Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks to reporters in the foyer as he arrives for question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. Trudeau is joining Canada's premiers at the table today where he is set to offer them a significant increase towards health-care funding. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Trudeau to present health-care offer to premiers in long-awaited meeting for new deal

Canada’s health-care system is not working as well as it should and that has to change, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday as he prepared to meet the premiers to work on a new health funding deal.

On his way into a morning cabinet meeting ahead of afternoon talks with the premiers, Trudeau said the federal government will be “investing significantly” to upgrade the system.

He plans to show Ottawa’s offer to the premiers when he sits down with them later today.

Canadians are proud of the public health-care system in this country, Trudeau said, but it needs work.

“We all have to recognize it hasn’t been delivering at the level that Canadians would expect,” he said.

“We will be stepping up with even more funding.”

The provinces budgeted about $204 billion for health care in this fiscal year and the Canada Health Transfer was set at $45 billion, or about 22 per cent of that. The premiers want the federal share to increase to 35 per cent.

A senior federal official with knowledge of Ottawa’s offer said there will be both a bigger increase to the transfer and offers of more money for one-on-one deals to address the individual needs of provinces as well as federal priorities.

Arriving for Tuesday’s talks, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey told reporters he’s anxious to see a deal, and suggested he and his provincial colleagues are entering the meeting with a sense of practicality.

“Whenever you’re discussing from a negotiating perspective there’s riverbanks, and there has to be a some diplomacy,” he said.

“There has to be a healthy dose of pragmatism.”

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith said she felt “upbeat” about the impending offer and expressed openness to striking a one-off deal with Ottawa.

On Tuesday, Trudeau cited getting more family doctors, shorter waiting lists, support to recruit and retrain workers and improving mental health care as some of those possible areas.

The federal government is also insisting the provinces agree to overhaul their health system data collection so patients’ medical records are more complete and accessible across provinces and to multiple health professionals, and so governments can better see where problems exist.

The premiers have been in Ottawa since Monday, meeting on their own at a downtown hotel, and aim to have a unified front when they sit down with Trudeau. They said they are going into the talks with an open mind, no red line and a willingness to sign one-on-one agreements with Ottawa.

British Columbia Premier David Eby says bilateral agreements will be a big part of the negotiations, but the core goal is to get Canadians the health care they deserve.

The Canada Health Transfer is currently set to rise to $49.4 billion in 2023-24, a nine-per-cent increase over this year, which is twice the average annual increase over the last six years.

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