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Manitoba no longer a holdout on health funding deal with federal government

Last Updated Aug 21, 2017 at 3:20 pm EDT

WINNIPEG – Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government ended its status as the lone holdout among the provinces when it signed a health-care funding agreement with Ottawa on Monday.

The governments signed a deal in which the province will receive an extra $400 million over the next 10 years for specific areas such as home care, mental-health services and addictions treatment.

The money is the province’s share of an $11-billion, 10-year proposal developed by the federal government last fall.

Other provinces and territories signed on in the ensuing months, but Manitoba balked and said overall federal health funding was not keeping up with demand.

“This is a great day for Canadians … we now have a pan-Canadian agreement,” said federal Health Minister Jane Philpott, who was in Quebec City at the Canadian Medical Association’s annual meeting.

Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said the new money for specific programs is welcome, but the province will continue to fight for higher overall federal transfer payments for health care.

“Because if we don’t, we are going to get to the point in this country — at some point — where the provinces are paying almost the entire cost of health care. And that will lead to a system that looks radically different from the health-care system we have today, and not necessarily better.”

When asked whether that might include privatized services such as MRIs, Goertzen said all provinces will have to look at “different alternatives” unless federal transfer payments keep up with rising health costs.

Under a previous 13-year arrangement that expired last year, health transfers for the provinces grew by six per cent annually.

The increase will now be closer to three per cent. Goertzen said the difference will cost Manitoba $2.2 billion over 10 years. In June, Premier Brian Pallister called the federal offer “dangerous, reckless and risky.”

Manitoba’s decision to hold out appears to have won the province a bonus — a one-time, $5-million federal payment this fiscal year to fight kidney disease and address the growing use of opioids.

Philpott said that money was the result of a conversation she had with Goertzen earlier this summer.

Now that all jursidictions have signed on to the health-funding agreement, the federal government will try to assess the effectiveness of how the mental-health and home-care money is spent, Philpott said.

“The other thing that we’re going to do … is to decide on a specific set of pan-Canadian metrics that will be meaningful and important to Canadians — that they will know that in fact things are getting better in the area of both mental health and home care.”

— With files from Patrice Bergeron in Quebec City