Kathleen Wynne OK with health funding strings — depending on how tight they're tied

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says she's not opposed to the government attaching strings to new funding in the forthcoming health care accord, it just depends on how restrictive they are.

Federal government suggesting targeted health-care spending better than increased transfers to the provinces

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and her provincial counterparts are in the midst of negotiations with the federal government for a new multi-year health accord. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says she's not opposed to the federal government attaching strings to new funding in the forthcoming health care accord — it just depends on how restrictive they are.

Targeted funding, an idea floated by federal Health Minister Jane Philpott in June, could act as a stumbling block in the new multi-year health accord negotiations as some provinces try to hold on to their autonomy.

"There is a basket of issues that we need to be able to agree on, and so having a reasonable expectation that increases would go into those areas I think is absolutely acceptable, but it's going to depend on exactly how tightly those strings are tied," Wynne told host Chris Hall in an interview for CBC Radio's The House.

During the premiers' meeting in the Yukon this summer, B.C. Premier Christy Clark said she was open to the federal government identifying a specific use for additional funding, but Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard heartily disagreed.

"We know what to do. We know what should be done. We need the means to do it better," he said.

In June, Couillard's health and finance ministers wrote to the federal government, arguing against targeting new spending.

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Demographic differences

Wynne says there are shared areas of concern for most provinces, including funding for mental health, home care for people with disabilities and pharmacare. But other issues, like a fund for seniors' care, aren't unanimously championed.

"There are others of us saying, 'Well, actually, we need a more general increase, and we need a more sustainable approach,'" Wynne said.

"There's always a discussion around the table about demographics and you know where the younger populations in the country are, and are those provinces going to be as interested in having a targeted fund like that or do we need to look at a percentage?"

The current federal-provincial health accord, which gives provinces a six per cent increase in funding annually, is set to expire next year, and annual increases to health-care funding will then be tied to GDP growth.

"There isn't a clear path forward on what the overall agreement would look like," Wynne said. "I don't think we know at this point where the federal government is willing to go."

Carbon tax conversations 

The government returned to Parliament this week to face off against the opposition, but some of its hardest politicking will be with Canada's premiers.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne takes part in a plowing competition during the International Plowing Match in Harriston, Ont. Tuesday. The premier says she's confident Ontario's plan to lower greenhouse gases will meet Ottawa's expectations. (Hannah Yoon/Canadian Press)

Besides the health accord, the Liberals are also trying to sign a national climate change plan. Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has said the federal government is prepared to impose a price on carbon if necessary.

Wynne says she's confident Ontario's cap-and-trade approach will meet Ottawa's expectations.

"The conversation is now with the other provinces," she said.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is so against the idea he's already asked government lawyers to prepare for a constitutional challenge should Ottawa act unilaterally to impose a carbon tax.

"It's not just a national or a provincial responsibility it's a global responsibility," said Wynne, who added she's had conversations with other provinces about implementing greenhouse gas reducing plans. "We'll get there."

Wynne says Ontario isn't looking for monetary incentives to lower its greenhouse gases, but says it's a different story for the territories.

"The population is much, much smaller, they are different needs in terms of people who are reliant on diesel. I mean there are different issues that have to come into play...so that's a conversation the federal government will need to have with all of us."

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