Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. minister calls new health arrangement 'best deal' possible

Newfoundland and Labrador's minister of health is promoting the health care arrangement that his province struck with the federal government.
John Haggie speaking to reporters at a press conference in December. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador's health funding arrangement, cut with the federal government Friday, is the "best deal" that could have be negotiated, according to the province's minister of health.

The 10-year agreement, which will see $160.7 million in new money sent to the province for home care and mental health care, is not a "transformational" pact, according to Health Minister John Haggie — but he says it will bring better services to the province.

"I think, given the circumstances that we're in, both as a province and as a country, I think this is the best deal that can be negotiated by us," Haggie told CBC News on Friday night.

"It isn't transformational money, but it's money that we need to be having access to, to help deliver the home care and the mental health care that our Newfoundlanders and Labradorians need."

It isn't transformational money- Health Minister John Haggie

Newfoundland and Labrador signed a bilateral agreement with the federal government, announced on Friday. Its terms include a pledge for $87.7 million for home care, and $73 million for mental health initiatives over ten years.

According to the provincial government, Newfoundland and Labrador is guaranteed to see its share of the Canada Health Transfer grow 3.5 per cent in the first two years of the 10-year pact. 

It's expected to grow more than that in years 3, 4 and 5, according to a provincial spokeswoman. That's because the transfer contains provisions which indexes it to GDP growth.

The escalator was a sticking point in the federal-provincial negotiations Monday, with the provinces asking that it be raised.

Haggie says the deal contains provisions that means Newfoundland and Labrador will see more money than it otherwise would have because of its aging population.

It also includes a "safety net," which means the province can join in on agreements negotiated by other provinces if they contain more money.

'Selling us out'

After Haggie defended the deal on Friday night, PC health critic Steve Kent said the agreement is nowhere near acceptable for the people of the province.

The Canada Health Transfer escalator will fall from 6 per cent annually in 2017, and Kent claims the provincial government is taking a cut by agreeing to a lower number.

"The amount of funding as part of this deal is a pittance of what is needed and what is warranted," he said.

Steve Kent slammed the Newfoundland and Labrador agreement on Friday night. (Twitter )

Kent says the province shouldn't have broken ranks with the rest of the country.

"As a result of Dwight Ball selling us out, Newfoundland and Labrador is now offside with the majority of Canadian provinces and the majority of Canadian premiers," he said Friday night.

"It's no wonder that several provinces, like Ontario and Quebec and Manitoba … are already criticizing the Newfoundland and Labrador deal."

In a written statement, the head of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association said he was has happy the deal will focus on mental health and home care, but said his group had not seen all the details.

"Health care sustainability is a key issue in our province and extra funding alone will not solve our problems," Dr. Christopher Cox wrote. "The NLMA will be presenting recommendations to Minister Haggie in January on this topic."

Unique factors

The health minister says the 10-year promise is long enough to allow the province to establish some new programs.

He says the agreement will allow the provincial government to create made-in-Newfoundland and Labrador programs to meet national standards.

"It's sometimes very difficult to translate a mainland Canada program into Newfoundland and Labrador because of our own peculiar characteristics," he said. "We both know where we want to go, but we will decide how we get there."

Both sides still have to meet to develop standards and benchmarks, which will be used to measure how well the money is being spent.

The province is signing a deal alongside Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, operating almost as an Atlantic Canadian block. Haggie says the deals all three provinces have signed are remarkably similar.

"Atlantic Canada … have the same kind of problems, and those are different in emphasis than other regions in Canada. So just as we, as an Atlantic group, have found an accommodation that works for us, I think other jurisdictions are going to have to look at their own needs."

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil, New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball have all made bilateral deals with the federal government on health funding for the next decade. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Haggie brushed off suggestions the province should have held out for a better national deal.

"It was clear to me, as a health minister looking at it from a health perspective, that we had a lot in common with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and P.E.I. and much less in common the further west you went."

Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba on Friday evening all slammed the side deals cut by the three Atlantic provinces.

Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said the deals "represent massive cuts to federal health funding that will hurt mental health, home care and hospitals and will impact every Canadian,"

About the Author

Garrett Barry

Journalist

Garrett Barry is a CBC reporter based in Gander.