Monday July 11, 2022 | VICTORIA, BC
by Mary P Brooke, B.Sc., Editor | Island Social Trends
Today Premier John Horgan hosted Canada’s provincial and territorial premiers for a summit-style Council of the Federation (COF) meeting in Victoria.
The first meeting in the morning was held at the Songhees Wellness Centre in the west shore for meetings with leaders of the National Indigenous Organizations (NIO), before Premiers returned to The Fairmont Empress Hotel at the Victoria Inner Harbour for the rest of their meetings — today and tomorrow.
Interspersed with the meetings behind closed doors were media sessions and photo-ops. There were plenty of government staffers around, and security personnel.
Focus on health care funding:
The discussions of the Premiers — who collectively meet at least once a year as the Council of the Federation — were focused today on how to organize a request to the federal government for an increase in the Canada Health Transfer (CHT).
This morning at the Songhees Wellness Centre Premier John Horgan said about the health care funding request: “We can’t determine what we are going to do with money we do not have.”
And this afternoon in the Crystal Ballroom at the Empress, Horgan opened with this comment as to why the Premiers are discussing the CHT with such intensity: “To protect and to serve and to enhance our publicly funded health care system.”
Alongside Horgan at the podium this afternoon was Quebec Premier François Legault who answered in French the questions which were asked in French.
COF Vice-Chair is Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson.
Affordability and economic recovery:
“Of course there is a range of other issues that Canadians are grappling with right now. Affordability is the number one concern around kitchen tables and workplaces around the country. We are working together as provincial leaders — with the federal government — to find ways to reduce costs for British Columbians and Canadians as we go forward.” The cost of housing was not specifically articulated upon.
The third primary issue is the economic recovery coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, Horgan outlined at the podium this afternoon. “Whatever sector you talk to, the number one issue for employers is people,” he said.
Horgan said employers can’t find baristas, welders or nurse practitioners. “Wherever you look in the economy we’re short of people. That means we have to focus on how we’re going to build out the national economy, province by province by province,” said Horgan.
At the table today:
Present at the Council of the Federation Premiers table — from all the provinces and territories today:
Chair John Horgan (BC), Vice-CHair Heather Stefanson (Manitoba); P.J. Akeeagok (Nunavut), Caroline Cochrane (Northwest Territories), Doug Ford (Ontario), Dr Andrew Furey (Newfoundland and Labroador), Francois Legault (Quebec), Blaine Higgs (New Brunswick), Tim Houston (Nova Scotia), Jason Kenney (Alberta), Dennis King (Prince Edward Island), Scott Moe (Saskatchewan), and Sandy Silver (Yukon),
Frustration at 8-month delay:
“It is with sadness, rather than anger, that I stand before you eight months after getting a commitment from the federal government to work on a pathway to a first minister’s meeting,” Horgan continued. Horgan says the Premiers were promised by the federal government during COVID-19, “that once the pandemic was behind us we would sit down and discuss how we resurrected confidence in the public and confidence from patients, and confidence by those who provide public health care in our system.”
“It is now past the turning point, in my opinion, of the pandemic. Though we still have challenges ahead,” said Horgan, whose province in many ways led the way on how to manage the public health care response to the COVID-19 pandemic that was officially declared by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020 and in BC as a public health emergency the following week on St Patrick’s Day March 17, 2020.
“But we certainly should be able to sit down and find a way forward with public health care,” Horgan concluded in his intro on that topic this afternoon in the 2:45 pm press session.
Where provinces might indicate priorities:
In the live session Island Social Trends asked if the Premiers would front-end their planning of various health care system improvements as a way of possibly meeting the conditions that the federal government might want to see attached to delivery of increased federal funds to the provinces. An example was given of how the federal government responded favourably to BC’s setup of complex medical and social support infrastructure to deal with mental health, addictions and substance overdose, by allowing for temporary decriminalization of small amounts of presently illicit drugs:
“It took a long time, it took longer than we anticipated,” Horgan replied. “But we got the result we believe we need for harm reduction and there’s multi-faceted approaches to reducing fatalities from opioid overdoses. And we’re going to continue working with all orders of government — municipal, federal — to do what we can to help people when they’re at their most vulnerable.”
As to which aspects of health care might be front-loaded for a similar federal response, Horgan as COF Chair replied:
“We have been trying to get a dialogue about the path to a table, not negotiating quantums — whether long term care, primary care — everyone, every province has challenges. Our job is to deliver the services. That’s the jurisdictional divide between our two governments. The provinces deliver the services. The federal government in practice and in principle going back to the beginning, was to share in the funding of those services.”
“And when Canadians hear us having a debate about accounting — but people expect us to figure out how they’re going to be able to get their hip replacement when they need it, 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 cost but at reasonable cost. That’s the foundation of delivering public health care.”
“So when I get questions about ‘what’s your number one priority’ our priority is to table our budgets every year as we do, and to try and to put in place enough resources to meet the needs of the community. We have been coming up short across the country for a long time. Because we can’t count on a stable partner,” said Horgan at the podium.
“Full marks to the federal government for their one-time pots of money, but that only creates more expectations, it doesn’t create a long term plan,” said Horgan.
“We need sustainable predictable funding from Ottawa so we can build out our budgets, make commitments to health care professionals about how we’re going to meet their needs, and most importantly how are we going to service the patients who expect nothing less than our best effort,” Horgan said.
Meeting with the federal government:
This meeting July 11 and 12 is for the Premiers to meet and discuss issues and strategies among themselves. As such, naturally no federal health ministers or other federal cabinet members were invited.
In response to a question from CTV National TV, about the $28 billion a year — which is evidently what an increase to 35% in the CHT would cost the federal government according to Federal Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure and Communities Dominic LeBlanc earlier today– Horgan said he is open to a meeting with the federal leadership anytime. “Or even half way,” said Horgan, while insisting “but we’re absolutely nowhere right now”.
“It’s disingenuous at best to suggest the federal government is carrying its load when it comes to funding public health care in Canada,” said Horgan, whose pinnacle career hope is to achieve a step forward for the Canadian public policy benchmark of universal health care.
It could be said that the federal government is without much of a strong argument. LeBlanc said earlier today — for example — that the $500 per resident (in Quebec) could be money used for health care right now, in a sense implying that provincial funds were poorly assigned.
The federal commentary from LeBlanc today was called by CBC “something of a challenge to the Premiers’ central argument” about the need for a CHT increase.
All of this shows there will likely be nothing short of wrangling or even metaphorical fireworks as the Premiers ramp up the pressure on the federal government to do their part with the looming challenges of health-care for an aging population, the mounting mental health care challenges, and the training and staffing issues for a range of health care delivery systems.
Hopefully there is more to be announced tomorrow as to how the Premiers intend to carry forward this discussion with the Prime Minister as the federal government deals with mounting debt for having dealt relatively fluidly with demands during the pandemic.
Horgan is resigning from the post of BC Premier later this year. He is the only NDP Premier in the Council of the Federation. Progressive Conservative Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson may move up from vice-chair to chair of COF, but that is not yet known. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney will also soon not be leading his province (as his party chooses a new leader soon).
Clearly while all the premiers agree on wanting to receive more health care funding from the federal government, the request — by temperament — has been driven by NDP philosophy of doing better for people.
What the federal government did during the pandemic:
The federal government paid for vaccine product procurement, personal protective equipment supplies, and the massive social safety net delivered as CERB/CRB, CEWS and other benefits that kept individuals, families and businesses afloat during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It hasn’t often been said, but without the economic safety net in 2020 there would have been social chaos across the country. Things like looting and violence were essentially avoided by the federal government acting quickly to shore up people’s resources for basic needs in 2020 and into early 2021. The federal NDP deserves full credit for CERB being $2,000 per month (instead of $1,000 per month as the Liberals first proposed).
The second of two days of the 2022 Council of the Federation meeting of the Premiers will be held tomorrow, July 12, at the Fairmont Empress in Victoria.
Canada’s premiers to meet in Victoria July 11 & 12 (July 10, 2022)
NDP supports push for Canada Health Transfer increase (July 7, 2022)
Premier Horgan still pitching for Canada Health Transfer increase (April 21, 2022)
CERB gets extended thanks to NDP pressure in minority scenario (June 15, 2020)