Nova Scotia

Premier Stephen McNeil wanted Atlantic deal on health-care funding

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil says he wanted a health deal for all of Atlantic Canada when talks with Ottawa broke down last week, but it was too difficult to achieve.

An agreement among all four provinces proved too difficult to execute

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil, New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant and Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball have all reached bilateral health-care funding agreements with Ottawa. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil says his government pursued a health accord for all of Atlantic Canada before deciding to go it alone and sign a bilateral deal with Ottawa last week.

Talks between the provinces and federal government fell apart Dec. 19. Three days later, New Brunswick announced it reached its own deal with Ottawa and then on Friday, similar deals were announced for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Couldn't get on the same page

McNeil said in an interview Thursday the Atlantic approach became too difficult to negotiate.

"P.E.I. still is waiting [to sign a deal] and New Brunswick was moving forward — they wanted to move as quickly as they did.

"We were waiting and obviously Newfoundland waited to make sure that we crunched all those numbers properly to make sure that they reflected what we believed [them] to be."

Nova Scotia's deal includes $287.8 million in targeted funding over 10 years, with $157 million of that going to home care and the rest going to mental health services. In the first two years of the new agreement, base transfers from Ottawa will increase by 3.5 per cent, with subsequent years tied to nominal GDP or three per cent, whichever is higher.

GDP is expected to be higher than 3.5 in years three, four and five of the deal, McNeil noted.

Demographic concerns addressed

The agreement appears to fall short of what McNeil said last week he wanted to see from the feds. But the premier said his concerns about demographics were addressed with the additional money for home care and mental health.

"There's about $123 million more on the table than there was from the previous Monday. All of that allows us to access that funding for April and it allows us to make those services available for Nova Scotians."

The reduction in the annual increase in transfers and the shift to a per capita funding model were introduced by the former Conservative government. It was a move McNeil and other Atlantic premiers vocally opposed. 

The maximum flexibility available

McNeil said Thursday he doesn't think any government would have diverged from the course charted by the Conservatives. A modest increase from the initial offer of three per cent helped make the deal more palatable. 

"We believe we got the maximum flexibility that was available in this program."

An agreement that obviously wasn't there

While provinces such as Quebec and Manitoba expressed displeasure at the Atlantic provinces going it alone, McNeil said he doesn't expect his decision to impact future talks and agreements among provinces and territories.

"I think people recognize we sat there and tried to find an agreement with everyone that obviously wasn't there," he said.

"My job, while it is to continue to work inside the federation, is to make sure that Nova Scotians' interests are represented."

About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at