Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was in Halifax on Monday promising $6 billion in new health-care spending if re-elected to be used to hire thousands of doctors and reduce wait times.
Trudeau’s health-care announcement comes in the wake of Nova Scotia’s recent election that saw the Progressive Conservatives topple the incumbent Liberal government by betting big on health care. Aware of this, Trudeau was quick to use the promise of expanded health-care funding to draw a distinction between himself and Erin O’Toole’s Conservative Party.
“We’ve transferred billions of dollars over the last few months to the provinces in order to help with the pandemic, and I fully agree with provinces that we have to increase health transfers,” Trudeau said. The $6 billion will be used “to reduce the backlog that has accumulated both during this pandemic and was already accumulating before,” he said.
The Liberals are promising the money would also be used to expand virtual health care, and promote health professionals going to remote and rural areas by forgiving more student loans. Right now, there are nearly five million Canadians without a family doctor, and 3.2 per cent of Canadians were waiting for treatment in 2020, the Liberals say.
Of the money promised Monday, $3.2 billion over four years would be used to hire 7,500 doctors, nurses, and nurse practitioners. Over that same period, the Liberals are also promising $400 million more for virtual care.
The Liberal Party also says additional money could be available for digital infrastructure, and that the added virtual care funding is in addition to the approximate $240 million Ottawa announced during the pandemic.
“This announcement doubles down on the Liberal Party’s commitment to public universal health care at the same time we’ve seen Erin O’Toole double down on his belief in the private for-profit system,” Trudeau said.
The NDP, meanwhile, is criticizing the Liberals for recycling an old promise, given that a $6-billion commitment for health spending is included in the Liberal’s 2019 platform.
“Justin Trudeau says the right thing about access to doctors, but his record shows that he has no intention of following through,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said in a statement. “People who don’t have access to doctors can’t afford Justin Trudeau’s empty promises anymore.”
In 2019, the Liberal Party promised, if elected, it would ensure every Canadian would have access to a family doctor, mental health services, and that it would implement a universal pharmacare program.
Ahead of the 2019 election, Trudeau’s government acknowledged Canada is the only country in the world that provides universal health care, but not universal coverage for prescription drugs.
Before that election, a report was drafted by Health Canada recommending principles to guide a national pharmacare plan, create a new drug agency, and develop a national strategy for expensive drugs for rare diseases, among others.
The Conservative Party did not immediately return a request for comment.
John Woodside, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada's National Observer