Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador make deals with federal government on health

Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador have joined New Brunswick in making bilateral deals with the federal government on health care transfers.

New Brunswick was 1st to break with other provinces on health negotiations

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil, New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball have all made bilateral deals with the federal government on health funding for the next decade. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador have joined New Brunswick in making bilateral deals with the federal government on health care transfers.

In the deal, first reported by CBC News and confirmed by the federal government, both provinces accepted the Trudeau government's offer of funding for home care and mental health services over the next decade.

The Nova Scotia government said the province will receive $287.8 million in new funding through the agreement. Of that, $157 million will go toward home care and $130.8 million will go towards mental health services.

The province said this amounts to Nova Scotia's portion of the federal government's offer at Monday's health accord talks.

Nova Scotia Finance Minister Randy Delorey said the province needed more time to analyze the federal offer.

"We were up in Ottawa, we did say we wanted to continue the conversations with the federal government, they reached out to have conversations and that's our responsibility to the people of Nova Scotia," he said.

Delorey said the deal was tweaked since Monday to address Nova Scotia's aging population.

"We believe this is a good deal for Nova Scotians. It provides long-term certainty for health-care funding needs for the province."

N.L. gets $160 million

Newfoundland and Labrador will receive a total of $160 million in new funding over the next 10 years, according to a news release from the federal government. The majority, $87.7 million, will go to support home care services and the rest, $73 million, will go toward mental health initiatives.

In a statement, Premier Dwight Ball said the federal government has recognized the unique challenges the province faces because it has "the fastest aging population in the country."

Newfoundland and Labrador Health Minister John Haggie said the province had more in common on health with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick than most of the remaining provinces that have yet to cut a deal.

"My read of the situation was that there was a degree of disagreement, once you got past the common statements that were made Monday," Haggie said, referring to the closing press conference of the talks.

"Once you got beneath that, to say, 'Well what do you do next?' there was a great deal of disagreement between how you would proceed." 

Better terms are still possible

The Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador deals all follow the current structure of the Canada Health Transfer. Base health transfers will increase by three per cent per year, or the rate of growth of nominal GDP, whichever is higher.

Like in the New Brunswick agreement, both the Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador deals include clauses that would allow the province to get better financial terms if any other province or territory gets a better deal from the federal government.

The federal government said it will work with the provinces to develop performance indicators so residents can track how the money is spent. 

Funding will be made available as of April 1, 2017.

It was only Monday that talks between the federal and provincial governments over a new health accord broke down.

At the time, federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Health Minister Jane Philpott made a hard offer of a 3.5 per cent annual increase in health transfers and $11.5 billion over ten years for mental health and home care services.

The provinces rejected the offer and presented a united front asking for fewer strings and a greater annual increase in health transfers, 5.2 per cent.

That united front didn't last long.

New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant cut a deal Thursday. The province will get $125.1 million for home care and $104.3 million for mental health over ten years, lining up with Ottawa's desire to direct money at those priorities.

Base funding will increase at three per cent, or at the rate of growth of nominal GDP.

Sources said Prince Edward Island was also in talks with the federal government Friday but didn't sign on.

'Weak unanimity to a strong majority'

Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette has been one of the lead voices against the federal government's offer during the health negotiations. He told CBC News in an interview Friday evening the defection of the Atlantic provinces doesn't weaken his bargaining position.

He said today's deals were a made by provinces that were less committed to tough negotiations, and that the bloc of provinces that have that commitment remain.

"I think this is more of a matter of the [federal Liberals] having satellites in the Atlantic provinces," he said. "And that's the reason why I say today, we are moving from a weak unanimity to a strong majority. And we will remain a strong majority because we are there to defend Canadian needs in terms of access to care."

Quebec Health Minister and Social Services Gaétan Barrette said a 'strong majority' of the provinces wants to continue negotiations on the health accord. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

He said anything less than a 5.2 per cent increase in the health transfer payments annually amounts to a cut.

Barrette said the New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador deals are no better than what was offered Monday. He said Quebecers will still support continued negotiations even as they see other provinces sign deals.

"Quebecers do understand the simple math of those things," he said. "They understand that we are being lured into a deal that really means that it's going to be less care."

When asked whether Quebec would sign its own bilateral deal, Barrette said the province will stick with its remaining partners in the negotiation.

B.C. is 'disappointed'

In a statement, British Columbia Health Minister Terry Lake said the province is "disappointed" with the federal approach to cutting side deals "instead of dealing with all provinces on a transparent and multilateral basis."

He said, "British Columbia stands with the rest of the provinces and territories that represents [sic] well over 90 per cent of all Canadians who want a fair deal for their citizens."

The office of Eric Hoskins, Ontario's minister of health, released a statement reiterating the call for a first ministers' meeting on health funding following the announcement of Friday's deals.

"By Ontario's estimates, we'll spend $29 billion over the next five years alone on mental health and home care. The federal government has offered to provide roughly seven per cent of that total, or $1.9 billion. That's simply not sustainable and that's why the premiers have asked the prime minister for a meeting early in the new year."

Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen echoed the call for a first ministers' meeting and slammed the new deals in a written statement late Friday afternoon.

"These deals represent massive cuts to federal health funding that will hurt mental health, home care and hospitals and will impact every Canadian," he said.

Kelvin Goertzen, Manitoba's health minister, said the federal government is taking a 'unilateral approach' to planning health care funding. (CBC)

He called the move a threat to national universal health care.

"The federal government is taking a unilateral approach to health funding and attempting to divide provinces while using Canadians as bargaining chips. That is shameful."


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