OTTAWA — Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod says the provinces and territories are pushing to make health care spending a priority when they sit down next month with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The premiers are scheduled to meet with Trudeau in two weeks to discuss climate change, but they also want to put federal health transfer payments on the agenda.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leads Canada's premiers to a news conference in Vancouver, B.C. on March. 3, 2016. (Photo: Jonathan Hayward/CP)
The premiers are united in their opposition to a Liberal plan to cut the annual "escalator" increase in health care transfers to three per cent from six, McLeod said Friday.
Health care delivery is particularly challenging in the North, he said, given the degree to which the population is spread out over a vast area.
"Our social indicators are still very low when it comes to the national average," McLeod said in an interview. "We shouldn't be penalized for living where we do ... we should be entitled to the same level of services as the rest of Canada."
The Canada Health Transfer has been a subject of heated debate as Ottawa tries to reach an agreement with the provinces and territories on a new health accord that would set shared goals for how billions in federal funds are spent.
Debate heating up
An annual increase of six per cent was built into the last accord, forged in 2004 with then-prime minister Paul Martin. The new rate of increase is set to be applied in April.
Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski, the current chairman of the Council of the Federation, has urged Trudeau to put off implementing its new spending formula for a year until both sides can reach an agreement.
Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott has tried to shift the conversation away from the health transfer, preferring to talk about how the accord needs to outline shared priorities such as mental health and home care.
The federal government needs to recognize the North is unique and different not only in health care but in areas like climate change, McLeod said Friday.
Climate change concerns
"In the territories, we see the effects of climate change everyday," he said.
McLeod noted warmer temperatures have led to a series of changes, including a shifting tree line, significant impacts on the caribou population and problems with the territory's winter road network.