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Provinces need $28 billion more a year for health care, premiers say

B.C.’s John Horgan chairs Council of the Federation meeting
B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks after chairing premier’s meeting from Victoria, Feb. 4, 2022. (B.C. government video)

The federal government’s share of soaring health care costs has fallen from 50-50 to as low as 22 per cent, and Canada’s premiers have united to call for that to be increased to 35 per cent.

B.C. Premier John Horgan chaired the latest Council of the Federation meeting Friday, joining premiers and territorial leaders in what has become a familiar theme for the meetings. Horgan acknowledged at a post-meeting news conference that the topic of health care transfers from Ottawa to provinces is seen by the public as an accounting issue that makes people’s “eyes glaze over,” but the COVID-19 pandemic has made the issue more urgent than ever.

“Provinces and territories are at the front lines of health care, and premiers understand the challenges facing our systems, including shortages of health care professionals, surgical backlogs, wait times and hospitals that are at capacity,” Horgan said Feb. 4.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault said the 35-per-cent target currently means an additional $28 billion in annual transfers from Ottawa.

The premiers’ winter meeting comes as the Liberal government in Ottawa prepares its spring budget, with plans to continue heavy deficit spending as the Canadian economy emerges from the pandemic.

In his first public duty since returning from throat cancer treatments late last year, Horgan noted it is his second bout of cancer and he was once again impressed with the caring and dedication of health care staff. But after two years of the pandemic and with an aging population putting more and more demand on health care, he said the current path is not sustainable.

“I saw that on the faces of nurses, of doctors, health care providers, care aides,” Horgan said. “We need help to be coming on the horizon and we need it in the form of more funding from the federal government.”

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