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Paul Martin questions Harper's health care numbers

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, left, and former Prime Minister Paul Martin address the media in Edmonton on Saturday, April 16, 2011.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

Michael Ignatieff reprised his call for Canadians to "rise up" against Stephen Harper at a rally in Edmonton, where former Prime Minister Paul Martin helped galvanize supporters in a province that shut out the Liberals the past two elections.

Both Mr. Ignatieff and Mr. Martin raised the issue of health care during the event, which was attended by at least 500 people.

Prior to the meeting, Mr. Martin shot back at Conservative accusations that the Liberals are the party of health cuts.

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Mr. Martin said his 1995 budget - which cut transfers to the provinces for health and education - was a response to a very dire economic situation that was similar to that which Greece and Portugal now face.

Yet because of that budget, he noted that the Liberals were ultimately able to balance the books and later bring in increases to health transfers.

"It was four years after that budget that we brought in the largest health care transfer from the federal government to the provinces in Canadian history - the $41-billion transfer with the six per cent escalator attached to it," said Mr. Martin in a news conference with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff.

The Liberals are trying to make health care an issue in the campaign with a negative ad campaign claiming Conservative promises to scale back government spending will ultimately hurt health care.

The Conservatives shot back by noting that it was the Liberals under Mr. Martin who cut health transfers.

Mr. Martin said Canadians supported the 1995 Liberal budget because it was clear about what would be cut. In contrast, he said he does not believe the Conservative numbers are credible.

"Now I look at those numbers and I have the same reaction that the C.D. Howe has, that the Fraser Institute has, which is to say they can't find that money without major cuts, and I can tell you one area that clearly is in danger [of]suffering, that is in fact the health care budget," he said.

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Mr. Martin criticized the fact that the Conservative numbers in the party's platform were different than those in the Conservative budget just a few weeks earlier.

"Stephen Harper has said unequivocally that he does not think that the Canada Health Act or that health care is a federal responsibility, so he's going to stick with where the federal responsibilities in his mind are," he said.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More

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