I guess we’ve all learned our lesson by now—some pretty unpleasant things lurk in the dark corners of Harper government budget statements and omnibus bills. But few such nasty discoveries could rival one found on page 270 of Jim Flaherty’s budget this year—a plan to dismantle Canadian universal health care.
One of the key aspects of universal health care in this country is national standards, which in plain language means you get access to the same quality of basic medical services no matter where you happen to live in Canada. Although health services are under provincial/territorial jurisdiction, national standards are enforced by the federal government by means of the Canada Health Transfer (CHT). These are funds that are provided to the provinces and territories on condition that these standards are met.
Our health care system is part of what makes us Canadian. According to Health Canada, “the principles governing our health care system are symbols of the underlying Canadian values of equity and solidarity.”
But all that is going to change.
To pay for the rising costs of health case, the federal government has been adding 6% a year to its CHT payments, based upon a formula that provides more to the poorer provinces and territories. But, as long ago as 2011, Finance Minister Flaherty told a group of premiers that the current funding method would be replaced by one that tied funding to the rate of economic growth plus inflation—a likely 2% drop in CHT support, estimated to be a $36 billion cut over the next decade. He was warned then about the effects of this move, but chose not to listen. And now, as revealed in the 2014 budget, funding will also be placed on a simple per capita basis.
Again in plain language, this means that the provinces and territories will be hit by a double whammy in 2017: when the economy is slow, which tends to be tied to rising health problems, health funds will be cut; and the poorer provinces and territories where, with their scattered and remote populations, delivery of health services are more expensive, will effectively face further cuts. Provinces with a higher proportion of seniors, whose health needs are greater, will likewise be affected.
Meanwhile, under the new per capita rule, Ontario will receive a 3.4% increase rather than a 6% one in 2014-15. Alberta, on the other hand, will be getting a whopping 38% increase—more than half of the new CHT amount.
Bye-bye national standards. The new funding formula will make them impossible to maintain. How long before the Health Canada website drops that pesky reference to Canadian values?