Conservative finance minister Jim Flaherty announces new formula for federal health transfers at finance ministers' meeting in Victoria

A brief history of health spending

Federal health transfers continue to increase by six per cent a year, an unsustainable level currently three times the inflation rate

The federal budget document began with an ominous warning about deep cuts. Social programs, justice and corrections would be spared as much as possible, but no department would escape the knife.

The stark truth was revealed in a table of figures. Health care spending, the core of the Canadian state, was cut by 3.8 per cent in just the first year of the fiscal plan, as population and need continued to grow.

No, this is not from the Stephen Harper budget of April 2015, or any other in the last decade. It’s from the Jean Chretien budget of 1995, more than 20 years ago. That’s the last time anyone actually cut health care spending.

But wait, you may say. Didn’t I hear that Harper has slashed health care spending by $30 billion? Yes, you probably did hear the biggest, most brazen lie of this election campaign, either from the government unions that advertised it or the politicians who parrot it.

If health care really is everyone’s high-priority issue, as pollsters have long assured us, voters should at least know the facts.

After cutting provincial health and social services transfers for years to end the string of operating deficits that began under Pierre Trudeau and continued under Brian Mulroney, Liberal finance minister Paul Martin rose briefly to the top job.

In 2004, Martin staged meetings with premiers, emerging with what was billed as “a fix for a generation,” with federal health transfers to rise six per cent each year into the future.

The future for Martin’s government lasted only two years, as his minority was replaced with one led by Harper.

These galloping increases continued until the Conservative majority of 2011, after which then-finance minister Jim Flaherty came to Victoria to inform provincial finance ministers of the new plan. (I was there, and the joke was that this was as far from Ottawa as Flaherty could get without leaving Canada.)

The six-per-cent increases, by that time triple inflation, would continue for another five years. Starting in 2017-18, increases would be tied to economic growth, with a minimum hike of three per cent, still well ahead of today’s inflation. That remains the Conservative plan today.

All provinces east of Saskatchewan pitched a fit. Manitoba’s NDP finance minister termed it “un-Canadian.” Lefties immediately called it a cut, to which Flaherty replied that transfers to provinces would rise from $30 billion to $38 billion in 2018-19, and continue to grow after that.

In B.C., then-finance minister Kevin Falcon praised the long-term approach, acknowledging that health spending was ballooning to half of the provincial budget and had to be brought under control as baby boomers start to retire. B.C. has largely accomplished that, with spending increases below three per cent and health care outcomes that continue to lead the country.

As the current election campaign turns into the home stretch, Statistics Canada has announced a milestone. For the first time in history, the number of seniors exceeds number of children. This demographic shift is inexorable, predictable and must be addressed by whoever wins the Oct. 19 federal election.

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair is on record that he will scrap the Conservative formula for growth-based increases that he pretends are cuts, returning to six per cent every year while balancing the budget. Little detail has been provided on how this would be done.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau announced in Surrey last week that he will ante up an extra $3 billion over four years for health care, and “sit down with the provinces immediately” to renegotiate, a rerun of Paul Martin’s political theatre.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Just Posted

West Coast fishers see empty seas, demand Pacific Salmon Treaty funding

“Right now, if this continues, I think most fishermen will be bankrupt in a couple of years.”

Ucluelet mayor says pipeline and spill response plan both needed

“We are a society that cannot exist without oil and gas and plastics at this point in time.”

Tofino and Ucluelet host youth soccer tournament

Teams from Port Alberni and Nanaimo travel in for one-day sporting event.

Tofino salmon farmer receives permit to use hydrogen peroxide on sea lice

“Peaceful, direct, action to stop this kind of thing is always a tactic that we could employ.”

VIDEO: Work is play for this B.C. avalanche rescue dog

CARDA certified Joss’s Job is to save lives — but to her, it’s all a game

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

Black Press Media acquires two new Alaska newspapers

New Media Investment Group to acquire the Akron (OH) Beacon Journal while Black Press Media takes on daily newspapers in Juneau and Kenai Alaska

Thieves target B.C. firefighters helping flood victims

The service has been helping with sandbagging efforts, as rural Oliver battles flooding

Housing crisis amplified on Denman Island

High rental prices, density caps, and a shortage of housing stock have led to island-wide struggles

B.C. towns rank in top honeymoon destination worldwide

Vernon, Kaslo, Sunshine Coast and the Island hit Expedia.ca’s list of top 18 honeymoon destinations

Men arrested at Starbucks say they feared for their lives

Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks, becoming viral video

Olympic gold now official for B.C. weightlifter

Christine Girard’s bronze medal from 2012 Olympics upgraded to gold, IOC announces

Did a Canadian shoot down the Red Baron? A century later, debate hasn’t quit

Om April 21, 1918 two Canadians in their canvas-covered Sopwith Camel biplanes engaged the enemy

Most Read