Premier Ranj Pillai admits a proposal containing tens of billions of dollars in new federal funding for health-care spending is a “good start” but — Canada’s premiers would likely agree — it’s “never enough” money.
“There’s just so many challenges around health care,” he said Feb. 7 by phone from Ottawa.
“We’re going in the right direction.”
Similar to the rest of the country, the territory’s health system is strained. Thousands of Yukoners don’t have a family doctor, the Whitehorse General Hospital is currently deferring scheduled surgeries due to major staffing challenges and the Ross River Health Centre temporarily reduced its services for about three weeks in January.
Now the federal government is pledging $46.2 billion in new health-care funding to the provinces and territories, totalling $196 billion over the next decade, to help resolve the issues.
The Yukon’s share would total $331 million over 10 years. In total, the Yukon would see $193 million through the Canada Health Transfer, $73 million through tailored bilateral agreements, $15 million through other bilateral agreements and $50 million through the Territorial Health Investment Fund.
Health-care spending has slowed after a surge during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information suggests Canada spent $331 billion on health care in 2022, which works out to $8,563 per person.
After more than two years of the premiers calling on the feds to bring the federal share of the Canada Health Transfer up to 35 per cent, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pitched the proposal to Canada’s premiers at the Council of the Federation meeting Feb. 7.
During a press conference following the meeting, Manitoba’s Conservative Premier Heather Stefanson, who chairs the Council, said the amount of money promised falls short of what the premiers were asking for.
“We were a little disappointed,” she said.
Stefanson said the premiers will take the offer and mull it over before making a deal.
Pillai told the News the proposal was a “kind of a hybrid” of what the premiers were looking for. He said he had requested that provinces like Saskatchewan, Ontario and British Columbia, as well as the Atlantic region, “stood by” the Yukon.
“I’m feeling good,” he said.
“There was a quantum that was being discussed by all the premiers, and everybody was standing together for that ask, but the key for us was to make sure that a portion of this was base-plus meaning, you know, it’s important for us to not get caught into an agreement that is only per-capita funding.”
If the deal goes ahead, Pillai said, the money will go to improving particular areas of service, increasing health-care capacity and implementing the Putting People First plan for the health system.
Pillai said he will be meeting Feb. 8 with Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland to dig into the details, as well as with the northern premiers as he looks to maintain solidarity across the territories.
“If we can get to an agreement quickly, we can then start to see some of that money flow over the next year,” Pillai said.
A Feb.7 statement from the prime minister’s office outlines the offer. The statement notes that Canadians need “equitable access to medical care based on their needs, not their ability to pay.”
The proposal includes an immediate, unconditional $2-billion Canada Health Transfer top-up to reduce pressures on the health-care system, particularly in pediatric hospitals, emergency rooms and surgical and diagnostic backlogs across the country.
It includes a five-per-cent Canada Health Transfer guarantee for the next five years, which is projected to offer an additional $17.3 billion over 10 years in new support, as well as $25 million over 10 years for shared health priorities through tailored bilateral agreements related to family health services, health workers and backlogs, mental health and substance use and a modernized health system.
It also includes $1.7 billion over five years to pay hourly wage increases for personal support workers and related professions and $150 million over five years for the Territorial Health Investment Fund which recognizes medical travel and the cost of delivering health care in the territories.
Lastly, the feds are pledging $2 billion over 10 years to address Indigenous health priorities.
The territorial Official Opposition had urged Pillai to work with the Northwest Territories and Nunavut to push for a major boost to the Territorial Health Investment Fund.
Following joint lobbying efforts by all three territories, in 2006, the federal government started giving additional health-care funding to the territories. In a release, the Yukon Party noted that funding increases have not kept up with growing health-care costs in the North. Per-capita funding models, such as the Canada Health Transfer, do not adequately address the problem, according to the Yukon Party.
In a Feb. 3 statement, the president of the Canadian Medical Association said investing in health care is “urgently needed” and requires collaboration and coordination across jurisdictions.
In the statement, Dr. Alika Lafontaine recommends increasing the Canada Health Transfer to better support provincial and territorial health systems.
“Canadians are waiting for increased investment and critical reforms to ensure the sustainability of our health care systems,” Lafontaine said.
“It is time for federal, provincial and territorial governments to deliver on a concrete path forward to stabilize and rebuild Canada’s health care systems.”
The Assembly of First Nations National Chief Roseanne Archibald was not invited to the first ministers’ meeting.
In a statement, Archibald called the prime minister’s commitment to reconciliation “performative” due to his exclusion of First Nations in health-care talks with every provincial and territorial leader.
“We’ll not be ‘advocated for’ while we wait outside of rooms where we belong,” Archibald said.
Contact Dana Hatherly at firstname.lastname@example.org