Health accord talks have 'gone silent,' says N.L. health minister

Talks between the provinces and the federal government on a new health accord have “gone silent,” according to Newfoundland’s health minister, casting doubt there will be a signed agreement by year’s end.

The Canada Health Transfer (CHT), the funnel the federal government uses to give provincial and territorial governments health-care funding, is set to decrease from six per cent to a minimum annual rise of three per cent next year, causing provincial palpitations.

“Quite frankly the people around the table with me from the other provinces and territories are just as bemused as I am in the fact that they would have expected some more to and fro,” Dr. John Haggie told CBC’s Chris Hall in an interview airing on The House this Saturday.

Health Minister Jane Philpott has said she would like a new deal in place by the end of 2016, but with one page left on the calendar time is a factor. 

Time crunch

The health ministers last met with their federal counterpart in October and since then, “it’s been deafening silence,” said Haggie.

“The window of possibility is closing quite rapidly. Unless action and dialogue starts almost immediately, I would find it very difficult to actually achieve any kind of substantive agreement for the year’s end,” he said.

The great debate over health care2:29

The premiers will be sitting down with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in December primarily to talk climate, but Haggie hopes health will move up the agenda.

The doctor, turned Canadian Medical Association president, turned politician, said earlier this summer Philpott asked the provinces for a list of recommendations in areas like mental health and palliative care, which they were loathe to hand over.

“We kind of don’t want to bid against ourselves or underbid,” explained Haggie.

However the provinces did hand over a list of recommendations to the health minister as part of a joint statement of action to combat Canada’s mounting opioid crisis last week and Haggie worries those documents could become a substitute for negotiations.

“Maybe I’m getting paranoid very early, but we have in our hands a document, which among other things, contains a list of requests, recommendations from pretty well every provincial, territorial government and the federal minister of health now has what she asked for in the summer and didn’t get,” he said.

Targeted funding questions 

The last time the health ministers met, the idea of targeted funding acted as a road block. Philpott has publicly lauded spending more money in targeted areas like palliative and mental health care.

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Federal, provincial and territorial health ministers met in October. Health Minister Jane Philpott says conversations have been ‘ongoing at multiple levels.’ (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

“There is some real advantages in us actually focusing on some specific areas like home care and investing it separately from the transfer,” she said.

Haggie said he agrees with that idea in principle, but is worried about the execution.

“We have seen in the past where we have put in place projects and programs that have been funded by the federal government only to find in two or three years’ time that money vanishes and we have to find it out of our own revenues,” he said.

On Thursday Philpott says conversations have been “ongoing at multiple levels” and she’s “very eager to come to an agreement on this and very eager to support the provinces and territories.”

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