Premier David Eby said he is optimistic about hammering out a health care agreement with the federal government next week, but it is not yet clear how much Ottawa is prepared to pony up.
“It’s always preferable to go into the meeting understanding what the parameters are, but I have to say for myself and for British Columbia, I’m glad that we have overcome that hurdle that stood in our way for too long of not even sitting around the table and talking about this,” Eby said.
He made these comments while speaking to reporters in Ottawa, flanked by six cabinet ministers part of a provincial delegation.
Eby will join other provincial and territorial leaders in Ottawa Feb. 7 to discuss health-care funding. Premiers on Jan. 30 released a joint statement calling on the federal government to increase funding from 22 per cent to 35 per cent under the Canada Health Transfer and maintain this level over time. It would add up to an additional infusion of $28 billion.
When asked whether he would accept anything less than 35 per cent, Eby said he and other leaders are keen to reach an agreement without verbally committing to that figure.
“Their share has dropped year after year after year and we will have that conversation around the table,” he said. “I’m very hopeful that it is a good offer for the provinces, so that we can advance that discussion together. “
B.C. needs “core-funding” for its health care system, Eby said.
B.C. is spending on nurses, doctors, new health care centres and new hospitals, but at the expense of other programs such as education, Eby said.
“If we are pulling money all into the health care system and we don’t have that federal partner, it leaves less on the table for other priorities that British Columbians have.”
Eby wants Ottawa to recognize changes in provincial health care needs, namely mental health and addiction.
“Home-care can also save a lot of money by getting people out of hospitals,” he said. “We have a rapidly aging population in British Columbia, so long-term care is vital as well.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has stressed the issue of accountability before committing federal health care dollars to the provinces and raised the possibility of reaching bi-lateral deals with the provinces on specific issues.
Eby publicly welcomed the need for accountability and acknowledged that provincial health-care needs differ.
He, however, signalled opposition to plans by Ontario’s Premier Doug Ford to give the private sector more room in areas such as MRI and CT scanning.
“We believe that allowing people to buy their way to the front of the line, which is previously happened with these imagining clinics, doesn’t change the fact that there is a line, it changes who is at the front.”
Health care is not the only issue facing Eby and the provincial delegation in Ottawa: housing and homelessness, climate change, public safety and reconciliation with First Nations also top the list.
“Many of the issues we face in British Columbia can only be addressed in partnership with other provinces and the federal government.”