Canada’s premiers are in Victoria to hash over their response to Ottawa’s edict on health-care funding that has left many premiers east of Manitoba seething, and the western ones celebrating the prospect of the federal government finally getting out of the way.
The group headed into three days of meetings on Sunday that were originally intended to discuss new ways of doing things in the health-care sector. But the gathering threatens to get hijacked by the kind of infighting that was common before the last 10-year accord was signed in 2004 and many premiers are looking for adjustments to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s formula that would better benefit their provinces.
“Premiers have sat around these tables for 30 years and said: ‘We don’t want the federal government to tell us what to do about health care because we have a constitutional responsibility for looking after it,’” B.C. Premier Christy Clark said in an interview.
“You can’t do it well from Ottawa. One of the highlights of the federal government’s announcement in December is they’re vacating that field and leaving it to the premiers to whom it rightfully belongs.”
Quebec Premier Jean Charest is among those angry at the unilateral way Flaherty introduced the formula last month, and he said it’s time for Ottawa to take a look at all the money it transfers to provinces.
And Nova Scotia is among those concerned Ottawa is simply backing out of its health-care obligations.
Flaherty’s announcement came with no policy strings and signalled an end to the type of health-care accords that have guided provinces in their priorities since the late 1990s. The accords attempted to make provinces accountable for federal funding and avoid a patchwork of health services.
“I think the unfortunate consequence of that is we would very likely see ... essentially 13 different kinds of health-care systems across the country,” said Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter.