Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil says his government pursued a health accord for all of Atlantic Canada before deciding to go it alone and sign a bilateral deal with Ottawa last week.
Talks between the provinces and federal government fell apart Dec. 19. Three days later, New Brunswick announced it reached its own deal with Ottawa and then on Friday, similar deals were announced for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Couldn’t get on the same page
McNeil said in an interview Thursday the Atlantic approach became too difficult to negotiate.
“P.E.I. still is waiting [to sign a deal] and New Brunswick was moving forward — they wanted to move as quickly as they did.
“We were waiting and obviously Newfoundland waited to make sure that we crunched all those numbers properly to make sure that they reflected what we believed [them] to be.”
Nova Scotia’s deal includes $ 287.8 million in targeted funding over 10 years, with $ 157 million of that going to home care and the rest going to mental health services. In the first two years of the new agreement, base transfers from Ottawa will increase by 3.5 per cent, with subsequent years tied to nominal GDP or three per cent, whichever is higher.
GDP is expected to be higher than 3.5 in years three, four and five of the deal, McNeil noted.
Demographic concerns addressed
The agreement appears to fall short of what McNeil said last week he wanted to see from the feds. But the premier said his concerns about demographics were addressed with the additional money for home care and mental health.
“There’s about $ 123 million more on the table than there was from the previous Monday. All of that allows us to access that funding for April and it allows us to make those services available for Nova Scotians.”
The reduction in the annual increase in transfers and the shift to a per capita funding model were introduced by the former Conservative government. It was a move McNeil and other Atlantic premiers vocally opposed. And while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigned on changing back the model, that didn’t happen when he took office.
The maximum flexibility available
McNeil said Thursday he doesn’t think any government would have diverged from the course charted by the Conservatives. A modest increase from the initial offer of three per cent helped make the deal more palatable.
“We believe we got the maximum flexibility that was available in this program.”
An agreement that obviously wasn’t there
While provinces such as Quebec and Manitoba expressed displeasure at the Atlantic provinces going it alone, McNeil said he doesn’t expect his decision to impact future talks and agreements among provinces and territories.
“I think people recognize we sat there and tried to find an agreement with everyone that obviously wasn’t there,” he said.
“My job, while it is to continue to work inside the federation, is to make sure that Nova Scotians’ interests are represented.”
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