Ottawa, NB says bilateral health deal will be ready in time for March budget
The federal and New Brunswick governments expect to reach a bilateral agreement for additional healthcare funding in time for the money to be included in next month’s provincial budget.
Federal Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc and Health Secretary Jean-Yves Duclos met Premier Blaine Higgs in Saint John on Wednesday, and all three politicians afterwards said they agreed on funding.
“I think we’re close to reaching an agreement in principle that would allow New Brunswick to plan how they would use these incremental federal dollars,” LeBlanc said.
Higgs said the money will flow in July but the province will be able to include it in the 2023-24 budget, which is due to be presented on March 21.
“We’re going to recognize that in our budget – what that money would fund – and we’re going to have agreements that say exactly where it’s going and what it’s going to be used for.”
The money in question is separate from the extra money New Brunswick will receive from an increase in the Canada Health Transfer that Ottawa offered to the provinces earlier this month.
Higgs put that amount at $200 million.
Wednesday’s discussions focused on the federal offer of one-to-one agreements with individual provinces, tailored to their needs but still required to fall under four categories: family health services, waiting times, mental health and addiction, and modernizing the system.
The bilateral agreement alone will be worth $900 million to New Brunswick over 10 years.
This includes a base amount of $50 million that each province receives each year, regardless of what they are entitled to under a per capita formula.
Higgs pointed to a recently opened private cataract surgery clinic in Bathurst as an example of healthcare innovations that federal funding could expand.
The clinic is privately owned, but Medicare pays for the procedures performed there.
It has reduced the waiting time for cataract surgery in the region by 70 percent, the prime minister said.
“We will do that in other parts of the province and eliminate this waiting list,” he said.
Does not violate health law: Federal Minister
A bill passed by lawmakers in December would allow more surgeries normally performed in hospitals to be performed in private clinics paid for with public funds.
Public sector unions, the federal NDP and the provincial Greens have opposed private clinics and the federal government sending more money to the provinces to license them.
But Duclos suggested on Wednesday he doesn’t think the move from New Brunswick violates the Canada Health Act.
The key principle of the law “is that people are cared for not based on their wallets, but based on their health needs,” he said.
“That’s a principle that is fortunately recognized and understood by everyone, and certainly here in New Brunswick,” he said.
“If that weren’t the case, it would be my job as Federal Minister of Health to ensure that that changes, or that there are consequences if it doesn’t.”
The bilateral funding agreement has a term of 10 years.
LeBlanc and Duclos said they aren’t concerned that New Brunswick is forecasting a huge $862 million surplus this year that it doesn’t want to spend while it seeks more federal funding for next year.
“We haven’t found any jurisdiction that believes or says it can reduce its own spending,” LeBlanc said, thanks to federal dollars.
The federal minister praised Higgs as a “very constructive partner” in health negotiations, noting that he was one of the first prime ministers to champion data sharing as a way of measuring the impact of the new funding.
Other premiers were initially reluctant to agree, but Higgs “has been an ally of our administration in these talks, publicly and privately,” LeBlanc said.