Canada’s premiers map out demands ahead of next week’s speech from the throne

Canada’s premiers are meeting in Ottawa today to map out their demands ahead of next week’s throne speech — demands that include more money to cover ballooning health care costs.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Quebec Premier François Legault — the incoming chair of the Council of the Federation — will meet in person, with other premiers joining virtually.

Ford’s office said Ontario is asking the federal government to cover 35 per cent of total health care costs through the Canada Health Transfer, up from the current 22 per cent.

Ford’s office said the premier also wants the federal government to deploy stricter enforcement of travel restrictions at borders and enhanced testing.

“Premier Ford is in Ottawa to join his fellow Premiers ahead of the throne speech to press the federal government on critical priorities for the people of Ontario, including strengthening frontline health care, helping people and businesses get back on their feet, and moving shovel-ready infrastructure projects forward,” said his spokesperson Ivana Yelich in an email.

Ford and Legault met in Mississauga, Ont., last week to discuss economic recovery and health preparedness as the number of active COVID-19 cases rises in parts of the country.

The federal government is providing $19 billion to the provinces to help ease the financial burden of the pandemic; about $10 billion of that sum is for health-related expenses.

But Ford and Legault said more long-term funding is needed to address critical health care issues that predate the pandemic, such as the increasing cost of new medical technologies and drugs and an aging population.

The federal government will transfer almost $42 billion to provinces and territories for health care this fiscal year under an arrangement that increases the transfer by at least three per cent each year.

Legault has said that the federal contribution is well below the 50 per cent share originally agreed upon decades ago.

Pallister’s office said the Manitoba premier is focused exclusively on health care and wants to pressure the federal government to “resume their rightful role as a true funding partner” to shorten wait times and improve health care.

“Never has the demand been greater, and never has the federal support been lower,” reads a statement from his office. 

Before the premiers’ meeting, Ford sat down with Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and the city’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Vera Etches.

The provincial government has imposed stricter rules on gatherings in the Ottawa, Toronto and Peel regions after their COVID-19 infections spiked.