health debate tests yukon premiers loyalties

When federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty first dropped the take-it-or-leave it health funding bomb in December, many premiers were quick to denounce the surprise deal.

Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski is in a bit of a bind when it comes to the kerfuffle over money for health care.

When federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty first dropped the take-it-or-leave it health funding bomb in December, many premiers were quick to denounce the surprise deal.

Flaherty’s plan is to continue increasing health-care transfer payments by six per cent annually until 2017, and then tie payments to the rate of economic growth and inflation. That will likely result in an annual increase of four per cent. Flaherty has promised to never let it drop below three per cent.

At the time, N.W.T. Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger said it was akin to lobbing “a hand grenade” onto the table.

But despite the Yukon’s soaring health-care costs, the Yukon’s premier didn’t seem too fazed.

And even though Flaherty said flat out the deal was not negotiable, Pasloski insisted it was just a proposal and there was plenty of time to talk things out.

His tepid response came under fire from NDP leader Liz Hanson, who questioned his commitment to the Yukon’s public health-care system.

“Tying health spending to economic growth while economists are predicting tough times ahead will see our health-care system wither and open the door to privatization,” she said.

She also criticized Flaherty’s promise to give the premiers more autonomy over health care, saying it looked like a ruse to do away with national standards.

Clearly the federal government’s tough stand on health care forces Pasloski into a tough spot – whom does he serve?

Thankfully, if there’s one file he is familiar with it’s health care. After spending about two decades doling out prescription and non-prescription drugs to Yukoners, he may even be one of the most well-versed premiers seated at the table.

However, he’s also new to the job and likely not all that comfortable just yet, hashing out difficult issues with his provincial and territorial counterparts.

And don’t forget his first run at politics was as the

Conservative candidate in the race for Yukon MP.

The Yukon Party government began stuggling to get a grip on health spending long before Pasloski took over the helm.

It appointed the Yukon Health Care Review committee in 2008 to tackle the issue.

On its heels, auditor general Sheila Fraser issued a scathing report of the Yukon’s health department in 2009, highlighting its many shortcomings.

So this week when Pasloski pulled up to the premiers’ table in Victoria to figure out what to do with Flaherty’s health deal, it looked like he was going to have to decide whether to side with Ottawa or against it.

But as it turned out he didn’t have to choose.

Instead the premiers pulled in their daggers, formed a couple of working groups and resigned themselves to the new reality, at least until the next federal election draws near.

Next time he might not be so lucky.