As federal officials begin negotiations with the provinces on Ottawa’s multi-billion health funding offer, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says it’s time provinces and territories “step up” and use more of their very own surplus budget dollars to support health-care staff.
During a question-and-answer session with a category of nursing students in Ottawa Friday, Trudeau was peppered with queries about why nurses and other medical experts should not offered higher wages, free tuition and other supports, given they’ve been working under extreme conditions over the past two years of the pandemic and are actually coping with the strain of nationwide staffing shortages.
Trudeau told them the federal government took on the lion’s share of the financial costs and debt of the COVID-19 pandemic so provinces didn’t should.
That’s why it’s now time for provinces and territories to start out putting more of their very own money into measures that help nurses and other health-care staff, Trudeau said.
“The provinces are largely in surplus situations. They will now lean in on improving the conditions of learning, the conditions of labor, the conditions of pay that they control for nurses and for health-care professionals,” he said.
He noted that earlier this week, Ottawa recommend a $196-billion, 10-year funding package for health look after the provinces — of which $46 billion is latest — and a few of this money will go toward supporting, retaining and recruiting medical experts.
But salaries for medical experts, tuition fees and dealing conditions for these employees are provincially managed and controlled, and Ottawa can’t tell the provinces what to do, Trudeau said.
Nevertheless, federal officials will likely be using the negotiations with provinces and territories on the health funding deal to attempt to push them to make use of a few of this latest money and more of their very own funds toward helping make the lives of medical experts easier, he said.
Certainly one of the nursing students who questioned Trudeau Friday told him she is currently working in three hospitals while also doing an unpaid placement for her degree and has been forced to depend on her bank card to pay for groceries.
She said she sometimes survives on cookies offered at work because she will’t afford lunch.
Trudeau shook his head in dismay, acknowledging the high cost of living for Canadians.
“We’re going through a extremely difficult time without delay, not only as a rustic, as a world. And we’re going to should do a greater job of being there for one another to support one another through these times,” he said.
“And that’s why as a (federal) government, we’re going to proceed to step up — but why also we’re going to be pushing on provinces and municipalities to do their part as well, to be investing in inexpensive housing, to be investing in, and to be negotiating in good faith on the bargaining table with front-line staff to make certain that you could actually start and support a family on the salaries you’re making.”
It’s not the primary time Trudeau has suggested provinces aren’t using enough of their very own funds to deal with the numerous pressures facing Canada’s health system.
In November 2022, the prime minister questioned why provinces are demanding more cash from Ottawa in health transfers while they concurrently “turn around and provides tax breaks to the wealthiest.”
That very same day in November, talks between federal, provincial and territorial health ministers broke down after the premiers expressed disappointment Ottawa wasn’t coming to the table with the funding commitment they wanted.
They’ve been calling on the federal government to extend the Canada Health Transfer in order that its share of health-care costs rises from 22 per cent to 35 per cent.
The premiers didn’t directly reply to Trudeau’s shot across the bow about tax breaks, but they did argue they’ve been working hard to enhance health services for Canadians “under heavy strain through the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Substantive resources are required to support and speed up this essential work, and provinces and territories need a predictable federal funding partner,” the premiers said in an announcement issued Nov. 8, 2022.
Talking to the nursing students Friday, Trudeau said medical experts ought to be acknowledged for his or her exertions and given more respect for selecting to proceed to work amid trying conditions and an exodus of recent and veteran nurses alike.
But he also said concerns about wage caps, high tuition costs and other measures which can be controlled by provincial governments ought to be kept in mind during voting time, noting that almost all provinces are actually run by conservative parties, and that conservative governments “are likely to lean a bit of less towards a universal public system (and) tend to take a look at a bit of more at privatization.”
Pointing to his own 2021 campaign promise to boost wages for private support staff (PSWs) to no less than $25 per hour, he admitted that hasn’t yet materialized.
But there’s a measure in the brand new health funding deal that might provide $1.7 billion over five years to support wage increases for PSWs, Trudeau said.
“We did step up on PSWs, but we’re not done yet. They’re not yet making the $25 an hour that we committed to,” he said.
“However the provinces should step up on a part of that as well, not all of them are doing it. But there isn’t any reason for people who find themselves working three jobs, such as you, to not have the option to pay in your groceries.”
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said Friday she is inspired by preliminary talks that began this week with Ontario on the health accords, which were described as “good.”
She said Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc will now be travelling to every province and territory to kick-start these talks with all provincial leaders on the funding deal.
Fixing Canada’s ailing health system is the goal, Freeland said, noting that it will involve significant investments from each the federal and provincial governments.
“I feel what Canadians really care about, though, from the health-care discussions is people just want higher health care,” she said.
“People wish to have the option to call up a family doctor, have a family doctor and see their family doctor once they must. People wish to have the option to get surgery once they need it. And so, I actually do think that we want to deal with, and what we’re specializing in, is working collaboratively to get those good outcomes.”