‘Monday is the day’: Liberals send ultimatum to provinces on health talks

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Finance Minister Bill Morneau says his government is willing to give the provinces more money for home care and mental health services than originally promised — and annualize it — but only if they all come to an agreement on Monday.

“If we can get to an agreement that includes measurable outcomes, better home-care situations for Canadians, better mental health possibilities for Canadians, we will invest more. But if we don’t, because provinces don’t get on that page, we will stick to our campaign promises,” he told the CBC’s Chris Hall in an interview for The House airing Saturday.

The finance and health ministers from the provinces and territories are travelling to Ottawa this weekend for meetings.

“Monday is the day,” reiterated Morneau.

The Liberals have said they’ll stick with the planned annual three per cent annual transfer set to kick in next spring, a drop from the six per cent the provinces and territories have been receiving since 2004. The government campaigned on a promise to put $3 billion over four years into home care and an unspecified amount on improving mental health.

Provinces’ pitches ‘outside the realm’

The provinces and territories have been fighting for a larger annual increase. Earlier this week, Ontario proposed a new 10-year federal funding plan that would raise Ottawa’s health transfers to the provinces by 5.2 per cent a year.

Morneau wouldn’t say how much more the Liberals are willing to hand over, just that it’s a “significant” amount.

“We’re explicitly not talking about percentages,” he said. “The kinds of dollars that have been floated by the provinces are outside the realm of what we are able to consider given our fiscal outcomes that we want to put in place for Canadians. We have an economy that we need to watch.”

The finance minister said the government has heard that the provinces need investments that go beyond five years.

“We’re willing to go there,” he said.

“For outcomes we will make investments. Remembering that mental health investments get people back to work faster,” he said.

Morneau said he’s already called the provinces to explain what the federal government is willing to do. Earlier this week the health ministers were threatening to skip Monday’s discussions if they didn’t see a willingness from the government to explore new proposals.

“All I can tell you is that we go into this with good intent,” Morneau said. “There are different parties at the table with different interests.”

Provinces unhappy

The offer isn’t sitting well with some provinces.

“This is a bit of a shell game,” Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen’s told CBC News Network’s Power & Politics.

Manitoba’s health minister looks ahead to health meeting with feds7:14

“They’re not putting more money in overall, they’re taking about $2.2 billion off the table for 10 years, and then saying, ‘We’ll replace it with a little bit so you can direct it in certain areas.'”

He said the 5.2 per cent increase that’s been floating around would only “keep the lights on.”

He also believes the health talks shouldn’t be piggybacking on the finance ministers meeting.

“There should be a long-term discussion on this with the premiers and the prime minister, not over crumpets and bits during a supper,” he said.

Quebec health minister: ‘We don’t need Ottawa to tell us what to do’8:42

Saskatchewan’s finance minister says he’s waiting to see what the extra money looks like before signing on.

Kevin Doherty said his province would be open to accepting Morneau’s offering if the extra funding mirrored the suggestion Ontario put on the table.

“If it comes to the 5.2 per cent, we are absolutely interested in it. We want to see the specifics that the federal government is attaching to these additional dollars,” he said.

“The fact of the matter is, this is a discussion. It’s just not productive to sit there and say, ‘Here is the bottom line, take it or leave it, so to speak,” he said. “We’ll want to see what those details are.”

Health minister ‘very optimistic’

Morneau’s federal colleague at the table, Health Minister Jane Philpott, said she’s “very optimistic” Ottawa can strike a deal with the provinces about a new health transfer deal before year’s end, fulfilling an earlier promise.

Liberal Caucus 20160514

Minister of Health Jane Philpott says she has heard interest from the provinces about more money to help improve mental health care. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

“There’s a tremendous enthusiasm on the part of provinces and territories to come to some agreement or at least an agreement on principle,” Jane Philpott told The House.

Despite some comments that suggest both sides have dug in leading up to Monday’s talks, Philpott believes there’s traction on the mental health file.

“They’ve actually said to us, ‘We could use some help in this area’ … I’m hearing people crying out for access to better access to mental health care and services,” she said.

“It’s one of the things that inhibits people from being able to fully enjoy life as they ought to and if we can support the provinces and territories in that I will be very happy.”

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‘Monday is the day’: Liberals send ultimatum to provinces on health talks

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