Some Canadian premiers told stories of Canadians caught in personal health care crises today as they pressured the federal government to shoulder a larger share of health care costs.
Québec Premier François Legault, chair of the Council of the Federation, was joined by seven other premiers this afternoon in a virtual conference to repeat the provinces' call for an increase in federal health care funding in the upcoming budget.
The Canada Health Transfer is the federal government's primary contribution to covering the cost of delivering health services in the provinces and territories.
Right now, the provinces spend about $188 billion on health care and the federal government covers $42 billion — roughly 22 per cent of total costs. The premiers have asked for a permanent increase in the federal share to 35 per cent cent, which works out to an additional $28 billion and would bring the total federal share to $70 billion.
The premiers are asking the government to maintain this contribution level over time, with a minimum annual escalator of five per cent.
"It's essential to do so for those who need treatments across the country," said Legault.
"If the federal [government] doesn't increase the transfer, there's a risk provinces and territories won't be able to pay for all the services their populations need. At the end of the day, it's the most vulnerable who will suffer."
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said long wait times are just one sign that the federal transfer urgently needs an injection of cash.
He told a story about meeting a young woman who had to wait for a referral to a specialist after discovering a lump in her breast — only to be told by the specialist that they wished they had caught it sooner.
'I don't need a banker'
"That's the problem on the individual level that we're facing. We're losing people because of our failure to get health care to people sooner and we need to change that," Pallister said.
"When I raised this story — a true story — with the prime minister, he looked across the table at me and said, 'I'm not your banker.'
"I don't need a banker. We don't need a banker. Canadians don't need a banker. We need a partner. We need a partner on health care. This isn't the prime minister's fault, except that he ignores the problem and then it becomes his fault."
WATCH | 'I'm not your banker': Manitoba premier calls out prime minister on health care transfers
Ontario Premier Doug Ford pointed to issues in long term care exposed by the pandemic. New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs raised the case of a 16-year old girl in his province who recently killed herself.
Lexi Daken's parents say she sought help but had to wait eight hours at a hospital emergency room without receiving any mental health intervention, and left the hospital with a referral for followup.
The health transfer was the focus of a meeting between the premiers and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau late last year.
At the time, Trudeau promised to increase health care funding to the provinces — but not before the immediate pressure of the pandemic subsides.
"It's going to be important that the federal government steps up and increases its share of the cost of health care with the Canada Health Transfer," Trudeau said after the December meeting.
"We are going to do that and I look forward to conversations over the coming months about how we can increase it."
Later Thursday, Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic Leblanc said the Liberal government is prepared to make the increased transfers unconditional and recurring.
"If the economic recovery is clear, if COVID-19 ... is looking like it is in the rearview mirror this summer, that would be the time where the government of Canada would be in a position to say to [the provinces and territories], 'This is the amount of money that we are prepared to spend in an ongoing, recurring basis in an unconditional way for health care, for public health care in the provinces,'" Leblanc told CBC's Power & Politics.
Pallister warned that a "post-pandemic pileup" is on the horizon as procedures that were delayed by COVID-19 measures, such as elective surgeries and certain tests, resume.