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Premiers optimistic about national health deal, as B.C.'s Eby floats side meetings

OTTAWA — Premiers have expressed optimism about striking an improved national health funding deal with the federal government, ahead of next week's meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford attends a news conference at the Michener Institute of Education in Toronto, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

OTTAWA — Premiers have expressed optimism about striking an improved national health funding deal with the federal government, ahead of next week's meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

British Columbia Premier David Eby said in Ottawa Wednesday that he believed the federal government would present the provinces and territories with details of a health transfer agreement that could lead to a national deal, but he was open to side talks specific to B.C.

These could include discussions about mental health and addictions treatment programs, increasing the numbers of family doctors and expanding home care.

"We'll be talking about core funding for the provinces, but with the ability for provinces to have discussions with the federal government about key areas of provincial priority," he said at a news conference in the capital.

"I am convinced that B.C.'s priorities are not necessarily the same as Quebec's or Nova Scotia's or Newfoundland's."

Ontario Premier Doug Ford also said Wednesday he was hopeful the provinces could reach a health-care deal with the federal government after next Tuesday's meeting with the prime minister.

Last month, Ford said the provinces wouldn't be signing individual deals with the federal government.

Premiers and health ministers across the country have called on Ottawa to increase its share of health-care costs to 35 per cent, up from the current 22 per cent.

Trudeau has said the funding will come with strings attached, including sharing health data and outcomes for a national database.

Eby said the prime minister did not provide financial specifics for the health funding talks next week during a 45-minute meeting with him on Wednesday.

"He said he's going to be bringing forward a very clear and understandable proposal for the premiers," said Eby.

The meeting also included discussion about the importance of health data to provide accountability for the funding for both the federal and provincial governments, Eby said.

The B.C. premier is also scheduled to meet with Ford on Thursday in Toronto.

Ford echoed Trudeau's recent comments that a deal will not be signed at the Feb. 7 meeting.

"But we should be striking a deal shortly thereafter," said Ford in Brampton, Ont.

"We can't keep dragging this on when we're all feeling pressure on health care," he said.

Ford has said he wants to use increased federal funding to hire more nurses and doctors, as well as help to tackle the surgical backlog.

Quebec Premier François Legault said he was looking forward to the health talks.

"We hope to have good news," he said.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said he is also optimistic the provinces and federal government will come to an agreement.

He said he believes health-care standards should be comparable between provinces where they learn from each other on what works best.

"I think that it's important that we can agree and I think it's not difficult to agree on what those standards might be," said Higgs at a news conference. "But I think you need to leave it up to the provinces on how we achieve that level of performance because that becomes more sensitive to some than others."

The federal government should not dictate to the provinces how they reach comparable health-care standards, he said.

"I think they just should say, 'OK. Let's agree on access to primary care. Let's agree on timelines that are standards in the country,'" said Higgs.

Eby said he expects the federal government to present an offer to the provinces that will result in meaningful talks towards an agreement.

"British Columbians do not want to see the federal government and the provincial government in a bun fight about health-care dollars," he said. "They want to see us deliver for them."

— With files from Dirk Meissner in Victoria, Allison Jones in Toronto and Hina Alam in Fredericton.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 1, 2023.

The Canadian Press