12/20/2011 11:32 EST | Updated 02/19/2012 05:12 EST

NDP fears federal transfer reductions will mean fewer health services in Ontario

TORONTO - Ontario's Liberal government will make it clear to voters that it's the federal Conservatives who are forcing cuts to health services, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said Tuesday.

"We will let the people of Ontario know this represents a significant withdrawal of the federal presence from the delivery of health care, which affects every hospital, every front-line service, over the next 16 years," said Duncan.

"It’ll lead to a reduction in the quality of health care across the country."

Duncan was still smarting from Monday's surprise announcement by federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty that Ottawa's health transfers to the provinces would be tied to GDP starting in 2018 instead of continuing to grow at six per cent a year.

"Mr. Flaherty talked about clarity," Duncan told reporters.

"There’s no clarity when you tie funding to GDP, which goes up and down, so there’s absolutely no more clarity. That’s just nonsense."

Duncan said the unilateral action by Ottawa seemed to mark the end of the provincial and federal governments working together as they did for the last health accord in 2004 to target wait times.

"We think there’s a real opportunity for governments to work together to save money," he said.

"I just think the key is to work together ... so I think there’s been a huge missed opportunity here."

However, the Opposition accused Duncan of "hypocrisy" for criticizing the feds while the province plans to limit its increase in health-care spending to three per cent a year.

"I guess they forgot there’s only one taxpayer and it’s the same people paying federal and provincial taxes," said Progressive Conservative critic Elizabeth Witmer.

"They’re going to continue to get funding that they’ve been promised and it won’t change for several years."

Ontario's New Democrats — like the Liberals — believe the federal government did break a campaign promise to keep increasing health transfers by six per cent a year.

But the NDP said it was "silly" for the province to criticize the feds for capping health increases when it's doing the same thing.

"How can you on the one hand criticize the federal government for doing something that you’re doing," asked NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

"While we’re squabbling about six per cent or three per cent, what we’re not talking about is the fact that there are needed improvements that can help us save money in health care."

The federal-provincial talks have fallen into "blame and buck-passing," added Horwath.

The province wants to cap increases in health spending at three per cent and education at one per cent to help cut a $16-billion deficit, but Duncan warned that could mean deep cuts in other ministries.

Both Duncan and Premier Dalton McGuinty this week defended a planned reduction in corporate taxes, from 11.5 to 10 per cent, but neither would directly answer when asked if the tax cut could be delayed to deal with the deficit and avoid a credit rating downgrade.