A brief history of health spending

If health care really is everyone’s high-priority issue, as pollsters have long assured us, voters should at least know the facts

The federal budget document began with an ominous warning about deep cuts. Social programs, justice and corrections would be spared as much as possible, but no department would escape the knife.

The stark truth was revealed in a table of figures. Health care spending, the core of the Canadian state, was cut by 3.8 per cent in just the first year of the fiscal plan, as population and need continued to grow.

No, this is not from the Stephen Harper budget of April 2015, or any other in the last decade. It’s from the Jean Chretien budget of 1995, more than 20 years ago. That’s the last time anyone actually cut health care spending.

But wait, you may say. Didn’t I hear that Harper has slashed health care spending by $30 billion? Yes, you probably did hear the biggest, most brazen lie of this election campaign, either from the government unions that advertised it or the politicians who parrot it.

If health care really is everyone’s high-priority issue, as pollsters have long assured us, voters should at least know the facts.

After cutting provincial health and social services transfers for years to end the string of operating deficits that began under Pierre Trudeau and continued under Brian Mulroney, Liberal finance minister Paul Martin rose briefly to the top job.

In 2004, Martin staged meetings with premiers, emerging with what was billed as “a fix for a generation,” with federal health transfers to rise six per cent each year into the future.

The future for Martin’s government lasted only two years, as his minority was replaced with one led by Harper.

These galloping increases continued until the Conservative majority of 2011, after which then-finance minister Jim Flaherty came to Victoria to inform provincial finance ministers of the new plan. (I was there, and the joke was that this was as far from Ottawa as Flaherty could get without leaving Canada.)

The six-per-cent increases, by that time triple inflation, would continue for another five years. Starting in 2017-18, increases would be tied to economic growth, with a minimum hike of three per cent, still well ahead of today’s inflation. That remains the Conservative plan today.

All provinces east of Saskatchewan pitched a fit. Manitoba’s NDP finance minister termed it “un-Canadian.” Lefties immediately called it a cut, to which Flaherty replied that transfers to provinces would rise from $30 billion to $38 billion in 2018-19, and continue to grow after that.

In B.C., then-finance minister Kevin Falcon praised the long-term approach, acknowledging that health spending was ballooning to half of the provincial budget and had to be brought under control as baby boomers start to retire. B.C. has largely accomplished that, with spending increases below three per cent and health care outcomes that continue to lead the country.

As the current election campaign turns into the home stretch, Statistics Canada has announced a milestone. For the first time in history, the number of seniors exceeds number of children. This demographic shift is inexorable, predictable and must be addressed by whoever wins the Oct. 19 federal election.

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair is on record that he will scrap the Conservative formula for growth-based increases that he pretends are cuts, returning to six per cent every year while balancing the budget. Little detail has been provided on how this would be done.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau announced in Surrey last week that he will ante up an extra $3 billion over four years for health care, and “sit down with the provinces immediately” to renegotiate, a rerun of Paul Martin’s political theatre.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. tfletcher@blackpress.ca

 

Just Posted

Saanich Police looking for information relating to suspicious death

The body of a man was found on Crease Avenue just after 9 a.m. on Saturday

250th Free Little Library installed in Victoria

Greater Victoria now has the highest density of mapped little libraries in the country

Urbanists hope to see Victoria’s unused rooftops, parkades, parking lots become usable green space

Downtown Residents Association says city dwellers should have access to parks

For the love of fibre: fibre arts celebrated through demonstrations and market showcasing locally made items

Fibre arts celebrated through demonstrations and market showcasing locally made items

Cemetery tour explores Metchosin’s early history

A tour with grave consequences for those wishing to explore Metchosin’s history takes place Aug. 25

70 years of lifting: Canadian man, 85, could cinch weightlifting championship

The senior gym junkie is on track to win the World Masters Weightlifting championship

U16 B.C. fastpitch team named national champs

Girls went undefeated at national tournament in Calgary

Advocates ‘internationalize’ the fight to free Raif Badawi from Saudi prison

Raif Badawi was arrested on June 17, 2012, and was later sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for his online criticism of Saudi clerics

Canadian entrepreneurs turning beer byproduct into bread, cookies and profits

Some breweries turn to entrepreneurs looking to turn spent grain into treats for people and their pets

Canada ‘disappointed’ terror suspect’s British citizenship revoked

Jack Letts, who was dubbed “Jihadi Jack” by the U.K. media, has been detained in a Kurdish prison for about two years

Chrystia Freeland condemns violence in Hong Kong, backs right to peaceful assembly

There have been months of protests in the semi-autonomous region

Most Read