The New Democrats are ready to withdraw from their confidence-and-supply agreement they signed with the Liberals if there is no federal action to address the health-care crisis, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Monday.
The deal reached in March would see the NDP support the minority government on key votes in the House of Commons to avoid triggering an election before 2025. In exchange, the Liberals have promised to make progress on a number of NDP priorities, including health care.
While some terms of the agreement are very specific, the accord on health care involves "additional ongoing investments," but no timelines or specific dollar figures.
"If we don't see action on health care, we absolutely reserve the right to withdraw our support," Singh said at a press conference Monday in Ottawa.
"This is at the level of seriousness that we could make that serious consideration. We need to see action."
In a year-end interview with The Canadian Press later Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he is ready and willing to offer provinces more money for health care, but he wants to know the government will see improvements in the system as a result.
As for whether Singh will pull out of the deal, he says the health-care crisis is greater than any agreement with the NDP.
"I think if health care continues to be such a crisis point for so many Canadians an arrangement with the NDP is the least of our worries," Trudeau said.
"Unless we get improvements in our health-care system, Canadians are going to start losing confidence in our country, in our institutions, in our ability to be there for each other."
Singh said he is particularly concerned about the "escalating" problems in children's hospitals across the country, and requested an emergency debate in the House of Commons as hospitals deal with an influx of sick children.
"We are at a breaking point," Singh said. "Our children are at risk right now."
Just last week, CHEO, the children's hospital in Ottawa, called in support from the Canadian Red Cross to bolster staff who are treating record numbers of babies and children with respiratory illnesses.
Meanwhile, the Alberta Children's Hospital in Calgary is using a heated trailer as an overflow waiting room to accommodate young patients.
Singh wrote to the Speaker of the House of Commons to give notice of the NDP's request, citing these examples and other developments across Canada.
A memo from the leadership of the BC Children's Hospital obtained by The Canadian Press shows the hospital has resorted to putting two patients to a single room because of the number of children who need care. Similar measures have been used in the past during bad seasons for respiratory disease.
Singh argued urgent action by the government on the stress on Canada's children's hospitals should be informed by the debate of parliamentarians.
The House was adjourned early on Monday in recognition of the death of Winnipeg Jim Carr, and so the Speaker has not yet addressed the request for an emergency debate.
Singh wants Trudeau to meet with provincial and territorial premiers to find a solution.
Last week, the premiers publicly repeated their demand for a sit-down with the prime minister to personally hammer out an agreement to increase funding for their health systems — a demand they've been making for more than a year.
The premiers reiterated their desire to see Ottawa cover 35 per cent of health-care costs across the country, up from the current 22 per cent, by increasing the Canada Health Transfer.
During his interview with The Canadian Press, Trudeau would not commit to meeting with all premiers as requested. He said he speaks to them regularly about health care and his ministers are actively working on the issue with their provincial counterparts as well.
"I don't think people care whether or not we sit down together. I think people care whether or not we can start fixing our health-care system, and that's what I'm focused on," he said.
Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos brought an offer to increase the Canada Health Transfer to provincial and territorial health ministers last month in exchange for better data sharing between provinces and territories, but no progress was made.
Singh said the conditions imposed in the confidence-and-supply agreement on health care are deliberately "flexible," but the NDP leader added he's not seeing urgency from the government.
"This is not just about health-care transfers. This is about an immediate crisis that requires immediate action and a prime minister to step up and show that leadership."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 12, 2022.
— With files from Ashley Joannou in Vancouver