The federal government and New Brunswick have signed an agreement that will see $22 million spent on improving care for residents of the province's long-term care homes.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement during a stop at Dalhousie's Golden Age seniors club on Tuesday afternoon, where he was joined by provincial Social Development Minister Bruce Fitch and federal ministers Dominic LeBlanc and Ginette Petitpas Taylor.
Trudeau acknowledged the challenges that were "laid bare by the pandemic," and the strain endured by health-care staff and long-term care residents.
"We know, especially on staffing side, it has been an incredibly difficult two years as people have been overwhelmed with work," Trudeau said, noting that people have been "stepping up" to help by coming out of retirement or volunteering in their communities.
"But we shouldn't have to rely on the kindness of each other to be able to get through the dark times. We should have strong systems in place."
The bilateral Safe Long-term Care Fund agreement is intended to bolster this system, he said.
The funding will help long-term care homes retain and hire staff, implement infection prevention and control measures, and renovate or upgrade heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, he said.
About $6.7 billion would be spent over four years to "improve the quality and availability of long-term care homes and beds," while $1.8 billion would be spent over four years to raise the wages of personal support workers to at least $25 an hour and train 50,000 more of them.
Social Development Minister Bruce Fitch thanked the Trudeau government for "trying to make life better" for New Brunswickers and the 11,600 residents of its 546 long-term care facilities.
"It's no secret New Brunswick is aging," Fitch said.
The province has a higher proportion of seniors than most Canadian provinces. Fraser Institute data compiled in 2020 showed seniors made up 21.3 per cent of the New Brunswick population, second-highest of all provinces, after Newfoundland and Labrador, at 21.4 per cent
"We want to prepare New Brunswick to better respond to and meet the needs of our seniors … and make sure they receive the care they deserve," Fitch said.
Fitch echoed Trudeau's acknowledgement of the challenges the long-term care system has faced during the pandemic.
"The past two years have been difficult in this sector ... and every time I'm near a mic I want to take the time to say thank you very, very much for all the hard work that the employees have put forward in helping the seniors here in the province of New Brunswick."
Money was originally announced in 2020
The money announced Tuesday is New Brunswick's share of the $1 billion Safe Long-term Care Fund originally announced in the government's fall economic statement a year and a half ago, Trudeau confirmed Tuesday.
"This is an agreement signed out of an announcement made in the fall of 2020," he said. "But, yes, the funding will be flowing now."
When asked, he did not directly say why it has taken so long for the deal to be announced.
"We have over the past number of years made significant investments in care across the country, in investments for seniors in long-term care," he said.
"We also, in the following year's budget, in budget 2021, announced a $3 billion investment for long-term care supports and those are negotiations are underway right now with the provinces.
"And in budget 2022 that just came out a few weeks ago, we have more supports and announcements for seniors."
Last August, Trudeau said a re-elected Liberal government would spend $9 billion to address the dangerous shortfalls in Canada's long-term care sector that were exposed by the pandemic.
Long-term care residents accounted for around 80 per cent of all reported COVID-19 deaths during the first wave of the pandemic and continued to account for a disproportionate share of deaths until vaccines were made widely available.
The Liberal plan also called for the creation of a new safe Long-Term Care Act, which would set national standards of care in a sector that is governed almost entirely by the provinces and territories.
But money for long-term care was one of a number of Liberal campaign promises left out of the 2022-23 federal budget.
It projects just $1 million in new spending on long-term care beyond the 2021-2022 fiscal year.