McNeil: Premiers should negotiate health transfer with one voice

HALIFAX, N.S. —

Premier Stephen McNeil said Thursday that Canadian premiers are looking to act with a common voice in negotiations with the federal government for a better deal in the Canadian Health Transfer.

The premiers met virtually with Prime Minister over the course of the day to discuss the delivery of health care in the country.

“The federal government acknowledged they needed to add some more money delivering that,” McNeil said in a teleconference with media after the online First Ministers meeting. 

“There was much conversation of what that would look like, how that would happen. Obviously there’s different parts of that system and each part of the country viewed it in their own way, but the premiers across this country are united that the federal government needs to play a more active role in financing the delivery of health care across Canada. The prime minister acknowledged that they need to do more and now we’re looking for an opportunity to see what that looks like, whether the investment is directly into long-term care, pharmacare, a national pharmacare program, the way they want to do that, and that work will continue and be ongoing.”

McNeil said the morning session ended with discussions about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, which is expected to see the first doses arrive in Nova Scotia next week.

“The federal government will actually be paying for the vaccine to arrive here,” McNeil said. “And, of course, we, as provinces, will cover the cost of distribution, making sure that it ends up in the arms of Nova Scotians in the best way we can, using our health care system and our health care team to deliver that.”

The premier said he doesn’t yet have an estimate on the costs of vaccine distribution, adding that the next few weeks will bring a better idea on how that will work out.

“The people who would be delivering it are the people who are currently employed with us now,” McNeil said.

He said a mock trial of vaccine delivery on Wednesday went well. About 1,950 doses will arrive on Dec. 15, he said, with front-line health workers the first in line to receive them.

“And then, before the end of the year, before the end of the month, we’ll get a better sense on how many vaccines we will be able to get almost weekly here to the province,” McNeil said.

The first people to be vaccinated will have to come to the central distribution site as the vaccine manufactured by Pfizer must be stored at -80 C, requiring an ultra-low freezer.

“When we start, really the first doses that come, it will be our trial run, really, with the real product. Once that product comes, we have other freezers that we can use. And there are other vaccines that are in the works that are not approved by Health Canada – some are before Health Canada now – that require different ways of storing it, so when we receive that vaccine, then obviously we will deliver it differently based on what the advice we are getting from the manufacturer of that particular vaccine.”

McNeil said he was “cautiously optimistic” with the meeting but a lot more conversations will be had.

“I believe that should be at a unified table,” he said. “I believe all the provinces should be together, not in (bilateral deals). I think this should be our national conversation so that we can continue to get down to what we believe are the concerns of Canadians and do it in ways that are wholistic across the country.”

He said he is not opposed to targeting federal priorities such as a national pharmacare program. 

Nova Scotia’s highest priorities include the cost of drugs and long-term care.

“Our long-term care system is certainly going to require a capital investment. We have facilities that more than two people are sharing a washroom. In some places we have three to four people, and obviously that, because of the pandemic, needs to become a priority in the coming months and years to be able to make sure we’re keeping them safe.”

The federal government will transfer just under $42 billion for health care to the provinces this year, but McNeil said that represents “22 cents on the dollar” and is “not enough for us to continue for us to deliver health care in a way that I think Nova Scotians want.”

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