TORONTO – The federal Conservatives have betrayed Canada’s most populous province by breaking their promise over health-care funding, Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews charged Tuesday.
The Harper Tories promised all provinces a six per cent increase in health transfers, but they’re only giving Ontario 3.4 per cent in 2014-15, she said.
That means Ontario is out $300 million, while Alberta is getting about $1 billion more — a 38 per cent increase, Matthews said.
“I think it’s outrageous,” she said during a visit to a Toronto eye surgery clinic.
“I think it’s bad policy. We count on that money. We had counted on that money to continue to improve access to care in this province.”
She said it’s a devastating blow to Ontario, which is grappling with rising health-care costs as its population ages.
The $300 million that Ottawa is shortchanging Ontario is more than the province’s increase in home care and other services for seniors this year, she said.
“It’s less money to reduce wait times, it’s less money to hire nurses, it’s less time to provide Ontario families and particularly Ontario seniors with the care that they need,” Matthew said.
The governing Liberals have made an effort to cut costs, but it appears the Harper Tories are balancing their budget on the backs of Ontario patients, she said.
The federal New Democrats say Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is using the oldest trick in the book.
“To download to the provinces and to take care of your own health at the expense of somebody else, and that’s what they’re doing,” said NDP health critic Libby Davies.
“But I don’t think it works because what he’s doing is betraying the trust of the premiers and it means his word doesn’t count for anything.”
Flaherty was unavailable for comment Tuesday, but a spokeswoman said health transfers are rising.
“Not only are health transfers continuing to grow, but Ontario’s health transfers are at a record high,” spokeswoman Marie Prentice wrote in an email.
“In fact, in 2014-15 Ontario will receive over $12 billion in heath transfers, almost a 60 per cent increase from under the previous federal Liberal government.”
The province’s share of federal health dollars will increase from $11.9 billion this year to $12.3 billion next year.
Ontario allocates about $49 billion a year on health care, the highest area of spending in its $127.6-billion budget.
Matthews said costs have risen by six to seven per cent annually in recent years, but the government has managed to hold it at 2.1 per cent this year.
In 2011, Flaherty said the Canada Health Transfer to the provinces and territories would grow by six per cent a year until 2017-18.
After 2017-18, health transfers will be tied to the rate of economic growth and inflation, but the government said it won’t let it fall below three per cent a year.
Ontario, which is facing a nearly $12-billion deficit, is the only province that will see fewer federal dollars next year, with total transfer payments shrinking by $641 million to $19.1 billion.
By contrast, the country’s second largest province, Quebec, will receive a $1.78 billion increase in transfer payments.
The decrease for Ontario comes from equalization payments, which will drop from $3.1 billion this year to almost $2 billion next year, according to Flaherty’s office.