POLITICS

NDP fails to convince committee to study health funding

01/26/2012 03:45 EST | Updated 03/27/2012 05:12 EDT

The NDP failed to convince Conservative MPs at a special health committee meeting Thursday to undertake a study on the federal government's plan to fund health care.

The health committee was recalled for an early meeting – Parliament resumes sitting Monday – to debate a motion calling for a study of the federal government's announcement on how it will transfer health funds to the provinces after the current agreement expires in 2014.

Provinces and territories had been expecting to negotiate a new deal, but the Conservatives have already decided the post-2014 arrangement and said there are no plans to sit down with the premiers to talk about it.

"There are huge concerns about the unilateral nature of that decision and that it means that the federal government has stepped away and in effect abandoned its role in negotiations and working with the provinces on health-care funding and finding new ways to make the system work better," Libby Davies, the NDP's health critic, said when she proposed the motion.

She wanted the committee to set aside its planned business and to instead hear witnesses during at least two meetings on health funding, then write a report for Parliament.

"This is absolutely what the health committee of Parliament should be doing on behalf of Canadians, is to be addressing this issue," she said.

Meeting called a waste of time

But the NDP's request was quickly shot down by Conservative MPs on the committee, who used their majority to reject it.

Mark Adler, who doesn't sit on the health committee but was there as a substitute, called the motion "egregious and nonsensical" and accused the NDP of pulling a "political stunt."

"This clearly is just an opportunity for them to grab headlines, it's an opportunity for them to get in their cheap political shots, which I think is completely uncalled for," he said.

Adler said it was a waste of time and money to bring MPs to Ottawa early and that the matter could have been dealt with next week.

The meeting was over in about 30 minutes.

Conservative MP John Williamson said he was "irritated by the weakness of the NDP arguments" and that questions about the health funding plan are better directed to the finance committee.

The Liberal member of the committee, Hedy Fry, also sent a substitute, Francis Scarpaleggia. She had asked to appear by video from her riding in Vancouver, but the request was denied because of the cost. Scarpaleggia voted with the NDP on the motion but said he also felt it could have been dealt with next week.

Davies said later that she finds it "amazing that the Conservative majority on this committee doesn’t want to talk about the number 1 issue facing health care today."

"The contrast couldn’t be clearer: New Democrats think health-care funding is a priority in the lead up to the next accord – the Conservatives do not," she said.