N.S. Premier Tim Houston calls on Trudeau to meet to discuss health-care funding

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston, wearing a Team Canada sweater on the day of the world junior hockey tournament's gold medal game Thursday, is calling on the prime minister to meet with the premiers to discuss health-care funding. (CBC - image credit)
Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston, wearing a Team Canada sweater on the day of the world junior hockey tournament's gold medal game Thursday, is calling on the prime minister to meet with the premiers to discuss health-care funding. (CBC - image credit)

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's concerns about how provinces would use increased federal funding for health care are unfounded and it's time for him to meet with the premiers.

Houston was responding to comments Trudeau made late last month when the prime minister said simply giving the provinces more money without conditions to ensure improved performance will not solve chronic problems plaguing hospitals and doctors' offices across the country.

"It's a bit of a political [tactic], I believe, and I hope we can get past that," Houston told reporters in Halifax on Thursday following his government's first cabinet meeting of 2023.

"It's a new year. I mean, certainly in this province we've demonstrated we're going to invest in health care. We've been very clear about that."

System in trouble across the country

So clear, in fact, that Houston and his Progressive Conservative colleagues were elected on a singular promise to fix health care. Despite a series of announcements aimed at boosting recruitment of medical staff and plans to build new health-care facilities, the province's system is buckling.

Houston said there's nothing unique about what's happening in Nova Scotia when it comes to health care.

"Across the country, our medicare system is in trouble," he said.

"The system is in trouble and it needs real leadership and that leadership can come from the federal government but it can't come unless they meet with the premiers and talk about it."

Houston and his premier colleagues continue to call for a meeting with Trudeau to discuss the situation. The premiers want an increase in the federal share of health care costs from 22 per cent, where it stands now, to 35 per cent.

Not looking for a side deal

Previously, such calls failed to achieve a Canada-wide deal and provinces negotiated side deals that involved targeted funding based on their respective needs. The former Nova Scotia Liberal government struck such a deal in 2016 that focused on home care and mental health services.

Houston said Thursday that he's not looking to break away from his provincial colleagues.

"I'm united with my fellow premiers on making sure that the federal government does their fair share and I haven't veered from that," he said.

"The prime minister has been reluctant to meet with the premiers, but, I mean, I'm not sure why.... We have to meet. We have to talk about these things."

Opposition leaders want improvements

Liberal Leader Zach Churchill, who was part of the Liberal government that negotiated the 2016 side deal with Ottawa, said there could be value in Houston exploring that option with the feds.

Churchill noted that federal funding is based on a per-capita formula, one that doesn't take into consideration the fact Nova Scotia has an older, sicker population than many of the other provinces.

"Nova Scotia's needs are pretty unique and actually run contrary to what some of the other motivations would be for other provinces," he told reporters.

NDP Leader Claudia Chender said she's less concerned about how Ottawa and Nova Scotia reach an arrangement as long as it meets the province's needs.

"I think the reality is the Liberal approach didn't get us anywhere," she said.

"We need things to improve and we rely on the government of the day to make that happen. However they need to do that with Ottawa, as long as we see results I think, you know, we would be open to endorsing that."

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