Health funding issue bringing some MPs back early

The House of Commons health committee has been recalled for a special meeting on Thursday at the request of NDP MPs who want a study on the future of health-care funding.

The House of Commons doesn't resume sitting until next week but MPs on the health committee will be coming to Ottawa early for a special meeting on the government's controversial health-care funding plan.

The NDP used a procedural tactic to request a Thursday meeting and will use it try to force the committee to undertake a study of the new funding plan that was abruptly announced by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in December.

"We think that this is a very critical and emerging issue that needs to be addressed by the health committee," the NDP's health critic and deputy leader, Libby Davies, said in an interview.

The current agreement between the federal and provincial and territorial governments that governs the level of health transfer payments expires in 2014. The provinces and territories had been expecting to sit down with the federal government to hammer out a new deal, but instead Flaherty announced what the new plan would look like and left no room for negotiation.

The federal government is guaranteeing 6 per cent health-care funding increases until the 2016-17 fiscal year; after that, the annual increase will be tied to nominal GDP, with a guaranteed minimum increase of 3 per cent per year.

Premiers met last week in Victoria to discuss what lies ahead for their health-care systems and were united in their desire to have more dialogue with the federal government.

The new funding arrangement — and the reaction of the provinces to it — is a timely topic and it should bump other planned studies by the committee out of the way, Davies said.

"To us this is a very critical thing that concerns all Canadians about health-care funding. Surely this is what the health committee should be looking at," Davies said.

But the NDP is outnumbered on the health committee by Conservative MPs, whom Davies said "don't want to deal with anything that's very controversial." They can use their majority on the committee to reject the NDP's request for the study.

But if the NDP is successful, Davies said there are plenty of witnesses willing to testify.

The Official Opposition's interim leader, Nycole Turmel, said Tuesday that health care is going to be one of her party's top priorities in the coming months.