Health minister Julie Green speaks at a press conference on June 9, 2021. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
The NWT’s health minister says a fresh injection of federal healthcare cash doesn’t go far enough and wants Ottawa to tie some funding to the cost of living.
Julie Green told CBC North’s Trailbreaker she and colleagues had “expressed disappointment” to federal counterparts at a meeting in Yellowknife on Wednesday.
Federal health minister Jean-Yves Duclos had earlier told Cabin Radio the NWT would receive up to $8 million a year in special funding for the likes of family doctors, mental healthcare, staff retention and better use of patient data.
Green said that sum would be more like $7 million annually and said other top-ups, like a bump in the value of a funding pot called the Territorial Health Investment Fund, were not enough.
Overall, she said in the legislature on Wednesday, the federal offer amounts to an extra $12 million a year for the NWT government, which plans to spend $610 million on healthcare in 2023-24.
Speaking to the CBC, Green said $12 million “doesn’t represent a very significant portion of our budget” but the territory had decided to join other territories and provinces in accepting the overall federal offer.
The minister said she will now seek adjustments from Ottawa that improve the NWT’s funding package without jeopardizing the overall agreement.
“We asked them to … look at increasing the value of the Territorial Health Investment Fund, which is a bridge fund that acknowledges that the cost of operating in the North is higher than it is in the south,” Green said.
“That fund has been in place for many years, with different acronyms, but what we would like now is for it to be topped up and have a cost-of-living escalator attached to it.”
Premiers across Canada said this week they would accept the federal offer following months of lobbying for more healthcare cash, though some said the deal Ottawa proposed was not, on its own, a long-term fix for a system that the federal government has admitted is not “living up to expectations.”
On Thursday, a spokesperson for the premiers as a group said they had sent a letter to the federal government formally accepting the offer. However, the premiers would seek a “necessary ongoing dialogue to support the future of healthcare services,” the group said in a statement.
Speaking to Cabin Radio on Wednesday, Duclos had said he understood the need for healthcare funding to be “adapted to the reality of northern Canadians.”
“We know how much more expensive it is to care for people, we know the reality,” he said after meeting with Green and others.
“We know workers have been exhausted and impacted by Covid-19. It’s important that the federal government does its share.”