Premier Robert Ghiz says federal parties need to listen on health care

Teresa Wright
Published on August 27, 2014

Premier Robert Ghiz speaks to reporters following the budget address.

©Guardian photo by Brian McInnis

As Canada’s premiers prepare to meet in Prince Edward Island this week, P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz says federal parties gearing up for the 2015 federal election would be wise to pay close attention to their discussions, especially regarding health funding.

The premiers of all the provinces and territories are converging in Charlottetown for their annual Council of the Federation meetings, and one item on the agenda will be health care and how provinces are trying to cope with mounting costs amid a rapidly aging population.

Ghiz pointed to statements made recently by the new president of the Canadian Medical Association, Dr. Chris Simpson, wherein he slammed the federal government for failing to take a leadership role in the changing needs of the health-care system.

“We heard from the Canadian Medical Association talking about how we have an acute-care system that was designed in 1955. Today we have an aging population, the system hasn’t adapted to that yet,” Ghiz said.

“We need to sit down and have some discussions on how we can ensure that the system will be, one, affordable, and two, responsive to the changing demands.”

He reiterated criticism of the Harper government’s unilateral decision in 2011 to change its health-care funding model to the provinces.

The former Canada Health Accord was replaced with the 10-year Canada Health Transfer, which guarantees annual increases of six per cent in transfers only continue until the year 2017-18.

After that, health transfers will be tied to economic growth plus inflation.

The premiers released a report last year showing this change would amount a $36-billion cut in total health funding to the provinces over 10 years.

Ghiz says he will continue to call for greater funding for health care, but will not necessarily be targeting this message to the sitting government in Ottawa.

“It’s not really a message so much for the Harper government, it’s a message for the Conservative Party of Canada, for the Liberal Party of Canada, for the New Democrats, the Greens — health care is something that, regardless of whether you’re a federal or provincial party, it’s important to Canadians,” Ghiz said.

“I think the federal government, if they were smart, and the political parties, they would pay attention to the health care file and the funding mechanisms that are in place.”

A new Nanos poll, commissioned by the Canadian Health Coalition, would appear to support this position. A majority of respondents — 83 per cent — said they believe the federal government plays a “significant leadership role in securing the future of public health care in Canada.”

The poll also found 65 per cent of those surveyed said they want the premiers to “take a stand” against the federal changes to health care funding.

A number of national health advocates and unions are in Charlottetown this week, hoping to voice their concerns over health funding shortages.

But health care will not be the only item up for discussion among the country’s premiers.

Infrastructure funding, identifying new trade markets and promoting greater co-operation among the provinces on a variety of issues will be debated.

Also, the premiers of Ontario and Quebec have indicated they are in favour of a national energy strategy and will raise this during the meetings.

But with interim premiers in both Alberta and Newfoundland — the country’s two most oil rich provinces — these discussions will likely be preliminary.

Ghiz said he expects the premiers will meet again after elections are held in those provinces, and after the current provincial election in New Brunswick, in order to hash out more concrete stances on more contentious issues.

But the premiers will not wait to reissue a call for a public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.

“Last year all premiers in Canada did come out and endorse (an inquiry), we believe it’s the right step. We’re seeing many organizations and a lot of pressure taking place across the country, so I wouldn’t expect that our position would change,” Ghiz said.

“I think you’ll probably see us make that call again, hopefully, this year.”

The Council of the Federation meetings get underway in Charlottetown on Thursday.