Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa Friday, March 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa Friday, March 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Trudeau holds firm on premiers’ health-care funding demands, COVID-19 aid comes first

Premiers argue that the current amount doesn’t keep pace with yearly cost increases of about five per cent

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government will keep its spending focus on emergency aid and won’t talk about hiking long-term health-care funding until after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

He says Ottawa needs to keep supporting those hit hard financially by the pandemic, having sent billions in aid to businesses and individuals, as well as to provinces.

Speaking at a midday press conference, Trudeau said that short-term outlook can’t yet give way to longer-term concerns about the effect COVID-19 is having on the Canada’s provincially run health-care systems.

On Thursday, the country’s premiers reiterated their demand for a handsome increase in the unconditional transfer payments the federal government sends provinces and territories each year for health care.

But Trudeau held firm on Friday, telling reporters he wouldn’t yet negotiate on long-term health care funding.

“As we get through this pandemic, and once we’re on the other side, it is obvious that there will be a need for greater financing of health care in this country, including through the Canada Health Transfer,” Trudeau said.

“As I’ve said to premiers, we will be there to increase those transfers. But that conversation needs to happen once we are through this pandemic because right now, the supports we’re giving to Canadians are the ones that are needed to get through this pandemic.”

The federal government this year will transfer to the provinces nearly $42 billion for health care, under an arrangement that sees the amount rise by at least three per cent each year.

Premiers argue that amount doesn’t keep pace with yearly cost increases of about five per cent, which would mean Ottawa would have to add $28 billion this year to cover just over one-third of national costs, and about $4 billion annually thereafter.

Quebec Premier François Legault, chair of the premiers’ council, stressed Thursday that the pandemic-related expenses Ottawa has incurred are one-time costs.

One they roll off, he argued, federal finances could recover over time and end in far better shape over the long run than provinces mired in debt.

In late November, Finance Department officials tried to estimate how much more provinces had spent on health care during the pandemic in a briefing note to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland.

The figures in the back of the briefing note, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, suggested the pandemic had by the fall added hundreds of millions in costs for some provinces, subject to a giant asterisk.

Officials cautioned that information on the short-term impacts of the pandemic on health-care spending was “scarce.”

The briefing pointed to a study by the Conference Board of Canada that estimated health care costs due to COVID-19 were in a range of $20.1 billion and $26.9 billion in the 2020-2021 fiscal year.

“Longer-term cost projections vary greatly and will depend largely on the evolution of the pandemic and vaccine development and administration,” officials wrote.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Edna Whiteley in 2016. “Her whole life has been happy and about helping others,” says her nephew Bob Steed. Photo: Submitted
Nelson’s ‘little firecracker’ Edna Whiteley turns 100

Whiteley is known as a welcoming ambassador for new arrivals in the city

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson outlines the province’s three-year budget in Victoria, April 20, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C. deficit to grow by $19 billion for COVID-19 recovery spending

Pandemic-year deficit $5 billion lower than forecast

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
67 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Thirty people in the region are hospitalized with the virus, 11 of whom are intensive care

An animal carrier full of bullet holes and containing a dead animal was found near Castlegar. Photo: Colleen Schwartz
Castlegar woman finds dead animal inside carrier riddled with bullet holes

The remains were discovered near Syringa Creek Provincial Park

Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison. Photo courtesy Conservative Party of Canada.
Kootenay-Columbia MP pans federal budget

Conservative Rob Morrison says budget doesn’t have a plan for long-term spending priorities

A lone traveler enters the Calgary Airport in Calgary, Alta., Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
VIDEO: Trudeau defends Canada’s travel restrictions as effective but open to doing more

Trudeau said quarantine hotels for international air travellers will continue until at least May 21

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

In this image from video, former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, center, is taken into custody as his attorney, Eric Nelson, left, looks on, after the verdicts were read at Chauvin’s trial for the 2020 death of George Floyd, Tuesday, April 20, 2021, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Court TV via AP, Pool
George Floyd’s death was ‘wake-up call’ about systemic racism: Trudeau

Derek Chauvin was found guilty Tuesday on all three charges against him

Former University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams is photographed in the stands during the Greater Victoria Invitational at CARSA Performance Gym at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, November 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Rowing Canada sanctions former head coach of B.C. varsity women’s team

Suspension of Barney Williams would be reversed if he complies with certain terms

A man pauses at a coffin after carrying it during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. announces historic half-billion-dollar funding for overdose crisis, mental health

Of it, $152 million will be used to address the opioid crisis and see the creation of 195 new substance use treatment beds

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a CEFA (Core Education and Fine Arts) Early Learning daycare franchise, in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. budget to expand $10-a-day child care, but misses the mark on ‘truly universal’ system

$111 million will be used to fund 3,750 new $10-a-day spaces though 75 additional ChildCareBC universal prototype sites over the next three years.

The IIO is investigating after a police dog bit a man during a traffic stop near Ladysmith on April 17, 2021. (Black Press Media stock photo)
Man arrested in incident at Canada-U.S. border near Roosville

A man who crossed the border illegally was apprehended by U.S. officials

Most Read