FIQ (Fédération Interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec)

The fresh air of the Atlantic

When disembarking from the plane on November 23, it was neither warmth or palm trees awaiting me but the humid and icy air of the Maritimes. My two-day visit to Halifax was for the meeting of the provincial and territorial Ministers of Health which was taking place there. On the agenda was the start of the talks on the 2014 Health Accord.

This accord, which has to be renegotiated every ten years, is principally intended for the establishment of the federal healthcare transfer payments in order for the provinces to fully assume their responsibilities for health care. Remember that, in 2004, the federal government, at the time led by the Liberal Party of Canada, made its own interpretation of the concept of jurisdiction. At the time, they imposed their own views on how to manage this money within the provincial health networks, thus ignoring the priorities of the provinces.

The context is different, but equally worrisome, for the 2014 agreement. In fact, it will be a Conservative government at the bargaining table, and it would not be surprising to see a different approach to that of the 2004 Liberals. Not only are our values diametrically opposed to those of the Conservative government, but it is possible that this agreement will grant more powers to the provinces while the Conservatives seek to rid themselves of their fiscal responsibilities.

But it is not this meeting in Halifax which will determine the fate of this agreement. In fact, the meeting was the first in a series to define the basis for the negotiations between the federal and provincial governments. Furthermore, it was an opportunity for all Canadian organizations, the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU) and the FIQ, among others, to have their concerns heard. The improvement in healthcare, the improvement in the working conditions and practice for those who provide this care, the measures to take for effectively acting on health determinants and the necessary provisions to ensure the offer of safe care for the population are among our many concerns.

At this point in time, it is difficult to know what the Conservatives have in store for us, but clearly, the fresh Atlantic air resulted in refreshing the minds of the provincial health ministers who praised the work of healthcare professionals and who clearly demonstrated a desire to work with us in order to pursue a satisfactory agreement.

That being said, history has shown us many times how a consensus of interprovincial discussions can easily be eroded when the time comes to put it in writing. The preparations for the negotiations are far from being completed, and we will need several small breaths of fresh air again before we can get to the bottom of the matter.