Premiers discuss health care funding at national meeting in Yukon

New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant was making his case for special increases in health care funding for the province at a premiers' meeting in Whitehorse on Friday; a tricky argument that has gotten a chilly reception on the national stage in the past.

New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant makes case for more money for aging population

New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant was making his case for special increases in health care funding for the province at a premiers' meeting in Whitehorse on Friday; a tricky argument that has gotten a chilly reception on the national stage in the past.

Premier Brian Gallant said he expected the premiers would 'discuss at length' ways the federal government can help ensure strong provincial health care systems continue. (CBC)
The two-day Council of the Federation meeting of Canada's 13 provincial and territorial premiers focused on energy and infrastructure on Thursday, but pivoted Friday to the critical issue of health care.

New Brunswick's last two governments have been pressing for special treatment and extra money for health care, largely because of the province's aging population.

Before leaving for the event on Tuesday, Gallant made special mention of his intention to focus on the health care issue.

"How the federal government can help ensure that the provinces continue to have strong health care systems will be something we discuss at length," Gallant said. 

New Brunswick has been accused of hypocrisy on health care funding in the past for its continued demands for increased money from Ottawa and then failure to spend those increases on health care when they come.

In the last four fiscal years, federal government health transfers to New Brunswick increased by $107 million to $716 million. But during the same four-year period, spending by New Brunswick's $2.5 billion-health department was cut by Alward and Gallant governments by $16.6 million.

During last year's federal election, then-prime minister Stephen Harper ridiculed Gallant's demands for more health money from Ottawa, accusing the province of pocketing increases instead of improving care.

"In some years we have transferred more additional (health care) dollars than the province has actually spent on health care," said Harper.

Health transfer amounts uncertain

But federal Liberals campaigned on redesigning health funding during last year's federal election in a way that would recognize aging issues in some way — an opening New Brunswick hopes will mean more money for it since the province is already much older and aging faster than other provinces.

 "To have demographics included in the formula so that's part of the formula, I think, is something that's very important," New Brunswick Health Minister Victor Boudreau said last year.

The last federal-provincial health funding agreement expired in 2014 and was replaced by a system implemented unilaterally by the Harper government.

It paid generous six per cent increases in health transfers to provinces for the last two years, but those were scheduled to drop to three per cent in 2017.

Worse still for New Brunswick, high-growth provinces were to get larger increases than low-growth provinces.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised something different and premiers are trying develop a common position to influence what happens, although so far the only consensus has been Ottawa should pay more.

"Money is money at the end of the day, right?" British Columbia Premier Christy Clark said on Thursday.

About the Author

Robert Jones

Reporter

Robert Jones has been a reporter and producer with CBC New Brunswick since 1990. His investigative reports on petroleum pricing in New Brunswick won several regional and national awards and led to the adoption of price regulation in 2006.