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Dwight Duncan sheds crocodile tears over health-care cash

Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan speaks to reporters before meeting with his federal, provincial and territorial counterparts in Victoria on Dec. 19, 2011.

GEOFF HOWE/Geoff Howe/The Canadian Press

Being a finance minister anywhere is probably not enjoyable when the world economy is more turbulent than a plane ride in a hurricane. There is not enough Gravol on the planet to quell the churning stomachs and explosive bowels.

This week, however, we were witness to a few provincial finance ministers – led by Ontario's Dwight Duncan – reacting to a reasonable financial plan for federal funding for health care as if it was a Trojan horse for a true Greek austerity program. For a moment I wanted one of those old motion sickness bags that used to be on the jets of yesteryear. Summoning his best indignation, Mr. Duncan said Ottawa's plan for health care was a mere lump of coal. As Justin Trudeau might say, what a crock of excrement.

Mr. Duncan of all people should know governments and the taxpayers who fund them don't have an unlimited treasure chest of cash to keep paying more and more for challenged systems. They expect their governments to be judicious and reasonable with their dollars while constantly working to improve their outcomes. As The Globe's own André Picard wrote on the same topic, "the deal offered by Mr. Harper's government is reasonable. It is fiscally responsible, tying spending increases to inflation."

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For years the rallying cry from many respected leaders in the this policy arena has been the need to have "predictable and stable funding" for health care. A quick bit of Googling elicited these proclamations:

1) From the 2004 document entitled " Common Vision for the Canadian Health System" prepared by some of the country's leading health organizations: "Moreover, federal health funding commitments need to be part of a sound fiscal budgetary plan and not based on arbitrary surpluses. Health funding must be predictable and not subject to stop-and-go, or one-time funding approaches."

2) From a 2003 synopsis of the Royal Commission on the Future of Health Care: "The Romanow report also recommended that an escalator be applied to federal transfers to ensure that future federal support is predictable and growing."

Perhaps Mr. Duncan had forgotten those appeals. Or he longed for the old days when his Liberal friends, to advance their austerity agenda, cut the guts out of the Canada Health and Social Transfer payment system to bring fiscal wellness to the nation with little concern for their real health care needs.

You can quibble with the amount of this week's announcement but by no means can you challenge the predictability, stability and defined formula for increases. Health care funding will increase from $30-billion per year in 2013-14 to more than $38-billion per year in 2018-19. Total funding over that five-year period will be at least $178-billion. For the next five years, now until 2017, funding for health care will increase at 6 per cent per year and then increase with nominal GDP growth after that. There is a 3 per cent base thereafter but growth forecasts suggest the actual rate will be in the 4.5 per cent range. The new formula will be reviewed in 2024.

Stop shedding the crocodile tears, Mr. Duncan. You now know how the funding is going to work for the foreseeable future. Let us work now on reforming delivery – and I don't mean your lame Christmas comedy skit in Victoria.

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