On the radar

Staff ~ The Telegram
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So, just who do you suppose he was talking to? Friday, the editorial in this space talked about the way that governments sometimes telegraph what they plan to do by the issues they suddenly raise. On Friday, it was the provincial government and the fishery.

Today, it's the federal government - and the future of Canadian health care.

Federal finance minister Jim Flaherty met with the editorial board of the Saint John Telegraph-Journal on Thursday, and it didn't take him long to reel off the talking points about what he calls the "rampant" growth in health-care spending in this country.

So, just who do you suppose he was talking to? Friday, the editorial in this space talked about the way that governments sometimes telegraph what they plan to do by the issues they suddenly raise. On Friday, it was the provincial government and the fishery.

Today, it's the federal government - and the future of Canadian health care.

Federal finance minister Jim Flaherty met with the editorial board of the Saint John Telegraph-Journal on Thursday, and it didn't take him long to reel off the talking points about what he calls the "rampant" growth in health-care spending in this country.

"The provinces are going to have to look at their budgets and figure out ways of providing health-care services without rampant growth," Flaherty told the newspaper. "Because it's not about reducing spending on health care - it's about controlling the rate of growth so that health care doesn't run away from the level of real GDP growth in the provinces. ... The growth in health-care funding provincially has been relentless. ... This is an issue that needs to be grappled with."

Now, there has been considerable growth in health-care spending in this province, with some of that being catch-up from cash-poor years when salaries were allowed to languish and capital investments weren't made.

But in the last few years, the numbers have been startling. In 2004, just six years ago, 32.3 per cent of this province's current account expenditures, or $1.32 billion, was being spent on health. This year, the province is forecasting that health will account for 35.3 per cent of its total current account spending - but the total has grown to $2.2 billion per year. To put that in perspective, that's 67 per cent growth in six years.

That's not to say it's not needed - but Flaherty seems to be suggesting that it can't continue. The federal government contributes to the health bill through transfer payments, and in roughly the same period, transfers to this province grew from $489 million to $606 million.

That doesn't really keep pace. Flaherty indicated that the federal government's concerns were communicated to provincial finance ministers when the ministers met in Prince Edward Island in June. (That meeting might not jump out as one where health care was at the top of the agenda - that's because it wasn't. The main issue was proposed changes to the Canada Pension Plan.)

What's it all mean, with the issue being raised now?

That the federal government has indicated it plans to look hard at health, and that, with our rapid increase in health expenditures (needed or not), we're probably on Flaherty's list of poster boys for rampant growth.

In this province, the federal and provincial governments have a long record of not taking the same position on issues.

With a new settlement still not in place with this province's doctors, and with Flaherty now trumpeting provincial support for belt- tightening, it promises to be an interesting few months ahead.

Organizations: Saint John Telegraph-Journal, Canada Pension

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island

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  • my3cents
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    Start eating your wheaties and start WALKING past the fast food joint.