Canada's health-care system is facing some very real challenges, and has been for some time, from underfunding and those who would like to see more privatization.
With the defeat of the Harper Government just over a year ago, there was hope among supporters of Medicare that a new Liberal government in Ottawa would mean a restoration of adequate funding for health care.
A central part of that would be the return of a comprehensive Health Accord to establish funding commitments and targets, and reversing the previous government's unilateral cuts to federal transfer funding.
As we start 2017, however, that early optimism is increasingly difficult to maintain.
Just as 2016 was drawing to a close, the provinces and territories met with the federal government to hammer out a new formula for stable and predictable health care funding. Both sides came to the meetings with key demands.
That early optimism is increasingly difficult to maintain.
Ottawa wanted to see spending on home care and mental health services, while maintaining the proposed Harper cuts in the form of reduced increases in federal transfers. The provinces and territories wanted larger annual increases in the transfers from the federal government. When a deal could not be reached, the talks collapsed on December 19.
Hopes that the provinces would hold strong and force Ottawa's hand to improve its offer began to crumble three days later, when New Brunswick broke ranks and signed a unilateral deal modeled on the federal government's last offer. Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador soon followed suit. Each province also won a "me-too clause" stipulating that if the other 10 provinces and territories got a better deal, their province would too.
With solidarity between the provinces seemingly breaking down, however, getting a better deal will be increasingly difficult. This should worry all Canadians, and the lack of provincial solidarity poses a major challenge for all supporters of a strong health care system in this country.
As one of those supporters of public health care, it is up to me and others who believe in a strong Medicare system to raise our voices and support the provinces that have not cut individual side deals to fight for something better.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada, Feb. 22, 2016. (Photo: chris Wattie/Reuters)
There is a reason that Medicare is seen as a basic human right in Canada. It represents our mutual commitment to support one-another through good times and bad, and our belief in equality and equity of opportunity. We cannot be truly equal as a society if some of us have less access to a public service such as health care.
It is vital, then, that supporters of a strong, public and well-funded health-care system speak out in 2017 to bolster the solidarity of the provinces as negotiations continue with the federal government.
This effort will be especially important in the next few months as we enter budget season in Ottawa.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau will no doubt cry poor as those discussions begin, citing an end-of-the-year report that the federal government is unlikely to see budget surpluses again until the 2050s -- much later than was thought a year or two ago.
There can be no doubt that Ottawa needs to be careful with how it spends taxpayers' money. This, however, is an issue of priorities and how the government intends to support health in this country.
We cannot be truly equal as a society if some of us have less access to a public service such as health care.
Supporters of a public health-care system need to make sure that the federal government knows that we stand with the provinces in wanting a new Health Accord. It is up to each of us to advocate for stronger health-care system, one that includes support and services for mental health and that provides high-quality care for every Canadian, regardless of their income level or where they live.
We, the residents and voters, must let Morneau know that by tempting the most cash-strapped provinces into signing side deals, he has not done anything to damage the solidarity of the wider community of health-care advocates.
There is nothing wrong with the federal government's call for more home care and mental health services. Both are important, but cannot come at the price of restoring the damage done to health care overall thanks to the chronic underfunding of the previous government.
Progress on other health care priorities, such as a national universal pharmacare program, will be limited until the question of a Health Accord and secure finding for all provincial health care systems is settled.
We cannot let the breakdown in discussions last month further delay much-needed improvements to health care in this country. This is why we must act now.
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The Liberal government delivered its maiden budget Tuesday, March 22. A deficit of $29.4 billion in 2016-17, nearly three times the $10 billion promised during the fall election campaign, and a projected deficit of $17.7 billion in 2019-20 rather than the balanced budget that was promised in October. (Source: The Canadian Press)
One of the earmarks of the budget is a commitment to spending on aboriginal issues. This includes: - $2.6 billion over five years for primary and secondary education on First Nations reserves, including language and cultural programs, plus $969.4 million over five years for education infrastructure. - $1.2 billion over five years for social infrastructure for Aboriginal Peoples, including First Nations, Inuit and northern communities. - $10.4 million over three years for new women's shelters in First Nations communities, and $33.6 million over five years and $8.3 million ongoing for support services. - $40 million over two years for the inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The Liberals will be changing the structure of Canada's child benefits, ending income splitting and other tax credits for families and parents. This means: - $10 billion more over two years for a new Canada child benefit, absorbing and replacing both the Canada child tax benefit and the universal child care benefit. Targeted to low and middle-income families, the government says the new benefit provides an average increase of nearly $2,300 in 2016-17. - An end to income splitting for couples with children, the children's fitness tax credit and the children's arts tax credit. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The government will spend $2.5 billion over two years on a suite of changes, including reducing the required work experience for new entrants and re-entrants; halving the two-week waiting period; extending a pilot project to allow claimants to work while collecting benefits; simplifying job-search requirements; and extending the benefit eligibility window in specific regions with a higher unemployment rate. (Source: The Canadian Press)
- $5.6 billion more in benefits to veterans and their families over five years, including a disability award that increases to $360,000, retroactive to 2006, and an earnings loss benefit to injured vets of 90 per cent of pre-release salary. The government is also re-opening nine veterans' service offices across the country and adding a 10th. - Planned National Defence purchases worth $3.7 billion — ships, planes and vehicles — are being deferred indefinitely. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
Planned National Defence purchases worth $3.7 billion — ships, planes and vehicles — are being deferred indefinitely. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The budget includes $3.4 billion over five years to increase the guaranteed income supplement top-up benefit by up to $947 annually for single seniors, and restore the old age security eligibility age to 65 from 67. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The Liberals broke a major campaign promise to cut the small business tax rate. Instead, the rate will remain at the current 10.5 per cent on the first $500,000 of active business income. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The Liberals will spend $1.53 billion over five years to increase Canada student grants to $3,000 from $2,000 for low-income students, to $1,200 from $800 for middle-income students and to $1,800 from $1,200 for part-time students. $2 billion over three years is also earmarked for a new strategic investment fund for infrastructure improvements at colleges and universities, in partnership with provinces and territories.
The Liberals' green infrastructure plan includes: - $2.2 billion over five years in water and wastewater treatment and waste management - $2 billion over two years for a low-carbon economy fund - Over $1 billion over four years to support future clean technology investments - $345.3 million over five years to Environment and Climate Change Canada, Health Canada and the National Research Council to take action to address air pollution. (Source: The Canadian Press)
The Liberals will spend $500,000 to help understand the role of foreign homebuyers in the country's housing market. The government says comprehensive and reliable data on the number of homes sold to foreign buyers does not exist right now. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
The marquee Liberal commitment to Syrian refugee resettlement could end up costing taxpayers close to $1 billion. The budget provided an additional $245 million over five years to bring in the remaining 10,000 people needed to meet the Liberal promise to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
$142.3 million over five years will be spent to add new national parks and improve access during the 150th anniversary of Confederation. (Source: The Canadian Press
The Grits will provide up to $178 million over two years for the provinces for urgent affordable housing needs. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The budget earmarks $38.5 million over two years to strengthen and modernize Canada's food safety system. (Source: The Canadian Press)
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