The president of the Canadian Medical Association says the new health funding deal struck between provinces and the federal government represents the biggest nominal injection of cash into Canada’s health system, but that won’t be enough to fix what’s broken.
The association compared the deal with other health agreements over the last two decades and found it to be the largest by a significant margin at about $16 billion in increases per year over 10 years.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first pitched the health deal to premiers in February as a plan to combat health worker shortages across the country in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The agreement is expected to see $46 billion in new spending, including an increase to federal health transfers to all provinces and tailored agreements with each province individually to target specific priorities such as primary care and mental health.
The CMA said the deal former prime minister Paul Martin struck in 2004 came in at a distant second to the latest Liberal health accord in terms of the total money spent on health care, which amounted to about $12.3 billion per year.
The analysis also looked at whether such funding agreements have made a difference in the past.
“I don’t think we do a great job in health care looking backwards and understanding our history of how we got here, because the crises are often so, so pressing,” said association president Dr. Alika Lafontaine, an anesthesiologist in Grande Prairie, Alta.
He said big investments do seem to have made a difference, but progress backslid when parties stopped working together. The $1 billion former prime minister Stephen Harper put toward lowering wait times in 2007 was a key example, he said.
“For a period of time, I think health care felt like it was getting a lot better,” Lafontaine said of the accord Harper struck with provinces at the time.
The deal saw provinces and territories guarantee lower wait times for a treatment of their choosing, ranging from cancer care to cataract surgeries.
He said the CMA’s analysis shows that large investments in health care can make a difference, but only if the parties keep working together long-term.
“The reason why we’re in today’s problems is because we didn’t actually work together long enough and deep enough to fix the problems. We partially fixed them, and then we got up and we walked away,” he said.
Now, he said, the problems faced by the health-care workforce are much more serious, and it will take political will and co-operation to overcome them.
He said he expects benchmarks will be set to measure the progress made with the latest health deal between the federal and provincial governments.