Ottawa signs health-care funding deals with Ontario, Atlantic provinces

Ottawa signs health-care funding deals with Ontario, Atlantic provinces

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government has signed health-care agreements in principle with all four Atlantic provinces and Ontario.

He made the announcement as he spoke with students in Halifax earlier this morning.

Ontario announced its 10-year deal in principle on health care on Thursday, paving the way for both sides to iron out the details of how the new money will be spent.

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Health Minister Sylvia Jones said the province accepted the deal on Wednesday after the two sides agreed to add reviews into the deal to ensure long-term sustainability.

“As Ontario continues to invest at record levels in our publicly funded system, this additional funding will bolster Ontario’s investments in health care as we implement our plan for connected and convenient care,” Jones wrote in a statement Thursday.

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“We look forward to working with our federal counterparts to reach common ground on ensuring there is sustainable federal health-care funding for generations to come. Ontarians deserve no less.”

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc have been on a whirlwind diplomacy tour since Trudeau invited all 13 of Canada’s premiers to Ottawa two weeks ago to present a funding proposal that would infuse $46.2 billion in new money for health care over the next decade to the provinces and territories on top of pre-established health funding streams from Ottawa.

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The money is being offered in response to repeated demands from the premiers over the last two-and-a-half years to up Ottawa’s share of health costs from 22 per cent to 35 per cent.

While Ottawa’s offer is far less than the $28-billion annual increase to the Canada Health Transfer that provinces have asked for, the premiers have said they will accept the Liberal government’s offer.

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But at least part of the money will roll out differently for each province and territory,

The new federal money includes several elements, including $25 million earmarked for bilateral deals with each individual province and territory to be aimed at targeted measures responsive to the unique needs of each region.

The details of these bilateral health accords and how they will look in each region of the country have been the focus of Duclos’ and LeBlanc’s negotiations over the last two weeks.

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Ottawa said the deal with Ontario includes $8.4 billion in new money plus $776 million in a one-time top up to address “urgent needs, especially in pediatric hospitals and emergency rooms, and long wait times for surgeries.”

“Today’s agreement in principle with Ontario is an opportunity to continue our collaboration and improve the experience of health workers and those they care for,” federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos wrote in a statement.

“It will modernize our health-care system, improve access to family health services and mental-health services, reduce surgical backlogs and support health workers. Better quality of care means helping Canadians live longer, healthier lives.”

The Nova Scotia government says it will receive $1 billion as part of its 10-year deal with Ottawa, and plans to use it to increase access to primary and mental health care, support health-care workers and adopt new technologies for better and faster care.

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“Nova Scotians deserve a health-care system that is there for them when they need it. We need more care, faster. That means more people working in the system, more ways to get care, and the technology to help our busy healthcare teams,” N.S. Health Minister Michelle Thompson said in a statement.

“We look forward to working with our federal partners toward these shared goals.”

The money comes after several difficult years for hospitals across Ontario. COVID-19 forced them to cancel surgeries in an attempt to deal with a flood of sick patients that overwhelmed emergency departments and intensive care units.

The province said there are more than 200,000 surgeries in its backlog.

In the fall, young children inundated Ontario’s four children’s hospitals with particularly harsh strains of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus. They, too, had to cancel surgeries in order to redeploy staff to emergency departments and their ICUs.

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There are nearly 12,000 children who need surgeries, the majority of whom have waited longer than the clinically determined benchmark.

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The agreement in principle now allows for further discussions on how the new money will be spent. The province said those talks are expected to last several weeks as they negotiate the details before the deal is finalized.

The priority areas outlined in the deal include mental health, primary care, increasing the number of health-care workers and addressing surgical backlogs.

Ontario also agreed to upgrade its health data collection to better show how the system is performing as well as annual reporting of specific indicators.

“Work will now begin on a bilateral agreement based on an initial 3-year action plan that will detail targets, timelines and additional common indicators related shared health priorities in each jurisdiction,” the federal government said in a statement.

Ottawa said it will work with Ontario to “streamline foreign credential recognition for internationally educated health professionals and advance labour mobility for key health professionals.”

The country’s premiers had said further discussions were needed with Ottawa to establish long-term predictability and stability in health care.

Last week, Ontario Premier Doug Ford proposed reviews be built into the deal.

The federal government quickly agreed to a formal review process to look at bilateral funding deals the provinces made with Ottawa in 2017 to upgrade mental health and home care programs. The two sides also agreed to a similar process to review the new deal.

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In a letter last week to the Ontario health minister, Duclos said the province’s bilateral agreement would include working toward certain health indicators, agreeing to provide “equity of access” for underserved groups and upholding the Canada Health Act to strengthen the public health system.

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