Health funding talks end with no agreement as feds walk away, blaming premiers
VANCOUVER — Ministers who gathered for meetings to address the national health crisis left Tuesday without assurances of more funding from their federal counterpart, who blamed premiers for giving them “marching orders” to stop negotiating.
British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix, who co-chaired the second day of the gatherings Tuesday with federal Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, said the federal government withdrew from a joint statement on the talks and excluded itself from a news conference.
Duclos referred to a statement issued earlier Tuesday by the Council of the Federation, the group representing all premiers, before talks wrapped up.
In the statement, the premiers said they were disappointed with the lack of a federal response to an ongoing request from provinces and territories to get 35 per cent of health-care costs covered by Ottawa, up from 22 per cent.
However, Duclos declined to say at a separate news conference whether he came to the table with more cash, adding only that premiers did not want health ministers to accept any conditions, like providing data on the health-care workforce.
“Unfortunately, despite (Monday’s) gesture of good faith, provincial and territorial colleagues, our colleagues, have received marching orders by their premiers not to make further progress,” Duclos said.
“As a result, the premiers are preventing all of us health ministers from taking concrete and tangible steps that would make an immediate difference in the daily lives of health workers and patients.
“Obviously, this is disappointing. Canadians expect and deserve more than this.”
Duclos said that instead of allowing health ministers to engage in meaningful discussions, premiers were “forcing” them to focus only on money.
“We need to work together so that patients everywhere in Canada can get the care they need, when they need it and where they need it. These are fundamental priorities that we all agreed upon. Why in the world won’t premiers let us health ministers work on these priorities?”
The premiers also reiterated their call on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to meet with them. Dix has said a national conference on the Canada Health Transfer, the federal money doled out to all jurisdictions, is also needed.
Duclos said he told health ministers the federal government would provide targeted funding for priorities they have expressed for many months.
“We’ve had a total of 11 virtual meetings over the last year, plus this one in person,” he said. ‘But we need to be all together and express commonly those priorities and then move to the next step, which is going to be to determine the type of funding and the agenda that we want to work collaboratively on.”
Dix said the meetings came to a “disappointing” end and that the provincial and territorial ministers could not move forward on the basis of what he called “small sound bites from the prime minister.”
“Fair enough, they didn’t like that the premiers reiterated their position on the Canada Health Transfer. That’s entirely fair of the federal government to do in their expression. But I think it’s disappointing. I’m not sure it sends the best message,” he said.
“We need the federal government to increase its role and support for public health care and not, as has been happening for too long, diminish that role.”
The federal government has made funding deals with individual jurisdictions in the past.
In August 2017, provinces and territories signed an agreement on improving access to home and community care as well as mental health and addiction services. Quebec signed a different agreement distinct from those priorities. The tailor-made deals involved a total of $11 billion in per capita funding over 10 years.
Haizhen Mou, a professor of public policy at the University of Saskatchewan, said those agreements suggest Ottawa could further tie cash to other areas in health care, including improved conditions for a burnt-out workforce and measures like streamlining the hiring of internationally trained doctors and nurses.
“The federal government could do a lot if they regard this health workforce problem as their national priority. They already did on some other issues,” she said.
While health care is the responsibility of provinces and territories, Mou said they would do well to provide some accountability for how they spend pots of money, especially if it’s not targeted to particular areas.
“Our health-care system lacks accountability. It’s not a funding or the share-of-contribution issue. It’s an accountability and efficiency issue,” she said.
The Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions and the Canadian Nurses Association said the lack of results, along with “finger-pointing,” is not what they expected from the meetings.
“Nurses from across Canada are burnt out and under severe stress, while facing unprecedented pressures that have pushed them past the breaking point,” the two groups said in a joint statement.
“We recognize that the federal government should be stepping up with more money for health care in Canada, but new investments must be targeted towards areas of critical need to ensure that Canadians receive the care they need, when they need it.”
Both groups said they will request a meeting with Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson, chair of the federation, to discuss the critical measures needed to support nurses and the health-care system.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 8, 2022.
Camille Bains, The Canadian Press
Remaining residents urged to flee Tumbler Ridge immediately as crews continue to fight wildfire near townsite
Crews continue to fight the West Kiskatinaw fire in northern B.C. that moved closer to the town of Tumbler Ridge on Friday, burning about three kilometres from the townsite, according to the district.
But winds are expected to change directions Saturday, according to the B.C. Wildfire Services (BCWS), potentially pushing the fire away from Tumbler Ridge.
“We are certainly not in the clear at this point, but we are leaning toward a little bit of cautious optimism,” said Karley Desrosiers with the BCWS on Friday afternoon.
The town of about 2,400 people went on evacuation order Thursday evening, two days after the wildfire was discovered.
As of Friday evening, 90 per cent of the town had left, officials say, urging those who remain to flee immediately and register online or at reception centres in Chetwynd, Dawson Creek, and Fort St. John, which will open 10 a.m. Saturday.
Tumbler Ridge fire Chief Dustin Curry says about 150 people remained on Friday, some of them emergency personnel, but others residents who refuse to comply with the order to leave.
Those who need hotel accommodation are being asked to go to Fort St. John, 170 kilometres north of Tumbler Ridge.
Vancouver Island highway shut down indefinitely
On Vancouver Island, the Cameron Bluffs wildfire continues to burn near Port Alberni. The wildfire made its way to Highway 4, prompting the closure of the major east-west route on Tuesday.
It’s now closed indefinitely after officials determined that the fire was causing instability in the incline above the highway, which has caused debris such as uprooted trees and rocks.
“As we approach this weekend and recognizing that Highway 4 will continue to be closed, we just ask people to really consider whether or not they can go or whether or not they can wait,” said Janelle Staite, deputy regional director with the province’s Ministry of Transportation.
The province announced a detour on Wednesday, but cautioned that it should only used for essential travel. The route extends travel time by hours and features rough roads and some single-lane bridges.
The logging-road detour, closed for eight hours Friday as crews worked to extricate a vehicle that rolled into a lake along the route, re-opened at 9 p.m. that evening.
Drought season ahead
While a chance of rain is in the forecast for Saturday, Tumbler Ridge is in an area experiencing drought conditions.
The hottest May on record resulted in a rapid snowmelt and record-low provincial snow levels in most B.C. mountains, according to the Snow Survey and Water Supply Bulletin.
The bulletin states drought risk has been exacerbated by the lingering effects of the 2022 drought and the high likelihood of above average summer temperatures.
“This is the earliest snowmelt on record ever … Prolonged drought could have major impacts on water availability, on fish and streams and other ecosystems,” said Jonathan Boyd, a hydrologist with the River Forecast Centre.
Forecasts in the Tumbler Ridge region show a chance of rain on Saturday, with temperatures expected to reach 26 C on Sunday and Monday.
Later in the week, temperatures are expected to cool to 17 C with the possibility of rain showers.
Check the CBC News Climate Dashboard for live updates on wildfire smoke and active fires across the country. Set your location for information on air quality and to find out how today’s temperatures compare to historical trends.
‘High risk of province-wide drought’ this summer, authorities warn
Much of B.C. could face a long, significant drought this summer, according to provincial forecasters.
The warning is particularly worrying to those who depend on water for their livelihoods, such as cattle ranchers and the agricultural sector.
“What we’ve seen now from the past month of heat is that the high-elevation snow is rapidly depleting,” said Jonathan Boyd, a hydrologist with B.C.’s River Forecast Centre. “We’re on pace to be the earliest snow-free that the province has recorded.
“We’ve had just a phenomenal melt so far, and where it’s a little bit scary is … we’re moving into this year in a really precarious position.”
The most recent B.C. Snow Survey and Water Supply Bulletin, released Thursday based on June 1 data, warned of “long-term, significant drought” unless there is substantial and sustained rainfall over the coming months.
According to provincial data, current snow levels are 29 per cent of what’s normal for this time of year. That’s down from 66 per cent just two weeks ago, indicating a very fast melt.
The possibility of a severe drought comes after high-temperature records for May were smashed in multiple communities across the province, causing faster and earlier snow melt than usual.
While raging wildfires are top-of-mind for many in the province now, a prolonged drought could worsen the economic toll of this year’s extreme hot and dry weather.
‘We are not going to starve our animals’
Previous droughts have hit the province’s agriculture sector particularly hard, with many ranchers forced to cull many of their cattle because of food shortages going into winter.
“It’s a little bit bleak out there right now as we look through the cracked crystal ball we’ve got,” said Kevin Boon, general manager of the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association, which represents ranchers. “And we don’t know what’s coming, but it’s enough that we’re concerned.”
He said there are basically two main resources ranchers need to support their herds: grass for food, and water.
“If we don’t get the rain to grow the grass, we have no choice but to reduce the amount of cattle we have,” he told CBC News. “We are not going to starve our animals.
“Unfortunately when we see a widespread drought … often the only opportunity for that breeding stock is to send them to market and to be processed for food, and that is very challenging for our guys that have spent generations building herds.”
In 2021, the provincial and federal governments announced increased supports for the ranching sector, including a more than $100-million boost to the joint AgriRecovery fund, supports for cattle relocated by wildfires, and a Wildfire Emergency Feed Program to offer two weeks of support for commercial livestock businesses without feed.
“In our industry we’ve developed a very good infrastructure for water storage,” Boon, himself a long-time rancher, said. “Water storage is the key to everything out here right now, as we see climate change and climate adaptation — the more we store, the more we’re able to manage.”
The B.C. report released this week warns of “severe water availability concerns” for human use.
The drought concerns are especially for the province’s Northeast, North Peace, Vancouver Island, South Coast, Southern Interior, Kootenay, and Columbia regions.
“If we continue this for another three or four months, we could be in a situation come September or October like we were last year, but potentially even worse,” the River Forecast Centre’s Boyd said.
“It becomes an issue for fish and and other stream ecosystems — and an issue for water availability and just extreme, extreme low flows.”
Canada's visaless entry system crashes, leaving many travellers stranded – CBC.ca
The collapse of the website that processes Canada’s Electronic Travel Authorizations (eTAs) has caused missed flights, stress and financial pain to many travellers trying to reach Canada.
This week, Canada expanded the number of countries eligible for the eTA system, which replaces a full visa requirement for countries whose citizens are considered at lower risk of overstaying. Travellers from these countries pay a $7 Cdn fee and fill out an online application in a process that would normally take just minutes.
“This exciting development means that more individuals from around the world can now embark on unforgettable adventures, explore our diverse landscapes, reunite with family and friends, and immerse themselves in our vibrant culture without the hurdle of visa requirements,” said a statement from Sean Fraser, minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), which oversees the eTA system.
But the immediate effect of the change was the opposite.
A predictable surge, not predicted
IRCC appears not to have anticipated that adding 13 new countries with a combined population of over a quarter of a billion people would lead to a sudden surge in applications, but that’s what happened.
A spokesperson for IRCC said the biggest spike in applications came from the Philippines.
Servers were overwhelmed and the collapse of the system affected not only applicants from the 13 new countries, but from others that were already in the eTA system.
British citizen Amy Monerawela was scheduled to travel to Toronto with her family from London, England, but they were unable to get through the eTA site.
“We’ve had four people working on it since this morning,” she told CBC News on Friday evening from her London home. “And I mean sat around this table working on it from different devices, with different operating systems and different browsers. None of us are technophobes, we know what we’re doing, and we’ve not been able to crack it.”
“We got through to the payment page once, and when we went to put the card details in, it refreshed the page and kicked us out.”
Users reported several different problems with the site, including crashes, freezes and various error messages.
Cancellations come with heavy costs
Monerawela says that between their non-refundable Air Transat flights and a prepaid Airbnb, her family will lose thousands of dollars. They will also miss the chance to see family in Canada for the first time since the pandemic began.
One of their daughters is wheelchair bound and has other medical issues that make travel very difficult, she explained. The family had already paid to forward some medical items their daughter needs to Toronto.
Gabriel Contreras already missed his flight from Spain to visit a sister who lives in Canada. He was refused boarding on the first leg of the trip from Madrid to Amsterdam because of the eTA issue.
He said that even if the problem were fixed tomorrow, he and his travel partner would have to buy two new tickets for 970 euros each. The new flights would end up costing him more than $2,700 Cdn.
“That’s way too much for us,” said Contreras, who noted that since he only has one week off for travel, he’s decided to cancel his visit rather than rebook.
“The whole process has been jarring,” he told CBC News, saying his impression of IRCC was “really bad” and that “We’re a bit mad about the whole thing.”
Contreras says he will try to recover the lost money from travel insurance.
Lack of communication from IRCC, travellers say
Some travellers complained about the lack of communication from IRCC, noting that it had failed to respond to phone calls or tweets.
According to passengers, the eTA site stopped working properly on Thursday. IRCC posted a tweet around noon on Friday acknowledging the problem:
“Online service for eTA applications is currently intermittently available. Please try again later. We appreciate your patience. Travellers are still required to have the appropriate travel documents to travel to or transit through Canada.”
When is this going to be fixed? It makes so sense- people can’t enter Canada without paying this $7 yet its an issue with your server?
“How can this still be required if it’s impossible to access?” responded one frustrated traveller.
Other responses included: “My 17 year old brother’s eTA hasn’t come back and we fly in 9 hours ?!?!?!?!?! What do we do, such bad customer service – no response from your webform!”
“Because of this my friend was not allowed on his $1,000 USD flight,” wrote another. “We had to cancel all our other flights and plans in Canada, costing us another $500 USD. The Canadian embassy said the online application is the only way. You should have a back-up in case this happened.”
“The hardship you caused to travellers is immense,” wrote another person. “All the pain just to collect $7.”
Some of the passengers who missed flights said they weren’t even planning to stay in the country, but were merely transiting through Canada on layovers to other destinations such as Australia.
“Embarrassing that you even need a visa to transit through Canada,” one person complained.
‘I think they don’t care’
Some travellers also expressed annoyance to CBC News at IRCC’s unwillingness to waive the $7 fee, allow people to complete the forms on arrival, or offer any kind of alternative that would have saved their travel plans.
“I tried to contact them over the phone,” said Monerawela. “I got sent to a webpage. They haven’t tweeted back to anybody. I think they don’t care, that’s how it feels. They don’t care how this is affecting people’s lives, people’s finances.”
On Friday evening, some passengers attempting to obtain eTAs reported receiving a message in response suggesting repairs might not be coming for days.
A note explains that IRCC will “perform updates to its online system” from 12 am to 5:30 am on June 13.
“The eTA application will not be available at that time. We apologize for the inconvenience. To apply for an eTA, please return after 5:30 am on June 13.”
CBC News was seeking clarification from IRCC on the precise meaning of that note at the time of publication.
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