It was like a really bad reality TV show, yet the First Ministers? Health conference ended with some measure of success only because the premiers stole the show from befuddled host Paul Martin.
Broadcast live from Ottawa, the healthcare meeting ended after midnight last Wednesday with an agreement signed by the federal government and all of the provinces and territories. It?s not the ?fix for a generation? that the Prime Minister grandly promised, but the federal-provincial healthcare deal will provide for a decent level of financing needed to sustain the system for the next ten years.
The federal funding commitment the premier?s extracted from the Prime Minister is almost identical to the levels proposed by the Conservative Party in our election platform ? and double what the Liberals had offered. The health care accord included $18-billion in new funding for the provinces over six years and benchmarks and targets for wait times.
Wisely, the premiers refused to accept Mr. Martin?s insistence during the election campaign that Canada?s fiscal situation didn?t allow for more federal money for healthcare. The provinces also knew that the Martin government had come to the table ill-prepared.
There wasn?t the usual exchange of documents and bureaucratic consultations that normally precede these federal-provincial meetings and the premiers took advantage of the Prime Minister?s mistaken belief that the conference would be little more than a photo-op acceptance of his insufficient financing offer.
It?s certainly admirable to try and conduct business in front of the Canadian public. Yet in reality, when it concerns an issue requiring tough negotiations, you aren?t going to accomplish much when the participants are naturally unable to stop themselves from posturing in front the cameras! In the end, the healthcare deal was negotiated out of the range of the cameras and microphones.
As I?ve stated previously, as we head into this opening of a new minority Parliament, I want to remain as positive as possible. I don?t want to be overly critical of what the government is or isn?t doing. However, it is my job as a member of Canada?s official opposition to critique government initiatives and policy, and this healthcare agreement is no different.
Yes, the Conservative Party supports this deal and we?re especially pleased it respects the provinces? jurisdiction over healthcare and allows them to opt out with compensation. However, it actually delays initiatives that allow Canadians to clearly evaluate their province?s performance on healthcare delivery ? and hold them accountable for it.
Furthermore, Canadians must remain vigilant and ensure that the Martin government doesn?t try to cut provincial transfers in other areas, such as equalization or the Canada Social Transfer, in order to come up with the additional funds.
Will this deal shorten waiting lists for cancer care, diagnostic imaging and joint surgery? Will this money trickle down to our communities and our hospitals? That remains to be seen. We should remember that while this additional healthcare money will help in the short-term, we simply cannot buy our way out of the need to fundamentally improve the way the system works.