Earlier this week Premier Christy Clark and her provincial counterparts were tearing their hair out over the health care funding fiasco that federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has dropped in their laps.
In the dying moments of 2011 Flaherty side-stepped the mistletoe and decked health ministers across the land with a funding formula fait accompli. He decreed that health transfers will continue to rise by six per cent annually until 2017, but then they will be tied to annual gross domestic product growth, plus inflation, until 2024.
Flaherty said he didn’t have to negotiate this deal because this transfer was a one-way street. Just about every provincial finance minister — with the exception of B.C.’s — cried Grinch.
Desperate in December for Tory friends to help shore up B.C.’s liberally lop-sided free enterprise coalition and desperate to charm Ottawa for a break on repayment of the $1.6-billion HST bonus, our finance minister folded like Superman on laundry day.
Kevin Falcon endorsed Flaherty’s terms saying that the security of a six-per-cent increase would give B.C. comfort as it prepares for the reduced increases.
Let’s jump ahead to last week. Thursday evening, Clark and Harper were courting each other with warm smiles over Tim Horton’s coffee at her son’s hockey game. Gosh, the pictures posted after the rendezvous made it look like they were going steady.
However, Clark woke up Friday with a political headache. She went to work and declared that Flaherty’s plan “is going to be pretty devastating for seniors in our province.” She said she had told Harper to change course.
Clark maintains that B.C. has more seniors than anywhere else in Canada and therefore our per capita health care costs are higher and federal transfers need to be re-calculated accordingly.
“This is a discussion we need to have with the federal government. I started that discussion personally with the prime minister (Thursday) night and it’s something I am really profoundly concerned about,” she said.
“If the federal government vacates the responsibility for looking after senior citizens, we’ve got a big problem.”
I’m pretty sure a special deal for aging B.C. did not sit well with Clark’s visiting counterparts this week, nor with the PM and his hardline finance minister.
Striking fear in the hearts of B.C. seniors made for good media sound bites this week, but Clark’s premise is totally bogus. As it happens B.C. is now, and will continue to be, in the middle of the pack when it comes to Canada’s rate of aging.
The median age in B.C. is 40.8 years. In five other provinces it is marginally higher and in the four other provinces it is marginally lower.
By 2021, slightly more than 18 per cent of British Columbians will be 65 or older. That will be equal to or lower than seven other provinces.
There’s no need to freak out the old folks when the math is scary all by itself. Ottawa’s Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page calculates that the Flaherty coup will cost the provinces $31 billion.
He says the new health plan dumps so much cost onto the backs of the provinces that Ottawa will actually be able to eliminate its structural deficit as a result. Page further calculates that the provinces will need to quickly raise $49 billion through tax hikes and spending cuts in order to avoid a debt spiral.
That’s enough bad medicine for young and old. M