Trudeau says he is no longer willing to push healthcare reform any further

Federal and provincial governments appear deadlocked in their negotiations over the future of healthcare in Canada, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent comments suggest he will not be the one to blink first.

In an interview with The Canadian Press on Monday at the end of the year, Trudeau said he was unwilling to push health care reform any further, even if provincial premier ministers are calling for more federal funding to bolster their ailing health care systems.

“It wouldn’t be the right thing to just throw more money at the problem and sit back and watch the problem not get fixed because we didn’t take that moment to say, ‘No, no, no, it’s time to improve the system,'” Trudeau said.

The standoff comes as children’s hospitals across the country are inundated with children suffering from respiratory illnesses. In some cases, hospitals have been overwhelmed by the fatal combination of record numbers of sick patients and critically low staffing levels to treat them.

The issue dates back more than a year, when provinces first called for a meeting with the prime minister to discuss long-term and sustainable funding increases after the strain of the pandemic left them with large arrears and a burned-out workforce.

They want Ottawa to cover 35 percent of health care costs nationwide, instead of the current 22 percent, by increasing the Canada Health Transfer.

Trudeau told them those discussions should wait until after the pandemic, but provided $2 billion in one-time funding to bridge them during the Omicron wave.

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Now the prime minister says the system needs to be reformed, and he won’t give up the money unless the provinces commit to changes.

“Canadians are right when they look at all the government orders and they’re like, ‘This is terrible, you really have to solve this,'” Trudeau said.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos made an overture to the provinces last month, offering an increase in federal health transfers in exchange for improved data sharing across the country.

The meeting ended with no progress.

It is more or less unknown to impose performance measurements on the Canadian health system.

It is understandable that the provincial leaders do not want to change this precedent, she said in an interview on Tuesday.

“I don’t think the federal government has the right to impose performance indicators like this on the broad kind of health transfers,” she said, but added that she understands why Liberals don’t want to keep pouring money into a system that isn’t working .

A more politically comfortable situation might be to offer targeted funding for specific priorities and sign individual agreements with each province rather than treat them as a group, she said.

That’s what Paul Martin’s administration did in 2005 to address waiting times, and what Trudeau did in 2016 to fund mental health and home care services in similar circumstances.

In 2016, the provinces united when they pushed for an unconditional increase in health transfers, “but in the end they fell apart, the alliance broke,” Mou said.

The government signed a bilateral agreement with New Brunswick and other provinces followed suit. Mou thinks it’s only a matter of time before that happens again.

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“I’m not sure how long they can last because the revenue, the power of fiscal capacity, is still in the hands of the federal government,” she said.

Healthcare advocates, including nurses and medical associations, have joined Trudeau in calling for a plan to transform Canada’s broken system, and fast.

“Patient care suffers while healthcare working conditions for nurses and other health workers deteriorate,” said Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, after talks between health ministers ended last month.

“It is absolutely critical that we put politics aside and have productive discussions about concrete solutions to the healthcare workforce crisis.”

Trudeau was asked on Monday how he intends to get negotiations going if he doesn’t sit down with the premier, but he seems to think it’s up to provincial and territorial leaders to take the next step.

“We’re absolutely ready to invest a lot more in healthcare, but there must be clear commitments and outcomes that will change things for Canadians,” he said.

– Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

Federal PolicyHealthJustin Trudeau

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