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'A step in the right direction': Manitoba premier optimistic heading into Trudeau health-care meeting

Premier Heather Stefanson at a news conference in Ottawa Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. Premier Heather Stefanson at a news conference in Ottawa Monday, Feb. 6, 2023.
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WINNIPEG -

As Canada's 13 premiers get ready to sit down with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday to discuss a new health-care funding deal, Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson said she is hopeful a deal can be made.

The meeting, taking place in Ottawa, Ont., is set to focus on long-term funding deals that will see billions of additional dollars put into health-care systems across the country.

"I know as premiers, we are looking forward to seeing that proposal for the first time tomorrow," said Stefanson.

Both sides are optimistic a deal will emerge, but questions remain around how much more money Ottawa is willing to put on the table, and how much accountability the provinces are willing to put up in return. 

This year, Canada is expected to transfer almost $88 billion to the provinces for various needs, including the Canada Health Transfer (CHT), which totals $45.2 billion.

Collectively in their 2022-23 budgets, the provinces are forecast to spend $203.7 billion on health care. Ottawa's transfer accounts for 22 per cent of that, something the provinces want to see increased to 35 per cent, which would mean $26 billion more this year alone.

Stefanson, like Trudeau, said it's clear a deal won't be finished this week.

"We don't have a lot of time for our meeting tomorrow, so I think it will be difficult to get really into the weeds of what that proposal looks like for our jurisdictions, but I think tomorrow is a step in the right direction to be able to sit down and have that conversation," she said.

Despite not being ready to sign an agreement on Tuesday, Stefanson said she'd like a deal as soon as possible.

"Obviously, we've been going through this for two to three years now," she said. "We know there is a federal budget coming up, and we want to ensure that those dollars are within that federal budget. I think we want something sooner rather than later."

Manitoba's premier noted she hasn't seen the federal government's proposal yet, adding it would have been nice to get a copy ahead of the meeting.

"I am concerned we haven't seen a proposal yet, and we are sitting down tomorrow to have those discussions," said Stefanson. "If we had it ahead of time, we could have had probably a more fulsome discussion."

The timing of the first ministers' meeting comes as many challenges put a strain on the health-care system.

"We know that there are many areas we are all facing across the country. Health human resources is a very significant challenge, surgical and diagnostic backlogs, mental health, addictions challenges, and the list goes on," said Stefanson.

Stefanson hopes the deal that is signed will be a long-term one.

"My concern with some of the bilateral agreements is, you come to a certain point, and there's that fiscal cliff at the end after that agreement ends, so I think what Canadians are looking for is that long-term, predictable funding model to continue in the country and to make sure it's sustainable in the future."

- With files from CTV’s Vassy Kapelos, Mike Le Couteur and The Canadian Press

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