The Health and Social Services budget is the largest in the GNWT at $414 million for this fiscal year and – incredibly – it’s not enough to meet existing and future health needs. The NWT health and social services budget has been growing at an average of four per cent a year since 2011-2012. It’s a sad fact that it’s probably never going to be enough. And the new health care funding deal announced Tuesday isn’t going to make a huge difference to the bottom line.
Canada transfers health funding to provinces and territories calculated on a per capita basis. That’s an automatic disadvantage for northerners. Canada had been increasing the health transfer at a rate of six per cent a year but that rate ends March 31. Thanks to a decision by the previous federal government, beginning April 1, the Canada Health Transfer is going to drop to three per cent. Despite walking out of talks in December, saying Ottawa wasn’t offering enough, Premier Bob McLeod has now settled for a three per cent annual increase for the next ten years. That’s half of what we get today
Ottawa is offering some extras, but they are not going to make up the shortfall. There is $7.4 million targeted to health care infrastructure, and $6.1 million for mental health initiatives for youth. These amounts are totals for ten years. McLeod told CBC that there is going to be additional money for medical travel and innovation, extending a current bilateral agreement, but didn’t provide any other details.
In December, the Premier signaled a need for more cuts to keep up with spending. “I guess a decision will have to be made whether we take the money from other programs to pay for health care,” he told Yellowknifer. Where do we stand now? The premier hasn’t said, but there’s obviously going to be a need to find money for the forced growth in the health and social services budget from others sources, whether making cuts or increasing revenue. Anxious northerners want to know.
Health care is a hot button issue with voters, and rightly so. But as of today, the Premier hasn’t spoken to regular MLAs or local media about the new health deal. The GNWT hasn’t even issued a media release of its own on the deal. Contrast this approach to the hoopla that accompanied the announced federal funding for the road to Whati last week. Is the Premier not proud of deciding to walk back his commitment to negotiate with his colleagues on a national health deal rather than participate in a bilateral agreement? Is he not proud of the money he’s bringing to the territories for health care?
McLeod told CBC’s Power and Politics of the negotiations with Ottawa that “we got what we wanted and needed.” If that’s the case, Premier, tell us now how this health care deal is going to accomplish those goals because the math that’s public now doesn’t add up.