Stephen Harper will be pressed to commit to a new 10-year health accord or he may be let off the hook on any long-term promise, depending on the outcome of the Ontario provincial election.
Both Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty and the NDP's Andrea Horwarth want the Harper government to negotiate a second decade-long health accord with the provinces, one that Mr. McGuinty believes should include a special emphasis on improving health care for seniors.
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak is the outlier. Asked if he would push the Prime Minister for a second 10-year accord, Mr. Hudak would say only that he wants funding to continue.
At the halfway point in the campaign for the Oct. 6 election, all parties are moving to establish their positions on the future of health care in the province, which consistently polls as a top issue of concern for Ontarians.
"I absolutely want to see continued federal support," Mr. Hudak said during a campaign stop in Eastern Ontario on Tuesday. "I was pleased to see Prime Minister Harper campaign on exactly that [for the spring election] keeping health levels high to the province of Ontario."
The Harper government has promised to continue the health accord's 6-per-cent annual escalations for two years beyond its expiry date in 2014. (The 10-year deal was negotiated by Liberal prime minister Paul Martin in 2004.)
Mr. McGuinty is critical of Mr. Harper for not being able to commit to something beyond two years.
The problem, he said, is that medicare cannot be reformed in the short term and this is why he wants another 10-year deal like the one signed in 2004 between the premiers and Paul Martin's short-lived Liberal government.
"I was there in 2004," Mr. McGuinty told reporters on Tuesday, noting that he and Quebec Premier Jean Charest are the only two left from that difficult and lengthy negotiation.
"We were holed up into the early hours of the morning at 24 Sussex. It wasn't easy, it was sometimes messy, a little bit cumbersome, a little but controversial, a little bit confrontational, but we got the job done."
In addition, Mr. McGuinty wants the new federal-provincial accord to be aimed at seniors in the same way that the 2004 accord targeted and measured hospital waits in an effort to reduce them.
He said the 13 premiers and the Prime Minister should get together – his officials hope this year – to figure out ways of measuring success in seniors' health care.
Mr. McGuinty said improving care for seniors – keeping them at home and out of hospitals and long-care term facilities – would keep health costs down and take the pressure off of the system.
"It just costs so much less to help keep my mom in [her]home rather than put her in a long-term care home or hospital bed," he said.
But Mr. Hudak accused Mr. McGuinty of having "knee-capped" the province in negotiations with the federal government, asserting that the Liberals have already wasted money on projects such as e-health and local health integration networks.
"I mean when you see that kind of waste in our system, Dalton McGuinty has hurt our chances to get our fair share of health care dollars," he said.
Ms. Horwath, meanwhile, is also concerned that the deadline is quickly approaching. She met Monday in Ottawa with the federal NDP caucus – and much of her discussion revolved around the necessity of beginning negotiations on a long-term deal, she said in an interview.
Her plan, however, would also emphasize long-term care, palliative care and home-care, and she supports the 6-per-cent escalation as a target.
A recent Nanos poll showed health care is the number one issue of concern for Ontario voters.