Good afternoon everyone. I am joined today by my Clerk of the Executive Council, Robert Thompson.
Earlier this week in Ottawa, the province of Newfoundland and Labrador was signatory to an agreement with the federal government and the other Canadian provinces and territories entitled "A Ten Year Plan to Strengthen Health Care."
I was pleased, as premier of this great province, to sign this agreement on behalf of all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, as the monies resulting from this deal will in fact assist this province in strengthening our health care system.
It was a hard, long week, filled with tense but productive negotiations.
Every provincial and territorial leader, along with the Prime Minister, clearly recognized the serious issues facing our country’s health care system and we were collectively and individually determined to come to an agreement for the benefit of all Canadians.
As you watched throughout the week, I’m sure there seemed times when a deal may not be possible - when the two sides seemed too far apart.
However, I can tell you, having been inside the four walls of those meeting rooms, we as a group were determined to work through the issues. It took longer than we anticipated, but there was too much at stake to walk away from the table.
At stake, was the very future of our health care system.
A system where costs are growing faster than we can keep up, wait times continue to grow, and in a province like Newfoundland and Labrador this is compounded by our serious fiscal situation which we are all working hard to correct.
Let me first of all lay out for you exactly what this deal means for this province. Generally speaking, we as a province were able to accomplish four main things at this meeting.
First of all, we were able to secure, along with the other provinces and territories, significant additional health care funding. For Newfoundland and Labrador, the new agreement will result in approximately an additional $293 million over the next six years.
Secondly, we were able to secure additional equalization funding as well as a very important meeting.
This meeting will be another First Ministers’ Meeting consisting of all premiers and the Prime Minister, specifically to discuss renewing and strengthening the equalization program, and I look forward to that meeting in October.
The specific progress we made on equalization at this meeting means that the federal government has now agreed to implement a floor on equalization, meaning that into the future the total pot of money for equalization recipient provinces will not go below a certain pre-determined level.
This provides stability and predictability, and is a good step forward to equalization reform. It will mean at least $40 million additional money for the province in 2005-2006 fiscal year, possibly more.
A third achievement for us at this meeting is very significant specifically for the residents of Labrador.
At the recent Council of the Federation Meeting at Niagra-On-The-Lake, the territorial leaders raised with the premiers the issue of medical travel costs for people in their regions.
The premiers agreed to make a request of the Prime Minister at this First Ministers’ Meeting, to cover these costs.
At the time, I spoke up and indicated that the people of Labrador were in the exact same position as those residents living in the territories, and asked that we as premiers include the people of Labrador as well.
I am so pleased to say today that we were able to accomplish this, and a part of the final agreement includes funding for travel costs associated with medical travel for the people of the north including Labrador.
Finally, and probably most significant for the people of this province, I was able to secure from the Prime Minister a commitment to have our agreement regarding the Atlantic Accord finalized before the next First Ministers’ Meeting on October 26th.
I have said many times in the past that I have the Prime Minister’s commitment to get this deal finalized so that the province can finally start to receive 100 percent of our provincial offshore royalties.
I have not been satisfied that this file has been moving along as quickly as I would like, however I also recognize that it has been a very busy few months for the Prime Minister and his new government since the June election.
I was willing to give the federal government time to get to work on this commitment which was made to me personally during the federal election, and I felt that the time had come to finalize the deal.
I am pleased to say that the Prime Minister, in a room of my colleagues, reiterated his willingness and commitment to finalize details prior to the October First Ministers’ Meeting.
In fact, as we began the final news conference in the early hours of Thursday morning, Finance Minister Ralph Goodale approached Minister Sullivan and said that work would begin immediately.
Another historic outcome of this meeting was for the aboriginal peoples of Canada. The meetings between the Prime Minister, premiers and aboriginal leaders resulted in an agreement for a fund of 700 million dollars to address aboriginal health issues.
This fund is to cover a five year period. The money will not be distributed on a per capita basis, and much of it will be distributed on an application-based system.
I commit as premier of this province, to work diligently with the aboriginal leaders of Newfoundland and Labrador, to ensure our aboriginal people reap maximum benefits from this new money.
Clearly, this First Ministers’ Meeting was a great success for Newfoundland and Labrador and the country as a whole.
As a matter of fact, many of my colleagues who have been around the table for much longer than I, commented that this was the most successful First Ministers’ Meeting they had ever participated in.
I was pleased to be a part of that, and to make my contribution on behalf of Newfoundland and Labrador.
We all know that we have a very serious fiscal situation in Newfoundland and Labrador. In my opening remarks at the meeting, I reiterated the seriousness of our position.
In this province, we are borrowing substantial amounts of money just to pay for the health care services we currently provide. There was a lot of talk around that table about reform and sustainability, and there were discussions of new programs and initiatives.
I made it very clear to the Prime Minister, that in this province, we cannot afford the programs and services that we currently offer and we will be in no position to take on any new programs until we can afford to sustain the system we have today.
While this meeting was a success for this province, I want Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to understand very clearly that the new money we were able to secure from the federal government will not solve all of our problems.
We are in a very deep hole in this province and we have a long way to go before we dig ourselves completely out of that hole.
This money will certainly be a great first step and contribute significantly on our road to fiscal health, however it is not a miraculous answer to all of our financial woes.
Those who suggest otherwise are simply irresponsible or simply do not understand our fiscal situation.
In 2004-05, this province will receive about $16 million in CHT, approximately $10 million in the Wait Time Fund (for which all the rules are not sorted out), and $8 million for medical equipment.
There will be no extra money in equalization in the current year given that we already had floor protection under the Atlantic Accord. Therefore, this funding does not solve the $200-300 million funding gap for our health system.
In 05/06, we will get $40 million in CHT (up from $16m in 04/05), and this will grow by 6% a year.
There are some spending obligations from this funding in the area of home care which we have not yet finalized.
Therefore, this $40 million is useful but not a sufficient amount compared to the growth of health spending in recent years, which has often been closer to $80-100 million per year.
We still need to finance the balance.
Equalization will help in part, but we do not yet know the allocation formula for equalization for future years.
So clearly, this new money does not go all the way toward addressing our fiscal issues, but I do not want to underestimate the value of what we as a province accomplished at the First Ministers’ Meeting.
Any and all new monies flowing into this province are welcomed and desperately needed, and my commitment to the people of this province is that we will put this money to the best use possible, for a better health care system and a brighter future for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.
Thank you and I will now take your questions.
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