The federal government can – and must – do much more for public health care and continue discussions with the provinces to reach a new, comprehensive Health Accord, according to CUPE.

Following Monday’s meeting of the finance and health ministers to discuss a new health funding arrangement, CUPE National President Mark Hancock said: “It is clear that the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is offering little more than the Harper government did before. Our actual health care needs will remain unmet with the timid proposals currently on the table. After one year in power, the Liberals need to show they are willing to do the right thing for our public health system. So far, not much has changed from the Harper days. The federal government must commit to returning to the negotiating table with the provinces, and not repeat the Conservatives’ “take it or leave it” approach”.

For many years, CUPE has demanded that the federal government establish a minimum yearly increase of six per cent for health care. The previous Conservative government had announced a roll-back to three per cent annually, which represents a cut to funding in real terms – an estimated $36 billion cut over the next ten years. The Trudeau government’s proposal (3.5 per cent) is hardly better, and maintains the Conservative cuts. At a time when the demands on our public health care system are increasing, these cuts will lead to reduced services or more privatization – which will make our health care problems worse.

“While the Liberals campaigned on increased funding for mental health services, widely recognized as an urgent need in our country, they did not campaign on underfunding other health services, and by keeping the bulk of Harper’s cuts to transfer payments, the provinces are likely to cut services in other areas,” said CUPE National Secretary-Treasurer Charles Fleury.

The federal government has proposed some additional money for home care and mental health services, which is needed. However, the amounts proposed are so small, they will barely have an impact, and they offer no guarantees over the quality of care. In most provinces, home care services are insufficient, highly privatized, often not accessible, and delivered by a precarious and under-paid workforce. Wait lists for mental health services are dangerously long in many communities. Trudeau’s proposals also ignore the needs of our seniors in long-term care. If we are to have a real seniors’ strategy, it needs to focus on the continuum of care, not just one aspect.

Following the breakdown of health funding talks, CUPE is calling on the Prime Minister to sit down with the Premiers and negotiate a comprehensive health accord to provide good health care to Canadians when they need it. That should also include a national drug program, higher quality care for seniors, and mental health services available in all our communities without delay.

The federal Liberal government was elected on the promise of “change” – including reinvestment in health care and discussions in good faith with the provinces. Today it is obvious that change is only a shell game with little new money for frontline services.