November 30, 2023

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‘The prime minister is not a potted plant’: B.C. health minister calls for Trudeau to engage on health funding

Even as health ministers from across the country prepare to meet in Vancouver this week, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix says the federal government is not interested in a serious conversation about health-care funding.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, as the health-care system strained under staffing shortages and high case counts, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to boost health transfer to provinces after the pandemic is over.

Now, with most pandemic-era restrictions gone — but the health-care system still under strain — Dix says the government has not shown any willingness to have Trudeau sit down with premiers to discuss augmented transfers.

“The prime minister is not a potted plant. He can defend his position if he wishes. But there needs to be a meeting,” Dix said in an interview airing Sunday on Rosemary Barton Live.

WATCH | Provinces want Ottawa to increase share of health costs: 

Provincial, territorial, federal health ministers to discuss health-care crisis

Health ministers from across the country are set to meet in Vancouver to discuss Canada’s health-care crisis.

Dix went on to say the federal government has discussed preconditions for a prime minister-premiers meeting, but argued that was not what Canadians wanted.

“Premier Horgan, when he was head of the Council of the Federation, worked on [meeting with Trudeau] for pretty much a year. And the federal government has not been willing to do the work to come to the table and sit down, prime ministers and premiers, and talk about one of the central issues facing the country,” Dix told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton.

This summer, Trudeau reiterated his willingness to shell out more money to provinces for the health-care system, but emphasized that the conversation should be around how that money would achieve results for Canadians.

“I think all Canadians know that it’s not just a question of putting more money into the system, it’s a question of making real improvements in the system,” he said in August.

Duclos says he’s ‘ally’ of provinces

The Canada Health Transfer is the largest single federal transfer to provinces and territories, and 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.

Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos struck a conciliatory tone in an interview with CBC News this week, describing himself as an “ally” of provinces. But he also reiterated the approach of emphasizing ends rather than means.

“We want those results to be concrete and tangible,” Duclos said, “And before we come to the means that will be necessary to achieve them, we first need to speak to the substance around those results.”

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos speaks during a news conference announcing Dr. Leigh Chapman, not shown, as Canada’s chief nursing officer, in Ottawa on Aug. 23, 2022. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Federal sources told the Toronto Star this week the government could sign separate deals with some provinces and leave others out in the cold, though Duclos denied that was the government’s plan.

On Sunday, Dix praised Duclos but remained laser-focused on the call for a higher-level meeting.

“I very much respect Minister Duclos, but I do not understand the prime minister’s position that he does not want to sit down and do the work.”

The Vancouver meetings will likely centre on the health transfer question, but take place in a context where the healthcare system continues to face acute staffing shortages.

Dr. Alika Lafontaine, head of the Canadian Medical Association, said he is hoping the meeting of health ministers results in collaboration across Canada “because the crises are too big for any one jurisdiction. If we don’t act, all of our systems will continue to deteriorate. And I think the impetus for action is now because of how severely patients are suffering.”