Premiers call for more funds from Ottawa

TC Media
Published on August 29, 2014

Premier Robert Ghiz and the other premiers walk up to Province House Thursday for a teour. The premiers are meeeting in Charlottetown until Friday.

©Guardian photo by Brian McInnis

Canada’s premiers say they need more money from the federal government for infrastructure and to deal with the rising costs of caring for an aging population, and they plan to put a dollar figure on their demands.

P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz, who is chairing the Council of the Federation meetings in Charlottetown this week, said Thursday all premiers were unanimous in voicing concern over the need for more infrastructure and health care funding from Ottawa.

“Those are really the two areas where we have agreed as premiers that if we’re going to look for increases in funding that we believe are an integral part of improving the lives of our citizens and all Canadians, those two areas are the ones that we’ve been unanimous on in terms of moving forward.”

He pointed to a new report from the Conference Board of Canada that projects the country’s aging population will increase budget demands on the provinces while federal surpluses soar.

The report, entitled A Difficult Road Ahead: Canada’s Economic and Fiscal Prospects, was commissioned last year by the premiers.

It says Canada’s aging population will result in weaker economic growth and less revenue for governments to fund programs and services.

The rise in the number of seniors is also expected to increase demand for health care, which will create additional costs. This will make it difficult for provinces to balance their books in the long term, the report states.

Meanwhile, the Conference Board of Canada projects the federal government will improve its financial outlook, with an estimated $109 billion surplus by the year 2034-35.

The premiers said Thursday they believe this report lends credence to their concerns over the need for greater health transfers to the provinces.

But they will not rely only on this report.

A new task force will be struck to examine the impacts an aging population will have on the social and economic future of all provinces. It will launch a national conversation that will include key stakeholder groups.

This working group will also work out details for a new aging innovation fund, which the premiers believe the federal government should contribute to in order to help the provinces deal with the financial impacts of the country’s aging population.

But an official with federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose’s office says the federal government is already providing the highest recorded health care transfer dollars in history.

“Since we formed government, healthcare transfers have increased by almost 50 per cent,” Michael Bolkenius, spokesman for Ambrose’s office wrote in an email to The Guardian.

“The fact is that health transfer dollars are the highest they have ever been in Canadian history, and will continue to grow by at least 3 per cent per year.”

Ghiz said this is why the premiers commissioned the Conference Board of Canada report and why they will now come up with dollar figures to show just how much more they need to deal with their increasing health costs.

They will also do the same for infrastructure.

Kathleen Wynne, premier of Ontario, said the premiers all agreed on the need for more money from Ottawa for roads, bridges and buildings.

“There was consensus around the table that infrastructure and having reliable, predictable, resilient investment in infrastructure, is very important for the country and every province has got needs.”

Although the premiers did not reach consensus on every issue, they did all agree there is a growing fiscal imbalance between the provinces and the federal government.

“I think it’s deteriorating, and I think all the provinces are feeling that,” Wynne told reporters.

“We’re feeling it in different ways, and we believe there needs to be an improvement of that.”