The federal government has tabled a new health-care funding offer that would see Ottawa shift $196 billion to the provinces and territories over the next 10 years in exchange for commitments to massively upgrade health-care data collection and digital medical records.
About one-quarter of that, $46 billion, is new money, including both a promise to increase the annual Canada Health Transfer faster over the next decade and targeted funding for priority areas like mental health, surgical backlogs and family medicine.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau laid out the proposal to the premiers at a meeting Tuesday near Parliament Hill that lasted about two hours.
Ahead of the meeting, Trudeau said Canadians cherish their public health-care system but need it to work better. "We all have to recognize it hasn't been delivering at the level that Canadians would expect."
Most premiers had yet to publicly respond to the offer, saying they needed more time to look at it.
Andrew Furey of Newfoundland and Labrador, the only Liberal provincial premier in Canada, praised the offer.
“I think it’s good for Canadians," he said, as he left the meeting area.
The premiers have been asking for this meeting for more than two years, as COVID-19 put enormous strain on the health care system and left provinces with thousands of backlogged surgeries, a burnt-out, understaffed health workforce and emergency rooms that cannot keep pace with demand.
The provinces budgeted about $204 billion for health care in this fiscal year and the Canada Health Transfer was set at $45 billion, or about 22 per cent of that. The premiers want the federal share to increase to 35 per cent.
It is not clear how close the offer gets to that mark. A-35 per-cent share of spending this year would have added another $26 billion to the transfer.
Ahead of Tuesday's meeting, Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson said provincial and territorial leaders are "open-minded," as long as the prime minister's offer includes more baseline funding for health care.
"I think one of the things that we've been very consistent on all the way through this is to ensure that we have predictable and stable long-term funding put into the baseline of the Canada Health Transfer," said Stefanson, who chairs the premiers' group known as the Council of the Federation.
Trudeau's offer will bring the CHT to almost $73 billion by 2032-33, which the federal government says is about $17 billion more in total over those 10 years, compared with the existing plan.
Trudeau says the offer includes an immediate and unconditional top-up of $2 billion to the Canada Health Transfer to ease the intense pressure on hospitals, specifically targeting emergency rooms and children's hospitals.
As well, $25 billion will be sent over 10 years through one-on-one agreements with each province for four priority areas including family medicine, surgical backlogs, mental health and modernizing data-collection systems.
Trudeau says the one-one-one agreements can be flexible but provinces will have to show plans for how they will spend money and how they will measure progress in those areas.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 7, 2023.
Laura Osman, Mia Rabson, Stephanie Taylor and Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press