Ottawa agreed to Ontario’s request for a five-year review of the health deal

Ottawa agreed to Ontario’s request for a five-year review of the health deal

Ontario Premier Doug Ford listens to members of the media during a press conference in Ottawa, on Feb. 7, 2023.Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press

The federal government has agreed to Ontario’s request for a five-year review of the new health care agreement, as Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc praised Premier Doug Ford for helping to broker the deal with other provincial and territorial leaders.

Ottawa says it will review both the current bilateral health care agreements on areas such as home care, mental health and long-term care, as well as the new 10-year $46.2-billion deal that the premiers accepted earlier this week.

While the federal government’s offer fell far short of what the provinces and territories had asked for, the premiers agreed on Monday to accept the offer and begin the work to strike $25-billion bilateral deals with Ottawa.

Mr. Ford has been pushing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government for more certainty and stability in the new health care agreement, arguing that premiers need funding assurances beyond the 10-year timeline.

“I believe that we will swiftly come to an agreement to ensure that our health care system can meet the needs of Ontarians both now and into the future. All Canadians, including the people of Ontario, are counting on us to get this done,” the Ontario Premier wrote to Mr. Trudeau on Wednesday.

In a letter sent in return to provincial and territorial health ministers on Wednesday, federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said Ottawa will heed Ontario’s request to formally review the current bilateral health care agreements on home and community care, mental health and substance abuse and long -term care that is set to expire on March 31, 2027. The review will be done in 2026 by a joint committee of health and finance officials.

Mr. Duclos said Ottawa will also engage in a formal midway review of the new health care plan, including bilateral deals and increases to the Canada Health Transfer, beginning on March 31, 2027, and ending by the end of December, 2027. The review will consider results on family health services, health workers and backlogs, mental health and substance use and health system modernization, Mr. Duclos said. It will also assess public reporting and sharing of depersonalized health information.

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson, who chairs the Council of the Federation, said in a letter sent Thursday to Mr. Trudeau that premiers were concerned about a “fiscal cliff” of uncertainty after agreements expired and echoed Mr. Ford’s calls for a review. She also said that any new health care delivery data-sharing measures “will ensure the protection of personal health information.”

In an interview, Mr. LeBlanc said it was Mr. Ford who “drove that conversation” on ensuring the agreements are reviewed every five years as a way to reassure provincial governments, as well as patients and health care workers, that the deal would be long-term.

“From the very beginning, Premier Ford has been constructive around these health care discussions,” Mr. LeBlanc said.

“It’s helpful for us when the Premier of the biggest jurisdiction, Ontario, is able to work with us to get a consensus among other premiers.”

Mr. LeBlanc said Mr. Ford has been “a very reliable partner” with Mr. Trudeau’s government on everything from COVID-19 policy to dealing with the protests against vaccine mandates in Ottawa and Windsor, as well as large economic files such as sustainable jobs and investments in critical minerals.

“He and I became friends a few years ago, and have a positive, cheerful, collaborative relationship,” Mr. LeBlanc said, noting he spent a night in Toronto at the Premier’s house, smoking cigars. “It doesn’t mean that we agree with the Ontario government or any provincial government on everything.”

Mr. LeBlanc and Mr. Duclos have been traveling the country to meet with premiers to discuss the bilateral deals, and have been making “great progress,” the Intergovernmental Affairs Minister said. The two first met with Mr. Ford last week at Queen’s Park and also with Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe on Thursday, and hoped to conclude the meetings with the remaining premiers by next week.

“Our hope is that in the coming weeks we quickly have agreements in principle on action plans and on outcomes on the bilateral part. And then provinces are anxious to have access to this money in the next financial year, which starts in less than two months,” Mr. LeBlanc said.

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