Question period in Senate – Sep. 28 2016

Transfer Payments

Question raised by the Honourable Claude Carignan on Sep. 28 , 2016

Hon. Claude Carignan (Leader of the Opposition): Honourable senators, my question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. With respect to the negotiations between the federal government and the provincial and territorial governments on transfer payments for health care, we see that the federal health minister plans to impose conditions on the transfers.

The Government of Quebec has been very clear. Imposing conditions is out of the question, and Quebec would prefer that the federal government respect its autonomy in this provincial jurisdiction.

The Conservative government honoured the health transfer agreement signed with the Martin government in 2004. I would like to quote the press release issued by Mr. Martin's Liberal government on September 15, 2004:

Recognizing the Government of Quebec's desire to exercise its own responsibilities with respect to planning, organizing and managing health services within its territory, and noting that its commitment with regard to the underlying principles of its public health system — universality, portability, comprehensiveness, accessibility and public administration — coincides with that of all governments in Canada, and resting on asymetrical federalism, that is, flexible federalism that notably allows for the existence of specific agreements and arrangements adapted to Quebec's specificity . . . .

Funding made available by the Government of Canada will be used by the Government of Quebec to implement its own plan for renewing Quebec's health system.

Since the minister has decided on a maximum increase in the health transfer of 3 per cent, as was the case with our government, why does the government not adopt the same respectful attitude towards the provinces and allow them to establish their own priorities based on their own needs?

Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): I thank the honourable senator for his review of this important dossier over the last number of years.

The Government of Canada, specifically the Minister of Health, has made clear its agenda in this area. The Minister of Health made a very comprehensive speech recently in Kingston outlining the view of the Government of Canada as these discussions with provinces are about to take place or have begun. It would be wrong for me to comment on the state of the negotiations and the negotiating positions except to underscore the commitment of the Government of Canada to improve the performance of the health sector in working with provincial colleagues in the areas of new priorities that were identified in the minister's discourse.

We will hopefully see felicitous conclusions of those negotiations in the days ahead.

Senator Carignan: Leader, don't you think that, by imposing conditions on the funding of the provincial health care systems, the government could put an end to asymmetrical federalism? Is that what the government wants?

Senator Harder: I think the position of the Minister of Health is focused on improving the performance of the health system in Canada. That is the objective.

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