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Ottawa and NWT reach $13.5-million health deal
Money for mental health, home care spread over 10 years

Shane Magee
Northern News Services
Friday, January 20, 2017

The territorial and federal governments reached a health-care funding agreement this week that will see Ottawa transfer an additional $13.5 million over 10 years to the GNWT for mental health and home care.

NNSL photo/graphic

Premier Bob McLeod, shown speaking in Whati earlier this month, says the $13.5 million the territory will receive from the federal government over 10 years will help improve mental health and home care. - NNSL file photo

Over the next decade, $7.4 million will go specifically toward "addressing critical home care infrastructure requirements" in the territory while $6.1 million will support mental-health initiatives.

Health Canada announced the deal on Monday. It's similar to one reached with the other territories, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Saskatchewan. Should another province reach a better deal, the territory is entitled to the better terms.

The news release states the various governments involved in the deals will establish "performance indicators and mechanisms for annual reporting to citizens, as well as a detailed plan on how these funds will be spent, over and above existing programs."

A request to Health Canada for a copy of the agreement went unanswered.

Premier Bob McLeod said the additional money should allow the territory to get more programs running.

"With targeting funding, we're always concerned that money is only available for a short period of time and then it disappears," McLeod said in an interview Tuesday. "With a 10-year arrangement, we're not so concerned about that. We expect it will allow us to improve our services for home care, mental health and youth."

Home care refers to services designed to allow people to age at home - things like cleaning and cooking services for elderly people.

The deal amounts to an extra $1.35 million per year, starting in the 2017-18 fiscal year, a relatively small addition to the territory's Department of Health and Social Services, which had a budget of $414 million this year.

"New (federal) health money won't go far," Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green stated on social media after the announcement.

The deal comes after a collective effort by provincial and territorial leaders to wrangle a new health accord increasing spending through the Canada Health Transfer failed in December.

The federal government had been increasing health transfers to provinces and territories by six per cent annually in recent years. The increases are set to be reduced in April when it will drop to three per cent annually or in line with nominal gross domestic product, whichever is higher.

Premiers sought more than three per cent at the December meeting. Canada offered 3.5 per cent annually for five years, though provinces sought 5.2 per cent.

When the talks broke down in December, some provinces started signing their own deals with the federal government, breaking the unified front of the provinces and territories. McLeod initially wanted to stick with the provinces to try and reach a deal. However, the territories had agreed to work together with a goal of securing an extension of funding for things like medical travel and innovation. That funding was set to lapse at the end of 2018, he said.

When the federal government agreed to extend that as part of efforts to reach a deal on mental health and home care spending, the territories decided to sign on.

In a December interview about the health-care funding talks, the premier warned that other territorial government spending may need to be cut if a deal couldn't be secured.

That may be averted with the deal announced this week, the premier said.

"That's my expectation. But health is an area where we spend a lot of money. It depends on what happens. We're in a much better position, in my opinion," he said.

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