Billions more for health care tops premiers' wish list for throne speech

OTTAWA — Four conservative-minded premiers have issued their wish list for next week's throne speech on which the fate of Justin Trudeau's minority Liberal government could hinge.

More federal funding for health care is at the top of the list.

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"We're in desperate need of your support," Ontario Premier Doug Ford said in his message to the federal government on Friday.

He was joined by Quebec Premier François Legault, Alberta's Jason Kenney and Brian Pallister of Manitoba, who held a news conference in Ottawa to spell out what they hope to see in the speech.

The premiers said they want to see the federal share of health-care funding grow from 22 per cent to 35 per cent, which Ford said would amount to about $70 billion this year.

"It is time for the federal government to do its fair share," Legault said in French.

The premiers are also calling on Ottawa to expand the fiscal stabilization program, which provides help to provinces facing a year-over-year decline in non-resource revenues.

The program has not changed since 1995 and the money available to eligible provinces is capped at just $60 per resident. The premiers are asking for that cap to be lifted.

"Alberta's been there for Canada," Kenney said at the news conference.

"Now Canada has to be there for Alberta and other provinces that are facing the greatest economic and fiscal challenge since the Great Depression."

The premiers also want to see the federal government pump another $10 billion into infrastructure each year for the next 10 years, with a streamlined approval process and "flexibility" for the provinces to spend the money according to their own priorities.

Ford and Legault had last week called on Ottawa to significantly increase the annual federal transfer payments to provinces and territories for health care.

The transfer this year will amount to almost $42 billion under an arrangement that sees it increase by at least three per cent each year. The premiers say provinces' costs are increasing at about twice that rate.

On top of that, the federal government is giving provinces and territories $19 billion to help them cope with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, including some $10 billion for health care.

Legault and Ford argued that added federal funding is needed to cope with the mushrooming costs of delivering health care beyond the financial burden imposed by the pandemic.

"Provinces and territories are on the front lines of health care and are best placed to determine the needs of their residents," the premiers said in a detailed written communiqué after they spoke.

"Federal investments must be unconditional to provide maximum flexibility for provinces and territories to invest in their unique priorities."

The throne speech is expected to include three main priorities: measures to protect Canadians' health and avoid another national lockdown; economic supports to help keep Canadians financially afloat while the pandemic continues; and longer-term measures to eventually rebuild the economy.

In particular, it is expected to promise more health-care funding — including for long-term care homes that have borne the brunt of the more than 9,000 deaths from COVID-19 in Canada — and for child care so that women, hardest hit by the shutdown, can go back to work.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 18, 2020.

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