WINNIPEG - Manitoba NDP Leader Greg Selinger says he is in the best position to drive a tough bargain with Ottawa over health care spending in the coming months.
The federal government hasn't made a strong enough commitment to fund health care through a new national accord which must be negotiated when the current agreement expires in 2014, Selinger said.
If he is re-elected premier next Tuesday, Selinger said he would fight for a minimum 10-year deal with stable funding increases. During the recent federal election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his government would maintain six per cent annual increases in health transfers for at least two years after the 2014 funding arrangement expires.
That's not good enough, said Selinger.
"We need another long-term agreement," Selinger said Tuesday. "We can't be funding health care a year or two at a time. We need a 10-year commitment."
If the NDP is at the table on behalf of Manitoba, Selinger said he would push for a national strategy to address the growing needs of seniors. He said he would also wade into federal jurisdiction and push for better health care for First Nations.
The province spends a lot of money flying people out of reserves to health care facilities, Selinger said. If they are re-elected, he said the NDP would work on boosting health care resources closer on remote reserves.
"We will make investments where they make a real difference," he said. "We're very optimistic that with the right people at the table, we can fashion a new accord that will be to the benefit of all Canadians."
Selinger main opponent, Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen, said he would essentially be making the same case.
McFadyen said he would also be looking for a 10-year agreement that included similar annual increases to health care funding.
"Remember that there are two other revenue streams that come from Ottawa: there is equalization and there is the Canada social transfer," he said. "We would be looking to ensure the stability of payments under both of those transfers as well."
Manitoba's credibility with the federal government has been undermined by the NDP government, McFadyen added, pointing to NDP government ads slamming the federal government for its determination to strip the Canadian Wheat Board of its monopoly.
"To walk into a meeting with the federal government that you've spent the last number of months attacking, as Mr. Selinger has, is not a great way to start that conversation," McFadyen said.
Health spending makes up almost half of most provincial budgets. Total health care spending was $192 billion in 2010.