Northern premiers eye new territorial health funds from Ottawa
New Canada Health Transfer money not enough to meet regional needs, Akeeagok says
Canada’s territorial premiers are looking toward a new health funding deal from Ottawa after they and their provincial counterparts accepted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s offer from last week.
Earlier this week, the premiers accepted Trudeau’s offer of a $196.1-billion increase in health-care transfer funding over the next 10 years, which he presented during their Feb. 7 meeting in Ottawa.
That money was less than what they were looking for, though, leaving several of the premiers disappointed.
“Considering the urgent needs in our health-care systems, provinces and territories are accepting the federal funding and will all be moving forward with necessary negotiations to conclude our respective bilateral agreements,” said Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson, who chairs the Council of the Federation and has been leading negotiations for the premiers.
“Bilateral negotiations will now unfold in each province and territory,” she said in an open letter.
In an interview Thursday, Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok said a new bilateral agreement with the federal government will be a key next step.
The Canada Health Transfer is distributed to the provinces and territories based on population. Therefore, more populous provinces like Ontario or Quebec receive larger shares of the transfer than any of the territories.
Akeeagok noted that the territories have different health-care needs than the provinces. For that reason, additional funding federal from the Territorial Health Investment Fund is needed.
“We’ve really built a strong business case with the three territories to see long-term predictable funding that’s flexible to us as well,” Akeeagok said in a phone interview.
“Once we start having deeper negotiations and discussions, I look forward to really focusing in on that area, but I think we have a willing partner, willing to listen in Ottawa.”
The Territorial Health Investment Fund provides the three territories with additional health-care funding from the federal government.
Akeeagok said Nunavut’s share has long stood at 50 per cent, which means it currently receives $13.5 million annually.
“The big issue is obviously the equitable funding arrangements, and Nunavut has its own unique challenges between the three territories,” Akeeagok said.
“Through previous arrangements, that really gave Nunavut a lion’s share in terms of the investments around there.”
Nunavut relies on medical travel to the south, which increases many medical costs.
“Together with the Northwest Territories and Yukon, our government has written to Prime Minister Trudeau, calling on the federal government to reconsider a proposal the territories presented in November,” Akeeagok said in a statement released Thursday.
“This proposal would set the Territorial Health Investment Fund at $75 million per year — 50 per cent for Nunavut, 26 per cent for NWT and 24 per cent for Yukon.”
Trudeau told reporters Wednesday he’s looking forward to beginning the bilateral agreement negotiating process with territories and provinces.
That same day, two of his cabinet ministers — Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc — met with Akeeagok in Iqaluit to discuss the next steps.
Members of Akeeagok’s cabinet, including Health Minister John Main and Finance Minister Lorne Kusugak, were present at the meeting.
“I’m really encouraged with the conversations we had with the two ministers here [Wednesday], that we could work quite quickly to get to that table as we move forward,” Akeeagok said.
“I’m really looking forward to what we could accomplish in the next phase of these negotiations, and I’m feeling optimistic that we could come to that middle ground with all the territories and with Ottawa, who sounds very eager to be able to have these conversations as well.”