rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Dire predictions for Canada's health accord

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Paul Martin negotiated Canada Health Accord, Creative Commons Photo

An existing health-care accord between Ottawa and the provinces and territories will expire on March 31, 2014. And the long-term consequences are alarming. Canada has a public, single payer health-care system for visits to the doctor and stays in hospital. When medicare was introduced in the 1960s, its costs were shared by Ottawa and the provinces on a 50-50 basis. But that arrangement has changed and will continue to do so even more dramatically in the future, given a unilateral change announced in 2011 by Jim Flaherty, the federal finance minister who recently resigned the position.

According to a 2013 study by Canadian actuaries, Ottawa's health-care transfers, which had once accounted for 50 percent of publicly funded health-care spending, fell to 21 percent in 2012. That percentage would drop to a mere 14 percent by 2037 under the changes announced by the federal government three years ago.

Jean-Denis Frechette, Canada's parliamentary budget officer, says that the change announced in 2011 will set in motion Ottawa's downloading of health-care costs to provinces and territories -- most of whom can ill afford to foot the bill.

Up until now, the Canadian system has worked well. Nearly everyone has access to doctors and hospital care, and Canada's total spending on health as a percentage of our Gross Domestic Product -- more than 11 percent in 2010 -- is comparable to that in similar industrialized countries and considerably less than that in the United States. But there have been problems, too, and fears that an aging population will place further stress on the system.

In 2004, then-prime minister Paul Martin negotiated an accord that added $41-billion in federal spending through 2014. Provincial and territorial governments fully expected to negotiate a new agreement by March 31 of this year. Flaherty, however, stunned them in December 2011 by unilaterally announcing terms through to 2024. He said that the provinces and territories could take it or leave it.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been accused of having a secret agenda to dismantle public health care. Prior to the May 2011 federal election, he attempted to put that issue to rest by promising continued financial support for public health care. In the short-term, Harper can argue that he kept that promise. But what are the consequences of the unilateral funding announcement?

In his new book, The Longer I'm Prime Minister, journalist Paul Wells writes that Harper pursues his conservative goals incrementally. The health-care announcement may well fit this mould. A frontal attack on medicare would be politically suicidal for the Conservatives, but a slowing of health transfers to the provinces over a period of many years would lead to increased frustration among people using the service -- and a demand for alternatives, including more privately offered services.

This scenario is not lost on groups, such as the Canadian Health Coalition and the Council of Canadians. They're organizing a national day of action on March 31 in support of public health care.

This article appeared on a United Church Observer blog on March 27, 2014.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.