible. They have a budget coming up. I do believe they have to move on."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. He grew up in Moncton and covered Parliament in Ottawa for the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. He has reported on every New Brunswick election since 1995 and won awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association, the National Newspaper Awards and Amnesty International. He is also the author of five non-fiction books about New Brunswick politics and history.

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