Provinces still haven’t received $2 billion in health supplements announced by Liberals in March

As premiers gathered in British Columbia try again to make the case for a permanent increase in federal health transfers, they are also waiting for the $2 billion promised to them in March to help eliminate the surgical and diagnostic backlogs.

As premiers gathered in British Columbia try again to make the case for a permanent increase in federal health transfers, they are also waiting for the $2 billion promised to them in March to help eliminate the surgical and diagnostic backlogs.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced the one-off supplement on March 25 to “speed up” surgeries, and he and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland introduced a bill in the House of Commons on the same day to allow funding.

“We appreciate it’s going to be a challenge,” Duclos said during the announcement. “However, we know that this level of support at this time will make a difference.”

But Bill C-17 did not pass at the spring sitting. It is on the Order Paper at second reading, having never been debated by members. The promised funding was instead rolled into the federal budget about two weeks later and signed into law on June 23.

New Brunswick’s budget was released three days before Duclos promised the province an additional $41 million, and Premier Blaine Higgs said his government is sticking to its plan.

“We thought, that’s great, there are additional things we hope to do with this,” he said. But he added: “If you don’t get the check, you can’t spend it.”

The finance ministry said payments would start imminently, and Duclos said the government was now signing official letters, “which are needed to send the funding.”

The federal government noted the money could be used to “strengthen the health workforce,” which is why Higgs said even when the letters are signed, the spending won’t be immediate.

“We don’t have the resources to suddenly do a lot more just because there’s more money,” he said.

“And then I’ll be blamed, probably, for not spending it.”

The March 25 hour-long announcement was made at the University of Ottawa with three federal ministers and a hospital bed as the backdrop.

Duclos spoke in prepared remarks about the history of publicly funded health care in Canada, shared concerns about access to primary care and long-term care, and the damage the pandemic has caused throughout the health system.

“Too many of our fellow citizens have suffered and are still suffering,” he said. “In 2022, that just shouldn’t be happening in Canada.”

He also talked about the future of the health care system, which he said will require another form of collaboration with the provinces.

Higgs said it appears Bill C-17 was a public relations exercise. “We’re coming out of a pandemic, so what a great time for a $2 billion announcement.”

Provinces need long-term sustainable funding, “so don’t do it bit by bit that we can’t really use,” he said.

The federal health and finance departments did not respond to questions about why the announcement was made and why Bill C-17 was introduced just before the budget, only to be skipped on the order paper. for the rest of the session.

“We stepped up together in terms of policy, but also in terms of financial support for the provinces and territories,” Duclos said in an interview Tuesday with The Canadian Press.

British Columbia Premier John Horgan said the money would not be enough to meet the needs, adding that “although the bandage is welcome, we need stitches, we need prostheses “.

Per capita funding ranges from approximately $2 million for each of the territories to over $775 million for Ontario.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 12, 2022.

With files from Laura Osman in Ottawa and Brenna Owen in Vancouver.

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