Provincial and territorial health ministers will meet with their federal counterpart in Vancouver Monday for the first in-person meeting about the state of health-care funding in the country in four years.
The two-day meeting, co-chaired by federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and B.C. Minister of Health Adrian Dix, is expected to centre around the Canada Health Transfer. It’s the largest major federal transfer to the provinces and territories and funds health care across the country.
In the 2020-2021 fiscal year the Canada Health Transfer was more than $42 billion. Over the summer the federal government added $2 billion in a one-time top-up to the $45.2 billion it says provinces and territories will be getting this year.
Provinces like B.C. have been pushing Ottawa to increase health transfers as they struggle to meet health-care demands from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, opioid and mental health crises.
“It’s been two and a half years of pandemic, we’re in more than six years of a public health emergency with the overdose public health emergency in B.C.,” Dix said last week. “They have issues in every province in the country and it’s time for the federal government, which has significant responsibilities here, to take its responsibilities seriously.”
WATCH | CBC’s Rosemary Barton speaks with Adrian Dix about the health ministers meeting:
There is disagreement between Ottawa and the provinces and territories about just how far the Canada Health Transfer goes to pay for health care across the country, but people like Dr. Alika Lafontaine, president of the Canadian Medical Association, say what’s clear is that it’s simply not enough.
“We definitely know we need more money,” he said, adding that health ministers need to do more this week than bicker over budgets. “The more important question and discussion is how that money is spent.”
Monday and Tuesday’s meetings come four months after Canada’s premiers convened in Victoria to demand more health-care funding from the federal government.
In March, a month before the federal Liberals tabled their latest federal budget, Duclos promised $2 billion to help the provinces and territories clear the health-care backlog created by the pandemic crisis.
But in April there was no new substantial money for Canada’s health-care system announced in the 2022 budget, other than funding for the national dental care program and for mental health services.
The 2022 federal budget reported that since the start of the pandemic, the federal government had invested more than $69 billion in health care.
For his part, Duclos told CBC News he was heading to Vancouver to work on building strong relationships with provincial and territorial ministers and expected collaborations to be positive and focused on results.
He denied accusations that Ottawa is willing to cut individual deals with co-operative provinces, while leaving others out of the mix.
The federal government says it has five broad topics it wants to address with the provinces and territories: the health-care workforce, access to family health services, long-term care and home care, mental health and addiction, and health data and virtual care.
The Canadian Medical Association has joined other health-care associations to call for a national strategy for health care in Canada that includes commitments for retaining health-care professionals through incentives, improving working conditions, and allowing doctors to work anywhere without licence restrictions.
Tim Guest, CEO of the Canadian Nurses Association, says health ministers and the federal government will need to move quickly and creatively because there are vast health-care worker vacancies in several jurisdictions.
Fifty per cent of nursing positions in Nunavut are vacant, Nova Scotia has been trying to fill thousands of vacancies across all fields, while most other regions are also struggling to hire and retain health-care workers.
“There is a need for increased funding in the health system but I don’t believe they are hamstrung from making a difference now without it,” he said about health ministers.
On Monday Dix will host provincial and territorial health ministers, while on Tuesday Duclos and Dix will co-chair the meeting.