Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau promised Monday to spend more money on health care by helping the provinces hire some 7,500 new family doctors if voters return his party to government on Sept. 20.

Speaking to reporters at a campaign stop in Halifax, Trudeau said a government led by him would “rebuild” a health care system ravaged by COVID-19 by recruiting more physicians and eliminating waitlists that have grown longer during the pandemic.

While the federal Canada Health Transfer has steadily increased on Trudeau’s watch, repeated provincial calls for a much larger cash injection to help address mounting costs and longer wait times have gone unanswered.

But Trudeau said today he hears that the federal government “needs to step up with more funding to make sure people are getting better care right across the country. So that’s what we’re going to do.”

Trudeau said, if he’s re-elected, Ottawa would send $6 billion to the provinces to help address persistent gaps in care — a financial commitment above and beyond the $4 billion that was earmarked in the most recent federal budget.

“Health care is a responsibility of the provinces, and we will always respect that. But we’re stepping up as a federal government because we know you need to get care when and where you need it. At the end of the day, that’s what really matters,” he said.

Pre-pandemic data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) suggests the number of new physicians added to the system has outpaced population growth in recent years but many provinces are still facing a shortage of family doctors.

In Nova Scotia, for example, where the sorry state of the health care system was a major issue in the recent provincial election campaign, there are more than 69,000 people on a list to get a primary care physician. That number has grown from 25,000 just four years ago. In some parts of that province, the wait time for a knee replacement is more than 1,000 days long.

Tory, Liberal approaches to health funding vary

Trudeau said Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole would only make the problem worse because, he said, the Tory leader would “cut services like health care.”

However, the Conservative platform released last week shows O’Toole is actually prepared to spend more on the health care transfer each year than what the Liberals have budgeted.

O’Toole vowed to boost the annual growth rate of the Canada Health Transfer to at least six per cent from its current rate, which is tied to how much the economy grows in a given year with a floor of three per cent. The Conservatives say the more generous health transfer to the provinces would cost the federal treasury nearly $60 billion over the next ten years.

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Trudeau said the Liberal party isn’t interested in cutting a blank cheque for the provinces to do what they want on health care. Rather, Trudeau said, they want new federal money targeted to particular outcomes.

The two main parties have been trading barbs over health care funding at a time when voters are telling pollsters it’s one of the issues they care most about.

On Sunday, Liberal candidate Chrystia Freeland posted a selectively edited clip of O’Toole speaking about health care on Twitter.

In the video, O’Toole said he would be open to more for-profit health care in Canada to help address some of the current system’s failings. While willing to add more private elements to medicare, O’Toole said universal access remains paramount — a quote that was left out of Freeland’s edited video montage. Twitter has since flagged the clip as “manipulated media.”

The Conservative party’s lawyers have asked Yves Côté, the commissioner of Canada elections, to investigate whether the “cynical motive to misinform” is a violation of the elections act.

Asked about the fracas over the manipulated video, Trudeau said the clip accurately reflects O’Toole position.

“What’s really important here is, in the middle of a pandemic, O’Toole came out unequivocally in support of private health care, for-profit health care. We posted the interview in its entirety and I encourage all Canadians to take a look and see what Erin O’Toole has to say on the future of health care,” he said.

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