Premier doesn't rule out health-care side deal with federal government

Premier Brad Wall said he wouldn't reject a potential health care side deal with Ottawa if he believed it would be in the best interest of the province.

N.B. recieved $230M more for health from Ottawa over 10 years

'I just don't think we would ever rule anything out,' says Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall of making a health-care deal with the federal government. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said he's glad to see the provinces (mostly) standing side-by-side when it comes to rejecting a federal health-care deal. 

I just don't think we would ever rule anything out.- Brad Wall, Saskatchewan premier

However, that doesn't mean he would reject a potential side deal if he believed it would be in the best interest of the province.

On Monday, the provinces announced they had failed to reach a deal on health-care funding with Ottawa. The deal, which included an $11.5-billion pledge by the federal government for home care and mental health, was seen as a 'take-it-or-leave-it' offer that was unpalatable for the provinces.

That is, until Thursday, when New Brunswick signed its own deal with the federal government, which included $230 million more for health care from Ottawa over 10 years.

By Friday, word was out that Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador had also struck bilateral deals with the federal government.

So, would Wall ever consider breaking from the provinces and cutting a deal of his own?

"I just don't think we would ever rule anything out," he said. "I just don't think that's wise. We're trying to achieve something that's in the best interests of Saskatchewan people, in this case for long-term health-care funding."

Too much federal control, says Wall

While Wall said the current deal from Ottawa was a step up from the last deal offered by the Harper Conservatives, he said the declining proportion of federal money for health care comes with an increased amount of federal control. 

Last month, federal Health Minister Jane Philpott sent a letter to the provincial government asking Saskatchewan to stop its program of private MRI scans. The provincial government began allowing people to pay for an MRI privately last year. In return, the clinic must offer another scan to someone on the public waiting list.

"It used to be, in Medicare, that the federal government provided 50 per cent of the dollars," Wall said. "With this new deal that they're offering, they would slide down to 20 per cent, and yet they want to call 70 per cent of the shots."

While Wall said he didn't believe it was wise to carry out health care negotiations in the media, he said a Saskatchewan-specific deal might make the most sense.

"We have unique needs, for example, in First Nations health," he said. "Our ask, by definition, may be a little different than other provinces that don't have that demographic."

New Brunswick deal an example

Leslie Seidle, research director at the institute for Research in Public Policy, said he was surprised to see a province reach a deal so soon. The move, Seidle said, could put pressure on other provinces.

"If [Wall] doesn't take advantage of it, he's probably turning down as much as $300 million over 10 years," Seidle said.

New Brunswick's deal includes more funds for home care and mental health, but Seidle pointed out that other provinces can look at other areas.

"The accords don't have to be the same," Seidle said, adding that the agreements are meant to respond to the needs of each province and territory. 

Since a deal wasn't reached, the federal government said that Canada Health Transfer spending will revert to three per cent a year as of April 1.