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

Part 2: Online shopping, taxes and labour pressure on Rupert’s retail

Part Two of a series investigating the shrinking retail sector on the North Coast of B.C.

Fire crews put out basement fire on 6th Avenue East

Prince Rupert fire chief said the fire is not being considered suspicious

Northern Savings buys old Dairy Queen building

Old Prince Rupert DQ building has been vacant in since the 1990s

VIDEO: This is what buying legal pot in B.C. looks like

Take a look inside B.C.’s first and only legal pot shop located in Kamloops

Commercial diver from Prince Rupert drowns in Hecate Strait

WorkSafeBC and BC Coroners Service are investigating the diving incident south of Dewdney Island

This Week Pocast – Episode 107

Rainbow Nation’s host Russel Adams joins the show to talk about elections, cannabis and Halloween

Delivering the paper as a family

The Northern View is looking for newspaper carriers in Prince Rupert, join our team today

Proportional representation grows government, B.C. study finds

Spending, deficits higher in countries where voting system used

Black market will thrive until small pot growers and sellers included: advocates

Advocates say the black market will continue to thrive until small retail shops and craft growers are included in the regime.

Goodbye cable, hello Netflix: 1/3 of Canadians cut the cord

Just under half of households no longer have a landline phone

‘Some baloney’ in assertion Canada’s pension fund has highest ethical standards

The Canadian Press Baloney Meter is a dispassionate examination of political statements culminating in a ranking of accuracy on a scale of “no baloney” to “full of baloney”.

In Mexico Beach after Hurricane Michael, some coming home find no home

State emergency management officials said some 124,500 customers across the Panhandle were still without power Wednesday morning and 1,157 remained in shelters.

Man linked to Saudi prince at consulate when writer vanished

Saudi Arabia, which initially called the allegations “baseless,” has not responded to repeated requests for comment from The Associated Press over recent days.

Manhunt in Crimea for possible accomplice in school attack

An 18-year-old student, who later killed himself, was initially believed to be the only one involved

Most Read