Manitoba sole holdout after 3 provinces strike health-care deals

Quebec, Ontario and Alberta reached health funding agreements with the federal government on Friday, leaving Manitoba as the only remaining provincial holdout.

"I suspect we will be hearing soon from Manitoba. No doubt people of Manitoba are keen to have additional resources for these particular areas," federal Health Minister Jane Philpott told reporters on Friday.

While Premier Brian Pallister has yet to comment, Manitoba NDP MP Daniel Blaikie said the province has been put in a position of being the lone holdout, saying the Liberals had promised to include everyone in a national health accord. Side deals are a far cry from that accord, he added.

The federal government initially pledged $11.5 billion for the provinces to boost targeted spending on home care and mental health. The deal also included a Canada Health Transfer spending increase of 3.5 per cent each year over the next five years — worth roughly $20 billion — but the provinces turned it down, initially showing a united front.

The deal was taken off the table, meaning the key federal transfer would revert to three per cent a year as of April 1 if provinces didn't make a separate deal.

Manitoba health minister a vocal critic

Manitoba Health Minister Kevin Goertzen was one of the most vocal critics of the deal, calling it a "take-it-or-leave-it approach." Goertzen told CBC News in December that while home care and mental health are concerns in Manitoba, health-care spending choices should be left up to the provinces themselves.

Goertzen called the federal government's signing of bilateral health-funding deals with select provinces "shameful" and a threat to universal Canadian health care after Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador,and New Brunswick signed deals at the end of 2016.

"The federal government is taking a unilateral approach to health funding and attempting to divide provinces while using Canadians as bargaining chips. That is shameful," he said at the time.

Nunavut, Yukon and the Northwest Territories made their own agreement with Ottawa soon after.

The early deals included clauses that would allow the provinces to get better financial terms if any other province or territory received a more attractive deal from the federal government.

Saskatchewan reached an agreement in January and British Columbia made one a month later.

Following those deals, Pallister said despite other provinces "being picked off one at a time with this federal approach," Manitoba was not yet in talks for a health funding deal.

Pallister reached out to prime minister

At the start of March, Pallister sent a letter to the prime minister in order to "make the best of a bad situation."

In the March 1 letter, obtained by CBC News, Pallister focused on two main issues he wanted addressed before signing a deal: the disparity of health care between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Manitobans, and funding for diabetes.

The province asked Ottawa to invest $6 million per year over 10 years to address chronic kidney disease.

In an interview with CBC News on March 1, Pallister said he'd like to see "some help and partnership.

"There hasn't been a negotiation. Premiers have been asking for a meeting with the prime minister for two years and there hasn't been a meeting," he said.