If voters return his party to the government on Sept. 20, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau promised Monday to spend $3 billion more on health care to help the provinces hire 7,500 new family doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners.
Speaking to reporters at a campaign stop in Halifax, Mr. Trudeau said a government led by him would “rebuild” a healthcare system ravaged by COVID-19 by recruiting more physicians and eliminating wait-lists that have grown during the pandemic.
While the federal Canada Health Transfer has steadily increased under Mr. Trudeau, repeated provincial calls for a much larger cash injection to help address mounting costs and longer wait times have gone unanswered.
But the Liberal leader said today he hears that the federal government “needs to step up with more funding to make sure people are getting better care right across the country. So that’s what we’re going to do.”
If re-elected, Mr. Trudeau said, a Liberal government would also send $6 billion to the provinces to help address the wait for some procedures — a financial commitment above and beyond the $4 billion that was earmarked in the most recent budget.
A Trudeau-led government would also float some $400 million to the provinces and territories to expand virtual primary care services, bringing the total healthcare commitment announced today to some $10 billion in new spending.
“Health care is a responsibility of the provinces and we will always respect that,” he said. “But we’re stepping up as a federal government because we know you need to get care when and where you need it. At the end of the day, that’s what really matters.”
Mr. Trudeau made a similar promise during the 2019 campaign — $6 billion to hire more doctors — but the Canadian Medical Association recently said they “have yet to see any real commitment to this ongoing issue.”
Pre-pandemic data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) suggests the number of new physicians added to the system has outpaced population growth in recent years, but many provinces are still facing a shortage of family doctors.
In Nova Scotia, for example, where the state of the healthcare system was a major issue in the recent provincial election campaign, more than 69,000 people are on a waiting list to get a primary care physician. That number has grown from 25,000 just four years ago. In some parts of the province, the wait time for a knee replacement is more than 1,000 days.
Conservative and Liberal Parties’ Approaches to Health Funding Varies
Mr. Trudeau said Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole would only make the problem worse because the Tory leader would “cut services like health care.”
However, the Conservative platform released last week shows Mr. O’Toole is actually prepared to spend more on the healthcare transfer each year than what the Liberals have budgeted.
Mr. O’Toole vowed to boost the annual growth rate of the Canada Health Transfer to at least six percent from its current rate, which is tied to how much the economy grows in a given year, with a floor of three percent. The Conservatives say the more generous health transfer to the provinces would cost the federal treasury nearly $60 billion over the next 10 years.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the cracks in our healthcare system and reminded us all of the need to strengthen it. Canada’s Conservatives believe that the federal government should pay its fair share,” the Conservative platform reads.
“Under the last Conservative government, federal transfers to the provinces grew at six percent per year. Unfortunately, in 2017, the Trudeau government cut this in half, putting lives at risk.”
Mr. Trudeau said the Liberal party isn’t interested in cutting a blank cheque for the provinces to do what they want on health care. Rather, Trudeau said, they want new federal money targeted to particular outcomes.
The two main parties have been trading barbs over healthcare funding at a time when voters are telling pollsters it’s one of the issues they care most about.
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