VICTORIA — Canadians want federal and provincial leaders to “sit down like adults” and figure out how to properly fund health care instead of sparring over numbers, B.C. Premier John Horgan says.
His comments came after federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc disputed a figure put out by the Council of the Federation — the organization comprising all 13 provincial and territorial leaders — calling it “fake” and insisting Ottawa pays “about a third” of health care.
“They use this fake figure of 22 per cent because they deliberately refused to acknowledge that $20 billion was generated last year by provinces and territories in tax points that the government of Canada withdrew from and they then took up immediately to generate revenue for themselves,” LeBlanc said on CBC Power and Politics.
Horgan, who spoke to reporters on Monday afternoon amid the first full day of meetings with the 13 premiers here in British Columbia, said all provinces are struggling with health-care costs and “when Canadians hear us having a debate about accounting … good lord.”
“People expect us to sit down and figure out how they’re going to be able to get their hip replacement when they need it, that there’s going to be a long-term care facility for their parents when they need it, that the pharmaceutical advances that we’re seeing are there to be provided to people not at exorbitant costs, but at reasonable costs. That’s the foundation of delivering public health care.”
Horgan, who chairs the Council of the Federation, said “we have been coming up short across the country for a long, long time because we can’t count on a stable partner.”
He called it “disingenuous at best to suggest that that the federal government is carrying this load when it comes to funding public health care in Canada — it’s just not the case. Now we can quibble over the numbers, but Canadians will not thank us for that.”
LeBlanc said Ottawa is “prepared to make additional investments in the health-care system” and told both Horgan and Ontario Premier Doug Ford that last week.
He warned Ottawa wouldn’t be handing the provinces money without strings attached “in the sense that we’re not going to increase the federal spending to provinces for health care so they can then reduce their own spending. That would be absurd.”
Provinces “say they need more money,” he added. “Well, if we’re going to increase the federal spending at a minimum we would expect that they maintain and increase their own spending. We would also expect that that money not be used to run up huge surpluses, as many of them did with federal monies during COVID or to send checks to people on the eve of an election.”
The office of federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos has said that since the pandemic hit two and half years ago, it has provided more than $72 billion in health care, and billions more on long-term and home care and mental health supports.
But NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said there’s no question federal funding of health has eroded over the years and “care is going to suffer.”
“There has been an absolute lack of leadership on this file,” he said in a phone interview. “I can’t understand why the prime minister is unwilling to look at this … Why wait to fix something that we know needs to be fixed now?”
With files from Robert Benzie
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy