Politics

Health ministers deciding whether Jane Philpott's invite worth the trip

Canada's provincial and territorial health ministers are holding a conference call on Thursday to figure out if it's worth their time to come to Ottawa to discuss the expiring health accord.

Provincial and territorial ministers holding a conference call Thursday

British Columbia Health Minister Terry Lake says he needs to see a willingness from Ottawa to talk about a health transfer deal that lasts more than four years. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Canada's provincial and territorial health ministers are holding a conference call on Thursday to figure out if it's worth their time to come to Ottawa to discuss the expiring health accord.

British Columbia Health Minister Terry Lake said Jane Philpott, his federal counterpart, invited ministers to meet in the capital early next week.

"We'll assess that and determine whether it is worth the taxpayers' dollars to go all the way to Ottawa, because our concern is we really haven't seen much movement in many other meetings both in person and over the phone. So I want to assess whether it's a rational decision to go or not," Lake told CBC's Chris Hall in an interview for The House's midweek podcast.

"If it's a one-hour meeting tacked on to the finance ministers' meeting, and really there's no willingness on the part of Ottawa to even consider new proposals, then there really isn't much sense in going." 

Chris Hall talks to B.C.'s health minister Terry Lake about whether it's worth his counterparts' time to come to Ottawa next week to discuss federal health funding. Then, we look into what a national price on carbon will mean for you. 29:26

B.C. seeking more than 3% escalator 

Next year the Canada Health Transfer will stop increasing by six per cent and fall to an annual increase of three per cent. 

We have to treat it like the number one issue and stop meeting for the sake of meeting.-  Kelvin Goertzen

The federal government has pledged more than $3 billion in targeted funding for home care over four years, but hasn't signalled a willingness to budge on that three per cent annual escalator.

It's become such a heated issue  that last week Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister even withheld signing the Liberal's climate change plan over what he characterized as inaction on the health accord file.

His minister of health, Kelvin Goertzen, said he's only going to make the trip "for a reason."

"We have to treat it like the number one issue and stop meeting for the sake of meeting... I don't know if this meeting is going to be much different if there isn't a sort of different attitude going in," he said.

Lake said a three per cent increase from Ottawa can't keep step with British Columbia's aging population, suggesting the Conference Board of Canada's and the Parliamentary Budget Officer's assessments that an annual increase closer to 5.2 per cent is needed. Yesterday, Ontario proposed that a 5.2 per cent annual increase form the basis of a new 10-year funding plan.

Federal Minister of Health Jane Philpott, left, and Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins. Philpott has invited the provincial and territorial health ministers to Ottawa next week to discuss health care. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

But the B.C. minister, who isn't running in the upcoming 2017 provincial election, said if the federal government is open to discussing a plan that covers more than three to four years, he'll travel east next week.

Lake said he's open to Ottawa directing where some of that money goes — such as to mental health programs —  as long as there is more money to spend.

"Provided of course that we can each, provinces and territories, design the programs in a way that meets the needs — because what we have here in British Columbia may not be the same situation you're facing in the North West Territories," he said.

Goertzen has a different take.

"More strings and less money doesn't get us much down the road," he said. 

Philpott said she hopes the ministers make the trip and said she is eager to talk about home care and mental health.

"What I want to talk to health ministers about is health. We've had several meetings along the way and if they want to come together to talk about health and how we can support them in care delivery, how we can make investments in health, then I certainly hope they'll be here," she told reporters Wednesday.

With files from the CBC's Karina Roman

now