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Trudeau, premiers to meet in February to move healthcare talks along

The premiers and the federal government have been jockeying around a new deal for months.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Ontario Premier Doug Ford responds to a question following an announcement in Ottawa, Monday, Oct. 17, 2022.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he has invited the premiers to join him in Ottawa for a healthcare meeting on Feb. 7.

The prime minister announced the planned meeting during a news conference this morning, as Ottawa and the provinces try to hammer out a new funding deal for healthcare.

The prime minister and his cabinet are on the third and final day of a retreat in Hamilton ahead of the return of Parliament next week.

Ongoing negotiations towards a new healthcare funding pact have been front and centre throughout the retreat.

Two sources granted anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter said the planned meeting is not intended to finalize a new pact but rather to solidify the steps needed to reach such a deal.

A spokesman for British Columbia Premier David Eby had told The Canadian Press that premiers will be in Ottawa Feb. 12 and 13 for a meeting, and Trudeau was welcome to join them.

The premiers and the federal government have been jockeying around a new deal for months.

Canada’s healthcare system is strained to the breaking point following three years of COVID-19 and a growing shortage of healthcare workers.

The premiers are asking for Ottawa to increase its share of health care budgets to 35 per cent from about 22 per cent currently.

Trudeau and Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos have not publicly specified how much Ottawa is willing to add to the healthcare funding pie but have said any new money will require the provinces to show how it will be used to improve patient care.

Specifically, Ottawa wants commitments to increase access to family doctors, end the long backlogs for surgery, improve mental healthcare, address the health issues of an aging population and overhaul healthcare data systems including digital medical records.

In November, a health ministers meeting ended in turmoil when provinces refused to accept any new funding deal with strings attached.

But progress has been made since Christmas and both Ontario and Québec have indicated a willingness to give Ottawa what it wants at least when it comes to data and medical record technology.

Ottawa transferred $45.2 billion to provinces for health care in the current fiscal year and currently expects it to increase that to $49.4 billion in 2023-24. The existing agreement sees the transfers increase a minimum of three per cent a year, or more if economic growth outpaces that.

Collectively the provinces spend more than one-third of their budgets on healthcare.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said Tuesday that despite economic uncertainty Ottawa knows Canadians expect all governments to find a way to protect and improve Canada’s cherished public healthcare system.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Jan. 25, 2023.

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