MISSISSAUGA, Ont.—Canada’s provincial and territorial leaders agreed Monday to press the federal government for higher increases to health-care funding, but most expressed hesitation about a national pharmacare program.
The premiers also emerged from a meeting in Mississauga, Ont., with a call to Ottawa to strengthen a program that provides a financial top-up to provincial governments suffering economic downturns—a key request of Alberta.
The first ministers arrived at a consensus on four priority areas of economic competitiveness, the Fiscal Stabilization Program, health care and infrastructure funding, and northern priorities.
They reiterated their call for a 5.2 percent increase in annual health-care transfer payments from the federal government, but called for federal transfers to come with opt-outs.
Several premiers said that now may not be the right time for a national pharmacare program—a promise the Liberals made during the federal election—with funding desperately needed to address hospital overcrowding and growing wait times.
“If you can’t sustain health care, all the multitude of services that we offer effectively, then you will have line-ups grow, as they have grown over the last number of years right across the country in every category,” said Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister.
“If you can’t get that right, don’t start with another program. … Don’t start broadening health care when you can’t get it right now.”
The premiers also agreed that the Fiscal Stabilization Program should be more responsive to economic downturns, such as removing a per capita cap and lowering a non-resource revenue threshold.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has called for the cap to be removed, as the money the province has received is barely scratching the surface of the financial impact of low oil prices. He thanked his fellow premiers for making fiscal stabilization amendments a priority.
“This was a tremendous moment of solidarity,” he said. “I’ve been trying to convey to Albertans that we are not alone, or isolated in the federation, that there are provincial and territorial governments who get what we’re going through and who understand our ask for a fair deal in the Canadian federation.”
The leaders have invited Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to co-host a first ministers meeting early in the new year.
By Allison Jones