Territories ink home care, mental health funding pact with feds

Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut have signed a health-care agreement with the federal government that will see the three territories receive $36.1 million for home care and mental health care over the next 10 years.

Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut have signed a health-care agreement with the federal government that will see the three territories receive $36.1 million for home care and mental health care over the next 10 years.

Of that total, the Yukon will receive $6.2 million for home care and $5.2 million for mental health initiatives.

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver said the new funding is “essential to ensure Yukon residents can access the health care they need.”

The territories will come up with a detailed plan for spending the funds in the coming weeks.

But the agreement doesn’t mention anything about medical travel funding, which Silver has previously said was a focus of the territory’s health-care talks with Ottawa.

The three territories are the latest jurisdictions to break from the fold and sign one-on-one deals with Ottawa, after the provinces and territories collectively rejected a federal health-care deal during meetings last month. That offer included $11.5 billion over 10 years to be spent on home care and mental health, and an annual increase of 3.5 per cent to the health transfer payments.

The health transfer was the major sticking point for the provinces, which demanded a yearly increase of 5.2 per cent. The transfer has been increasing by six per cent annually for the last several years.

Shortly after those meetings ended, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador struck their own agreements with Ottawa, similar to the one just signed by the territories. Saskatchewan also signed its own deal on Jan. 17, a day after the territories announced their agreement.

Those jurisdictions will all receive an annual increase to their health transfer of three per cent or the rate of nominal GDP growth, whichever is higher.

If the remaining provinces do eventually sign a better deal with Ottawa, “then there’s a window of opportunity to go back in and strike a deal or make some alterations on our existing deal,” Health Minister Pauline Frost told the News Jan. 17.

“We felt that this was time for us to move as the North and look at … what was best for a united North.”

Frost said medical travel funding is part of the territorial health investment fund, which is an entirely separate negotiation “that requires more time.”

She didn’t say whether there will be a new agreement on medical travel funding before the end of this fiscal year, when the current federal funding dries up. “We’re pushing hard to try to get an agreement, but … we really don’t have a lot of control over when things are ratified.”

Interim Yukon Party leader Stacey Hassard said he’s concerned that this new agreement doesn’t make any mention of medical travel, and said he would have preferred not to have the funding targeted toward specific areas.

“It’s nicer if we have the option to spend the money where we see fit.”

NDP MLA Kate White also criticized the deal, saying the cut to the annual health transfer increase means that “the federal Liberals are actually doing less than the previous government did to close the gap in federal health funding.”

She said the Yukon does need money for home care and mental health, but $500,000 a year for mental health care is “a drop in the bucket.”

White also said it’s disappointing to see the unity between the provinces and territories “falling apart piece by piece.”

“I would have been interested to see what would have happened had we stood with Alberta and B.C.,” which have not signed an agreement, she said.

Last month, Silver told the News that the Yukon had to be conscious of B.C. and Alberta in health funding negotiations, since our health-care system depends heavily on theirs. But this week, Frost said this new agreement “doesn’t affect our relationship at all” with those provinces.

On Jan. 17, the Yukon added its signature to a letter sent by the holdout provinces — including B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec — to Ottawa. “Premiers representing 90 per cent of Canada’s population continue to seek a fair deal for long-term health funding from the federal government,” it reads.

Yukon health officials seemed cautiously optimistic about the deal this week.

“It’s too early to tell what this funding agreement means for the hospitals, but it will assist the Yukon in addressing priority areas of home care and mental health services,” said James Low, a spokesperson for the Yukon Hospital Corporation.

Dr. Alison Freeman, president of the Yukon Medical Association, said she hopes the money “can help us to improve the care of Yukoners and continue to find ways to look after people in their home communities.”

With files from the Canadian Press

Contact Maura Forrest at maura.forrest@yukon-news.com