Nova Scotia

McNeil not ready to go it alone on health-care deal with Ottawa

Premier Stephen McNeil isn't ready to call 911 as talks between the provinces and federal government about a new health accord appear to be on life support.

Premier says questions remain about targeted funding for home care and mental health

Premier Stephen McNeil says he doesn't oppose targeted health funding from Ottawa, but says it needs to be secure for the long term. (CBC)

Premier Stephen McNeil isn't ready to call 911 as talks between the provinces and federal government about a new health accord appear to be on life support.

A day after provincial and federal ministers wrapped up meetings without a deal, McNeil said he still sees a path to a solution. To bolster the point, the premier said the parties continue to talk in an effort to find a solution.

Talks faltered when the two sides couldn't agree on what the annual increase in the federal transfer should be, or how targeted funding for home care and mental health should be addressed. McNeil said he has no problem with targeted funding, but it has to be long-term money provinces can count on and must be included as part of the transfer.

"We need to make sure that if they're going to target it, it's long-term funding that's there; not something that happens for the next five years or 10 years and then it's not there to sustain a program or service that we put in place."

'There's a deal to be made'

The inability to reach a consensus had officials from New Brunswick musing about the idea of a bilateral deal between that province and Ottawa.

While the health-care challenges in New Brunswick are similar to those in Nova Scotia and the rest of Atlantic Canada, McNeil said he isn't ready to lobby for a Nova Scotia-only deal or one even targeted at just Atlantic Canada.

"I believe there's a deal to be made for all Canadian provinces."

Provinces need a health accord finalized as much for the purposes of providing services as they do for setting budgets for the spring. But McNeil said there's no great urgency on the latter front; for budget planning the lowest offer from Ottawa would be used and then amended as necessary once a deal is in place.

Unhelpful approach

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau said after the talks failed that the Canada Health Transfer spending increase will revert to three per cent a year as of April 1, 2017.

McNeil described the take-it-or-leave-it approach of Morneau as "not helpful," but the premier said it's important to realize "people get frustrated" at these meetings.

Aside from the concerns about the security of targeted funding, McNeil said the other question on his mind is how it would be distributed: on a per capita or demographic basis. The latter would go to addressing regional concerns, such as the aging population in Atlantic Canada, he said.