Provinces: Budget falls short

Globe and Mail Update
Monday, December 10 – Online Edition, Posted at 8:36 PM EST

Provincial politicians criticized the Liberals on Monday for their refusal to put any more money into Canada's struggling health care system in the federal budget.

Ontario Premier Mike Harris said the Liberals had added "not one cent" to health care, which he said was the top priority of Canadians.

"There's $9-billion, as I understand it, new spending proposed this year . . . and not one cent for all Canadians' No.1 priority, which is health care. I do think it's wrong," Mr. Harris told CTV News.

"I know there's a new Africa fund, and there's new foreign aid, and there's new arts, and there's new culture," Mr. Harris said, saying the Liberals had misread Canadians' priorities.

The Ontario Premier has sparred publicly with Ottawa in recent weeks, calling the federal government the biggest threat to medicare in Canada.

There was money in Monday's budget for health research: $95-million for the Canadian Institute for Health Information, and $75-million for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

But Mr. Harris said he and other premiers need help to deal with rising everyday health-care costs, and that without more federal funding, he would have to look to the private sector in order to maintain the health-care system.

Manitoba Premier Gary Doer said it was regrettable that Finance Minister Paul Martin did not add more for health care. B.C. Finance Minister Gary Collins agreed, although both men said they recognized the need for security spending.

"Every province in the country is grappling with significant pressures in health care," Mr. Collins said.

Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert said he was disappointed that the budget barely mentions agriculture. He called it an "urban, large province budget."

Other premiers and provincial ministers were equally nonplussed — and all of them cited the lack of new health funding.

"The big story is what's not in the budget," New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord said. "What's not in the budget are additional investments for health care."

Health Minister Allan Rock insisted there is additional money for health, noting that transfer payments this year will be up by $2.8 billion compared to last year, and will continue rising until 2004.

"I think that we had a very substantial increase in spending in Health Canada," he said, accusing Ontario of spending money on tax cuts rather than health care.

But the increased transfer payments Mr. Rock mentioned were provided for under a $23-billion, five-year deal with the premiers worked out just before the last federal election.

With reports from Canadian Press

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