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Health Accord talks plagued by “Harper-era hangover”

Toronto – A leading Ontario health care union is raising concerns over what it calls a “Harper-era hangover” in the federal-provincial Health Accord talks that took place this week in Toronto.

The previous Health Accord, signed in 2004, guaranteed a six per cent annual increase in federal health funding to the provinces. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper planned to reduce that number to three per cent, and the current Liberal government says it will continue with this plan.  

“The fact that the Trudeau Liberals are sticking with Stephen Harper’s plan to limit health transfers is absolutely chilling,” said Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU). “The forecast for Canada’s health care isn’t ‘sunny ways.’ It’s ‘winter is coming.’”

While federal health minister Jane Philpott has hinted that the provinces may get some additional money for health care, that funding would go to specific initiatives such as home care or mental health.

“Investments in home care and mental health are welcome, but we need improvements across the entire continuum of care,” said Lucy Morton, chair of the Health Care Divisional Council of OPSEU. “An overall reduction in new federal funding can only undermine public health care across the system, and across the country.”

The previous Health Accord, which set out to address wait times, improve home care, improve access to care in the north, and develop a national Pharmacare strategy, expired in 2014. Many of these areas still require attention and OPSEU is calling on the federal and provincial governments to keep moving ahead on these files.

“The federal government is responsible for enforcing the Canada Health Act,” said Sara Labelle, chair of the Hospital Professionals Division of OPSEU. “They need to commit to upholding the principles of the Act and follow through with funding that fulfills this commitment.”

“Ontarians have suffered enough under austerity, with unprecedented cuts to and privatization of health care services,” said Morton. “It’s beyond time that funding be improved, and the federal and provincial governments both need to take responsibility for their roles.”

“If we want accessible, high-quality, public health care in this country, there is no substitute for robust government funding,” added OPSEU President Thomas. “The alternative is two-tier health care and that is one thing that makes Canadians sick.”

For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931; Lucy Morton, 905-317-9464