Legault: “We don't understand why Mr. Trudeau doesn't want to find us”
Quebec Premier François Legault (POOL photo)
“Where did love go?” between Ottawa and the provinces, launched John Horgan during the closing press conference of the Council of the Federation which he chaired, this Tuesday.
Alongside his 12 counterparts gathered in Victoria for the occasion, the Prime Minister of British Columbia implored Justin Trudeau to come “sit at the table” of the negotiations. With one voice, the ministers repeated their demand to see federal health transfers increase from 22% to 35%.
“All 13 of us are saying the same thing: we can no longer fund 78% of health spending,” added François Legault, Premier of Quebec.
“We ask to meet directly with the Prime Minister. We don't want him to delegate that to the Minister of Health. We need to meet. [Health] Health is Canada's main problem, we do not understand why Mr. Trudeau does not want to find us, “he said, stressing that he found it insulting to send the Leblanc ministers or Duclos in his place.
According to John Horgan, several meeting requests from him have remained a dead letter with Ottawa. “The Prime Minister was committed to asking his ministers to meet with a diverse group of prime ministers. […] It was 8 months ago. We started with a meeting in January where we reaffirmed the importance of having an in-person meeting. Afterwards, nothing more”, he regretted.
Doug Ford, the (newly re-elected) Premier of Ontario, pointed out that it was “insulting to the Canadian population and the first 13” to communicate through the media. He may have been referring to federal Minister Duclos, who said in an interview today that Ottawa has worked alongside the provinces to support the health care system during the pandemic.
At the end of their meeting, the Premiers indicated in a press release that increased recurrent funding from the federal government would make it possible to respond to long-term problems, “particularly in the areas of human resources, long-term care, home care, mental health and addictions, pharmaceuticals, primary care, and physical and digital infrastructure.”
In addition to the development of infrastructures and new health technologies, one of the concrete solutions on which the 13 Premiers agreed is labor mobility.
“We would like the skills of people trained abroad to be recognized. What we need to do is get […] a national human resources strategy,” said John Horgan. According to the Council of the Federation, the hiring of health personnel is an absolute emergency that is only possible if Ottawa’s stronger investment in provincial health systems.
The ministers reaffirmed that the competence for health was indeed theirs. And Doug Ford called the federal government “deceitful” when it “comes to give [the provinces] ideas on how [they] should [they] manage [their] health department”.
Criticized by Minister Leblanc on the $500 check to Quebecers, Legault replied that it was indeed a non-recurring expense. “I don’t know if he does it on purpose or if he doesn’t understand, but there is a difference between non-recurring amounts and funding to hire labor.”
The provinces do not want lessons on how they manage the money received from the federal government. John Horgan sent a clear message to Ottawa along these lines: “We are accountable to those we represent. The federal government is not superior, is not better, it is an equal government. We won’t take any lessons on probity.
Economics on the menu
Inflation and immigration were among the topics discussed during these two days of the Council of the Federation.
Doug Ford felt it would be relevant to give more powers in immigration to the provinces, in particular to respond to the labor shortage affecting Canada.
“Do the security checks, health checks, but leave the paperwork to us. It takes 26 months to three years to bring people to our country, it is unacceptable,” he said.
There would be nearly 378,000 jobs to be filled across the country. “If we don't meet [them], someone else in the world will,” he commented.
Premiers agreed to strengthen free trade between the provinces. This would involve, for example, a simplified recognition of prior learning and skills for citizens who change province or territory.
Among other measures aimed at strengthening Canada’s infrastructure, “the first ministers are also asking the federal government to work with the provinces and territories to increase the capacity of ports and to simplify the processes related to the replacement of port facilities”, they announced in a joint press release.