At today's first ministers' meeting, premiers to push Trudeau to restore federal healthcare funding

The Prime Minister and premiers will meet by conference call today as provinces seek to restore cuts to the Canada Health Transfer, which now only accounts for 22 per cent of public healthcare spending. Premiers are seeking a federal share of 35 per cent.

The Canadian Press with CNC files

OTTAWA — Premiers aren't expecting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to agree immediately to their demand for at least $28 billion more each year for health care.

First ministers are scheduled to meet via conference call Thursday — a long-awaited meeting that was supposed to be devoted to the premiers' unanimous call for a big increase in the annual federal transfer to provinces and territories for health care.

But the chair of the premiers' council, Quebec's François Legault, says he doesn't expect one meeting will resolve the issue.

New Brunswick's Blaine Higgs agrees and says he's hoping they can at least agree to a schedule for future discussions.

While the premiers want to talk solely about the annual health transfer, Trudeau has said he also wants to talk about the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines and the provinces' immediate needs to combat the pandemic.

The federal government this year will transfer to the provinces nearly $42 billion for health care, under an arrangement that sees the transfer increase by at least three per cent each year.

Federal health care transfers to provinces were dramatically cut by the 1990s government of Jean Chretien who then argued that provinces that were cutting taxes didn't need federal assistance. In 2005, Prime Minister Paul Martin reached a 10-year accord with Premiers that aimed to slowly restore the federal-provincial balance with annual six per cent increases to the Canada Health Transfer.

When accord expired in 2014, the Stephen Harper government dropped federal support to three per cent growth, an arrangement maintained by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The Premiers say the Canada Health Transfer now amounts to only 22 per cent of the actual cost of delivering health care and doesn’t keep pace with yearly cost increases of about six per cent.

They want Ottawa to increase its share to 35 per cent and maintain it at that level, which would mean an added $28 billion this year, rising by roughly another $4 billion in each subsequent year.

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