Battle lines drawn for first ministers’ meeting on health care

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Premiers

OTTAWA — Premiers aren’t expecting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to agree immediately to their demand for at least $28 billion more each year for health care.

First ministers are scheduled to meet via conference call Thursday — a long-awaited meeting that was supposed to be devoted to the premiers’ unanimous call for a big increase in the annual federal transfer to provinces and territories for health care.

But the chair of the premiers’ council, Quebec’s François Legault, says he doesn’t expect one meeting will resolve the issue.

New Brunswick’s Blaine Higgs agrees and says he’s hoping they can at least agree to a schedule for future discussions.

While the premiers want to talk solely about the annual health transfer, Trudeau has been clear he also wants to talk about the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines and the provinces’ immediate needs to combat the pandemic.

The federal government this year will transfer to the provinces nearly $42 billion for health care, under an arrangement that sees the transfer increase by at least three per cent each year.

But the premiers say that amounts to only 22 per cent of the actual cost of delivering health care and doesn’t keep pace with yearly cost increases of about six per cent.

They want Ottawa to increase its share to 35 per cent and maintain it at that level, which would mean an added $28 billion this year, rising by roughly another $4 billion in each subsequent year.