Ontario Premier Doug Ford's top priority at Monday's meeting of provincial and territorial leaders is to push the federal government to boost its annual health care transfers to the provinces — and there are signs the Liberals are open to discussing it.
Ford is expected to rally premiers to again call on Ottawa to increase the health care escalator — the annual increase to the health-care transfer — to 5.2 per cent from the current three per cent.
"We agreed in Saskatchewan at the COF (Council of the Federation) meeting that we need an increase to 5.2 per cent. I don't think any province in the country can go it alone when it comes to health care and ending hallway health care," Ford said Thursday.
"We are going to need their support. I mentioned it to the PM. He fully understands the situation."
A senior federal government official said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is open to ideas and is looking forward to seeing what comes out of Monday's meeting on health care, which comes ahead of a First Ministers meeting with the PM planned for the New Year.
Canada's 13 provincial and territorial leaders will gather in Toronto tomorrow for a working dinner, followed by an official meeting on Monday.
Premiers have asked for a more generous health transfer in the past, of course. They made the same request at a meeting of provincial and territorial leaders in Saskatoon last July; the final communique from that meeting said that "federal transfers are not sufficient to support the additional care needs of Canada's aging population."
While the premiers seem to be uncertain about how a national pharmacare program might move forward, they agree on the need to advance discussions. Thursday's throne speech could offer more details.
Newfoundland pitches a pharmacare pilot
After a face-to-face meeting with Trudeau in Ottawa Tuesday, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball said his province would be open to being the first province to pilot a national pharmacare program.
"I think this is an opportunity for us as Canadians, and ... if they're looking for a pilot and if they are looking for a province to start ... to run options on pharmacare, certainly in Newfoundland and Labrador we're willing to explore those options with the federal government," Ball said.
The Liberal campaign platform pledged $6 billion over four years in new health spending, which included funding to boost the number of doctors, move toward a pharmacare program and improve mental health services.
Trudeau and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland have been holding one-on-one meetings with the premiers since the October 21 election, when the Liberals returned with a minority government.
The premiers also are expected to discuss climate change, pipelines and ways to heal the regional divisions that were exposed in the recent election.