OTTAWA – The federal government is facing increasing pressure to put health care higher on its agenda and to show more leadership on the file, putting Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq on the defensive Tuesday.
A trio of Liberal MPs delivered speeches in Ottawa, Montreal and Vancouver Tuesday that accused the Conservative government of refusing to take responsibility for health care by saying it is provincial jurisdiction and of trying to weaken Canada’s publicly-financed system.
In a talk to the Economic Club of Canada, Liberal health critic Ujjal Dosanjh said it is his party, not the Conservatives, that will guard the Canada Health Act and ensure public health care survives.
The Liberals, who clearly intend to make health care an issue in the next election, are proposing that drug costs, home care and long-term care be covered under the Canada Health Act.
In their speeches, Dosanjh, Carolyn Bennett and Hedy Fry also highlighted other health-related policy proposals, and called on the federal government to start talking now about what the country’s health system is going to look like post-2014 when the current funding agreement with the provinces expires. The existing accord stipulates that the amount of the Canada Health Transfer increases annually by six per cent, reaching about $30-billion in cash by 2014. The federal government hasn’t indicated what it intends to do with the transfer beyond 2014.
“I want them to tell us what their plan is,” Dosanjh told Postmedia News, adding that the provinces need to be assured the cash will keep flowing. He suggested the Conservatives are reluctant to talk about their intentions for a new health accord before the next election.
The calls for a nationwide discussion on the future of health care and various proposals on how to reform the system are piling up this week. Former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney and former Liberal senator Michael Kirby published a joint op-ed Tuesday offering their opinions and urging that a debate start now, echoing the views expressed a day earlier by the head of the Canadian Medical Association.
Dr. Jeff Turnbull wants talks between the federal and provincial governments underway now and said he’s worried about what’s going to happen to the transfer after 2014. The CMA on Monday launched a new website to act as a forum for Canadians to share their views on health care reform.
A report issued Tuesday from the Frontier Centre for Public Policy highlighted the challenges being faced by the provinces in delivering care and suggested a series of reforms including the introduction of copayments to reduce the rate of government spending on health.
Later in the week the Canadian Institute for Health Information will also release an annual report on the state of health care and whether it’s functioning efficiently.
Aglukkaq was asked Tuesday at a news conference for reaction to Turnbull’s concerns, and whether the cash transfer to the provinces will continue to rise at an annual rate of six per cent beyond 2014.
The minister responded by saying the Conservatives are committed to the Canada Health Act, a universal system, and to continuing the health transfer up until 2014.
She was asked specifically what would happen to the transfer after 2014, and did not answer the question, instead listing off areas the federal government has invested funds in such as the pandemic preparedness plan, electronic health records, mental health, and aboriginal health.
Aglukkaq said there is “an ongoing dialogue” about the delivery of health care and that she will continue to talk with stakeholders.
At the same time as she was defending her government’s record, some of those very stakeholders were telling the House of Commons health committee that the Conservatives are failing to show leadership on initiatives that could save thousands of lives, and improve the health system.
Representatives from the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, and other groups said the federal government should be doing more to prevent injuries and suicide and not passing off the responsibility to provincial governments.