Canada agrees to bilateral healthcare deals with Ontario, Atlantic provinces

Canada's Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, takes part in a news conference after touring a medical training facility in Ottawa

By Ismail Shakil

OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canada's federal government on Thursday agreed with Ontario and the Atlantic provinces to provide some of the new healthcare spending unveiled earlier this month to help "modernize" the system, including reducing surgical wait times and improving mental health services.

The separate bilateral deals reached with Ontario and the four Atlantic provinces - Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia - include 10-year federal funding plans as well as one-time payments to address urgent healthcare needs, the federal government said in a statement.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met provincial and territorial leaders earlier this month and offered them C$46.2 billion ($34.1 billion) in new health funding over a decade. About half of that new spending was earmarked to be disbursed only after each province agreed to restrictions.

Ottawa wants provinces to target priority areas such as primary care and mental health. The federal government also asked the provinces to commit to better data gathering and sharing.

The bilateral deals will "modernize our healthcare system, improve access to family health services and mental health services, reduce surgical backlogs and support health workers," Canada's Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said in the statement.

The deal with Ontario, Canada's most populous province, includes a 10-year, C$8.4 billion funding plan as well as a one-time C$776 million payment. The Atlantic provinces, which have smaller populations, have agreed to funding ranging from around C$290 million to about C$1 billion.

The regional governments, which are responsible for healthcare delivery, had for years been asking Ottawa to increase its spending contribution to Canada's public healthcare system, which has been under strain due to the COVID-19 pandemic and staffing shortages.

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Ottawa; Editing by Richard Chang and Bill Berkrot)