Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced Friday that the federal government will send another $2 billion to provinces and territories to help clear the health-care backlog created by the years-long pandemic crisis.
Over the last two years, provinces and territories have cancelled hundreds of thousands of “elective” surgeries — leaving many Canadians waiting for hip replacements, cataract surgery or cancer treatments, among dozens of other procedures.
The surgeries were cancelled as hospitals scrambled to shift resources to deal with the crushing COVID caseload.
The health-care system is facing a major staffing crunch after some workers quit or got sick, and has struggled to resume a more normal rhythm.
The federal government announced $4 billion in funding to clear backlogs last year. It said it’s chipping in more now because the problem has only gotten worse since the onset of the Omicron wave of the pandemic.
Duclos pitched the one-time top-up to the Canada Health Transfer — the money Ottawa sends to the provinces each year to cover some of the cost of running the health care system — as a “major investment” that will soon result in rescheduled surgeries.
“This means that the hip replacement your mom or your dad has been waiting for will stop being postponed,” Duclos said. “For a lot of Canadians, today’s announcement will be a huge relief.”
Duclos also signalled that the federal government is willing to permanently increase the health transfer moving forward. That would answer a perennial demand by premiers, who argue Ottawa’s share of health-care spending is well below what it promised to pay when the public health-care system was first implemented decades ago.
WATCH: Minister of health outlines Ottawa’s strategy to reduce backlogs on CBC’s Power & Politics
The premiers say they want the federal share of health-care costs increased from 22 per cent to 35 per cent. Duclos did not say how much more money provinces can expect to receive but he acknowledged the government must do more to help a system on the ropes after years of the pandemic and chronic under-funding.
“While today’s announcement is great news, we know that much more needs to be done,” Duclos said. “We need to acknowledge that if we do not act quickly and decisively, the long-term survival of the universal and public health system Canadians cherish is at risk.”
As Ottawa and the provinces prepare to start negotiations on an increased health transfer, Duclos laid out Friday the federal government’s top five priorities for the system: an end to backlogs and many more health-care workers, improved access to primary care, a better system of long-term care and home care for seniors, more resources for mental health and substance abuse and a renewed push to digitize health data and facilitate more virtual care.
The federal government may eventually require the provinces to spend any new money on these priority areas — something this Liberal government has done in the past with agreements on mental health and home care. The premiers have said repeatedly they want “long-term unconditional funding.”
Duclos said Canadians aren’t interested in a protracted battle or “fiscal or financial fight” between Ottawa and the provinces over money and jurisdiction.
“Patients waiting for surgery and families hoping to gain access to family health services want results. They want care. Canadians aren’t interested in a sterile fiscal debate,” Duclos said.