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Premiers demand changes to Ottawa's health care funding plan

Canada’s premiers appeared determined to push Ottawa to change federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s take-it-or-leave-it plans for health transfer payments, especially when it comes including funds for the elderly.

Premiers arriving in Victoria for meetings until Tuesday were unanimous in their call for changes to Ottawa’s plans for a per-capita health funding formula, saying basing funding strictly on population does not factor in the elderly, whose health costs rise as they age.

“Equal funding is not necessarily equitable funding,” said Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter. “This is the problem. We have 16 per cent of our population currently over the age of 65 in our province. We’re going to move from 16 per cent over the age of 65 to almost 30 per cent over the next 20 years.”

Dexter said Flaherty’s per-capita-based funding model introduced last month at a finance ministers gathering in Victoria places “an extra-ordinary burden on the system.”

B.C. Premier Christy Clark, who earlier praised much of Flaherty’s decision to provide health funds to the provinces without strings, said the per-capita plan requires tweaking because it does not take into account that seniors cost more to health care as they age.

“Otherwise what we will see is a system where we’re not able to support seniors care across the country,” she said. “The money that would previously have gone to supporting seniors care will be going to support people who are in middle age or younger.”

Flaherty was accused late last year of imposing a new federal health funding plan on the provinces and territories during what Ontario, Quebec and four other provinces said were unprecedented, one-sided meetings.

Flaherty said Ottawa plans to continue increasing health transfer payments at six per cent annually until 2017, after that tying the transfer dollars to the rate of economic growth and inflation, currently estimated to be about four per cent, but the government will never let the amounts fall below three per cent.

Six provinces, including Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Manitoba and Newfoundland and Labrador, said Flaherty imposed the deal on the province without leaving room for negotiations.

On Sunday in Victoria, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Nunavut did not attend the opening event, a tour of a new, ultra-modern health facility and press conference.

Prior to the gathering, Quebec Premier Jean Charest made it clear, he’s still angry at the unilateral way Flaherty introduced the formula last month, and he said it’s time for Ottawa to take a look at all the money it transfers to provinces.

Provinces have long fought over how equalization payments to so-called have-not provinces are delivered by Ottawa and that formula is up for renewal soon.

“If we choose to live in a federal system of government, there are consequences to that,” Charest said. “That requires that there be a dialogue on these matters, which is not the case.”

Clark said she expects the premiers to unite over their need to build a better health-care system in Canada.

“Over the coming days, I think we will find a lot that we can agree on,” she said.