N.B. premier blasts federal budget for not making 'one mention' of health-care funding

·4 min read
New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs had very few good things to say about the federal government's budget that was unveiled Monday. (Ed Hunter/CBC   - image credit)
New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs had very few good things to say about the federal government's budget that was unveiled Monday. (Ed Hunter/CBC - image credit)

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs is criticizing the latest federal budget for not mentioning funding for provincial health-care programs.

Speaking to reporters Monday evening, Higgs laid into the budget for failing to increase health-care funding, change employment insurance programs or commit cash to building domestic vaccine production capacity.

"We're asking for a stability in a health-care system that is in crisis now because it's clearly demonstrated its weaknesses throughout this pandemic and not one mention [of it in the budget]," said Higgs.

"So it's like, here's a budget, clearly an election budget designed to appease everyone in some way, but in the main way it's an election budget that has missed everyone because everyone's impacted by a health-care system."

Earlier Monday, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland introduced her government's 2021-22 budget, which will see $154.7 billion spent on programs to kick-start the economy post-pandemic, transition to a green economy, create a national child-care program, and build safer, healthier Indigenous communities.

It came more than a month after the Council of the Federation, made up of the country's premiers, called on Ottawa to boost the amount of health-care funding coming from the federal government.

Currently, the provinces cover about 22 per cent of the total cost of health care and the premiers have asked for a permanent increase in the federal share to 35 per cent, which works out to an additional $28 billion and would bring the total federal share to $70 billion per year.

Higgs said he never expected the federal government to meet that 35 per cent demand, but thought there would have been some movement with the budget, with the goal of getting "back to a fair funding model."

"We'll look back on this and we'll say we knew health care was in crisis. We knew, every territory leader and provincial leader knew this, and yet it was completely ignored in the most expensive budget in the history of our country."

Higgs also pointed to the budget not mentioning creating domestic vaccine manufacturing capacity as another example of the government "not recognizing what are real important issues."

"I was hoping to see a major initiative there that we'd have seen an ability to provide more vaccines and put the money and the resources to make that happen, because that's what will bring our province back and our nation back."

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland delivers the federal budget in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Monday April 19, 2021. The federal government unveiled spending plans to manage the remainder of the COVID-19 crisis and chart an economic course for a post-pandemic Canada.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland delivers the federal budget in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Monday April 19, 2021. The federal government unveiled spending plans to manage the remainder of the COVID-19 crisis and chart an economic course for a post-pandemic Canada.(Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Higgs also acknowledged the budget's focus on creating incentives for companies to hire new employees, but said it did nothing to change the employment insurance program to encourage people to find work.

"It basically is enhancing the benefits and encouraging, you know, a system where people don't have to work and every company in our province is crying for people to to come to work and help."

Higgs said there were aspects of the budget he was pleased with.

One of those was a commitment of $1 billion to bring broadband internet service to rural parts of the country.

"And I know, we know that that's the key to economic recovery. So that's a real economic one... When you think about the strategic value of that particular program in our country, in our province, it's real," he said.

The budget laid out $17.6 billion to fund a green recovery that would conserve land and oceans and put Canada on course to cut emissions to 36 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Higgs said he believes some of that funding will likely be directed to the province's adoption of small modular nuclear reactors in order to help feed the electric supply.

"We have to see the details and see how that works out, but right now, there certainly seems to be money there for that and I am pleased to see that."