Opinion: Horgan offers tart reminder to Ottawa about who delivers health care in this country

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VICTORIA — Long lines for service outside walk-in clinics. One in five British Columbians without a family doctor. Stressed out health-care workers from one end of BC to the other.

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Premier John Horgan doesn’t dispute the mounting evidence of a health-care system that’s not working as it should for patients and practitioners alike.

“We are in a health-care crisis,” he conceded to reporters on Thursday. “It’s not just doctors. It’s nurse practitioners. It’s registered nurses. It’s care aides. It’s the continuum of care. We need more social workers. We need more psychologists.

“As we address decades of neglect of mental health issues, we need more health-care professionals to address those challenges.”

When asked what is to be done, Horgan puts one solution before all the others.

“We need more cash from Ottawa. It’s as simple as that,” he told reporters.

“The federal government needs to get in the game right now and put in place the funding formula we’ll need to increase funding over time so that we can have a human resource strategy to bring in more nurse practitioners so that we can alleviate the doctor shortage.”

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Some 100,000 newcomers have moved to BC last year, noted Horgan, and that puts a strain on our health care system.

“As more people come here — more than have come since the 1990s — we’re going to need to build out more services,” said the premier.

“That takes me back to my first order of business, which is to make the case to the prime minister and his team that they can’t continue to pick and choose where they invest in health care.”

Horgan has been calling for more federal funding in his capacity as the chair of the council of the federation, representing the country’s premiers.

“I have been arguing with the federal government that we need a massive infusion of cash from Ottawa for our health-care programs here in Canada,” said Horgan.

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“When the program started it was a 50-50 proposition — the feds put in 50 per cent, the provinces put in 50 per cent. … It’s about 80-20 now with 80 per cent falling to the provinces.”

The BC premier began arguing for a major top up of federal health care funding well before he assumed the chair of the premiers’ council last year.

Back in 2018, Horgan responded to calls for a national pharmacare program by saying Ottawa should “first get back to a more equitable distribution of resources” for existing health care programs.

He takes a similar view toward the recent commitment to a national dental care program.

“Do I think it would be great to have a national dental care plan? Absolutely,” the premier said during an interview on Sunday with Rosemary Barton on CBC Newsworld.

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“But I think we need to start with first principles, and that is stable funding so that we can do the hip replacements, we can have a human resource strategy for our primary care sector.

“Every part of the country is struggling under the weight of not having enough people, whether they’re nurses, nurse practitioners, care aides, doctors.

“We need to address that, not by starting up a new national program, but by focusing on stabilizing the national program that all of us as Canadians are so proud of, and that’s our health-care system.”

Horgan’s view puts him somewhat at odds with the federal leader of the NDP, Jagmeet Singh, who has been trumpeting national dental care as one of the accomplishments of his four-year power-sharing agreement with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

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“I appreciate that Mr. Singh and Mr. Trudeau came to an arrangement between their two caucuses about how they would proceed,” said Horgan.

“I took great comfort in the fact that although they highlighted pharmacare and dental care, they both said that we needed a sustainable funding model going forward for all of the other services that Canadians depend on.”

All the firsts are “of one mind on this,” he continued.

“We know that the federal government wants to work with us. We want to work with them, but we have got to get to the table.”

Trudeau continues to talk about providing sustainable funding for health care, albeit with strings attached so Ottawa can point to results from the increase in funding.

The provinces are skeptical given what happened with the recent federal budget.

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They individually were and collectively refused an advance briefing on the contents.

Only late on budget day did they discover there had been no movement on the sought-after permanent increase in federal transfers for health care.

It is a question of priorities, a theme Horgan returned to when Barton asked if he knew how the national dental care program would work.

“That’s going to take some time to figure out,” he replied. “But we need to make sure that we fully understand the federal government does not deliver services. The provinces do.”

“In order for us to have an effective national dental plan, it’s going to be delivered by provinces. So, we need to sit down and figure out how we’re going to pay for that over the long term.

“This isn’t a jurisdictional squabble,” the BC premier hastened to add, though people would be forgiven for thinking it sounds like one of those perennial standoffs between Ottawa and the provinces.

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