Ontario welcomes new 10-year health accord with Ottawa
TheStar.com – News/Canada – Province will receive an additional $2.3 billion for home care and $1.9 billion for mental health initiatives over next decade. Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott also announced agreements with Quebec and Alberta on Friday.
March 10, 2017. By ROBERT BENZIE Queen’s Park Bureau Chief, BRUCE CAMPION-SMITH Ottawa Bureau
Ottawa has written a 10-year prescription for health funding that will inject an additional $4.2 billion into Ontario’s medicare system.
“This … commitment will improve mental health and home care for Ontarians,” said federal Health Minister Jane Philpott, who also announced accords were reached Friday with Quebec and Alberta.
“Today is a fantastic day for us. We’re delighted that we have reached an agreement with three additional province,” said Philpott.
“The really good news about this is that the Canada Health Transfer is going to increase every year. It’s going to outpace inflation. It’s outpacing GDP growth,” she said.
“We know that we can get better value for money. We know there are many countries around the world (that) get better health outcomes at a lower per capita cost on health care, and by investing in (home care and mental health), this will be transformative. “
That means all provinces and territories except for Manitoba have now signed off on new funding arrangements, ending months of inter-governmental squabbling and political grandstanding.
Under the new agreement, Ontario will receive an additional $2.3 billion for home care — including money for infrastructure improvements — and $1.9 billion more for mental health initiatives over the next decade.
“Ensuring that people in Ontario can get the care they need when and where they need it is a key component of our government’s plan to put patients first, which is why we have increased funding for home and community care and mental health and addiction services to nearly $9 billion annually,” said provincial Health Minister Eric Hoskins.
“This funding from the federal government will help support these priorities.”
Philpott denied Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government had employed a “divide-and-conquer” strategy by signing unilateral side deals with each province and territory.
The provincial and territorial health and finance ministers had initially rejected Ottawa’s proposal in December, with Ontario and Quebec leading the charge.
Then New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant broke ranks, agreeing to a pact with a “me-too” provision.
“We have a clause that if any other province or territory were to have a better financial deal — a better financial bilateral if you will — we can adopt those terms if we so choose,” he boasted before Christmas.
While Gallant was denounced by his colleagues across the country, one by one the Trudeau government achieved agreements with other jurisdictions.
Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa said Friday that “we all want closure so we can proceed with that certainty” of a 10-year deal.
Sousa noted there is a 3-per-cent annual “escalator” clause in the arrangement.
“It’s 3 per cent with the inflationary measure to it. In the end, it’s better than what was proposed (last December), which was a flat rate at 3.5 per cent over the next five years,” he said.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard praised the agreement for acknowledging his province’s “distinct” character, lauding Ottawa for accepting the “principle of asymmetry.”
That will allow Quebec to use federal transfers as it sees fit, the only province with such latitude.
“We can say it’s even been improved. My job will always be to make sure Quebec’s distinct character is recognized and highlighted in concrete fashion,” he said in Saguenay, Que.
In December, the main point of contention was a federal plan to limit annual health transfer increases to 3 per cent a year — half of the 6-per-cent increase set out in the last long-term agreement with the provinces.
Camille Quenneville, CEO of the Ontario division of the Canadian Mental Health Association, praised the new arrangement.
“We believe these additional funds will begin to remedy the historical funding deficits that have impacted those individuals and their families struggling with mental health and addictions challenges,” said Quenneville.
“The burden of mental illness and addictions is one and a half times that of cancer and seven times that of all infectious diseases,” she said.
“Helping Ontarians maintain their mental wellness, cope with daily mental health challenges or diagnosed illnesses can drive cost savings for the entire health system.”