Western premiers demand 'sustainable' health-care funding from federal government at meeting in Regina
Premiers want health transfer share from Ottawa to increase by 13 per cent
Canada's western premiers are meeting in Regina on Friday and they are demanding "sustainable" health-care funding from the federal government.
The annual meeting of provincial and territorial leaders from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Northwest Territories and Yukon and was virtual in 2021.
At a media availability Friday morning, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and British Columbia Premier John Horgan focused on federal health transfers.
Premiers from across Canada have been lobbying the federal government to increase its share of health transfer to 35 per cent, or $28 billion annually, from 22 per cent.
Horgan said delivering on health care is "pressing and urgent."
"Never have we been at such a critical point," Horgan said.
Moe and Horgan said pressures of the pandemic and subsequent increases in surgical and diagnostic wait times have increased the urgency for Ottawa to pay a higher share of health costs.
"This is not your regularly scheduled programming. This has been building over decades," Horgan said.
He mentioned previous comments by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on a willingness to discuss the funding agreement.
Following the premiers' meetings in 2021, Trudeau said, "we will be there to increase those transfers. But that conversation needs to happen once we are through this pandemic."
Horgan said even though the pandemic continues, "it's time now to have that conversation."
He said federal ministers have been discussing the issue with premiers and mentioned that the provincial and territorial leaders have "been trying to do shuttle diplomacy."
"Is it just about the money? Yes, because it translates to services for people," Horgan said.
"We need to get on this as quickly as possible."
Moe said the provinces are working to make the federal government "a fair and full funding partner in health-care delivery services across the nation."
Horgan said he has been "testing" the health system due to his own cancer diagnosis and treatment over the past year.
Moe and Horgan said the health transfer may sound like "accounting practices," but that it is crucial to health care in the country.
"To be in the birthplace of medicare, to talk about the future, is absolutely appropriate. There is nothing more Canadian than public health care," Horgan said.
Horgan and Moe are the longest-serving provincial premiers in Canada.
Horgan said he has been at the first ministers' table for five years and "the number one issue has been health care and the delivery of services."
Moe said recent announcements from the federal government, like $2 billion toward surgical waits, are welcome and that three- to five-year funding agreements are "appreciated," but fall short of the ask from the premiers.
Moe said short-term deals do not provide the cost certainty of increasing the transfer.
"[Canadians] want sustainability in their health-care services," Moe said.
Moe said he is "confident" that the federal government will move forward with this discussion, but added he is frustrated and angered by the delay and lack of commitment.
Horgan said a good time for Trudeau and the federal government to come to the table would be the Council of the Federation meeting of all Canadian premiers in Victoria in July.
Premiers talk affordability, Ukraine, Arctic sovereignty
At the conclusion of the conference, Moe and the premiers of Alberta, Manitoba, Yukon and Northwest Territories held a media availability.
Other issues discussed at Friday's meeting included the economy, energy security, the war in Ukraine and Arctic sovereignty.
While the premiers are asking for more funding from Ottawa for health care, they said they do not want the federal government "infringing" on areas of provincial and territorial jurisdiction.
"They share concern about the lack of provincial and territorial consultation by the federal government during the development of its 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan," said the premiers' joint news release.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the "most important issue" to western Canadians is cost of living in light of inflation.
"This is a crisis brought on by two things," including "a lack of investment in oil and gas exploration development, part of that fuelled by anti-energy policies coming from Ottawa and other governments," Kenney said.
"Secondly, it comes from [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's outrageous invasion of Ukraine, which has resulted in, quite rightly, an embargo on Russian oil exports."
Kenney said Western Canada can be a "solution to the global challenge of energy poverty."
"Canadians should not be hit so hard by high energy prices," Kenney said, referencing the country's large oil and natural gas reserves.
Both Northwest Territories Premier Caroline Cochrane and Yukon Premier Sandy Silver also shared concerns about the impacts on the rising cost of living.
War in Ukraine
The premiers' joint news release began with a request for "timely information sharing" on helping settle Ukrainian refugees.
"Western Premiers would also welcome an ongoing discussion about federal resources to ensure Ukrainians can access the services they require to transition to life in Canada," the release said.
Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson spoke about recently settled Ukrainian refugees in Manitoba.
"What is happening back home with their relatives is absolutely horrific. This is an unnecessary war that has been imposed on Ukrainians," Stefanson said.
"We will ensure that those individuals that are coming here for safe haven have the supports they need while they are in our country and our province."
The premiers indicated that they discussed Russia's invasion of Ukraine and "other foreign activities in the Arctic and the implications these have for Arctic security."
"Western Premiers agreed that the Arctic is essential to Canadian security, sovereignty and economic prosperity, and that significant federal investment through increasing development and presence in Northern and Arctic regions is required to support thriving communities," the joint news release said.