Premier David Eby and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will meet face-to-face for the first time Sunday, as several key federal-provincial issues continue to fester unresolved.
The two leaders will cross paths at the Lunar New Year Chinatown Parade in Vancouver. In typical Trudeau fashion, it will be a flashy photo-op with comparatively little time for substantial talk. But, then again, that’s just how this prime minister rolls.
British Columbia has several huge files requiring federal attention.
The biggest is increased federal health care funding, which has been a dispute between all provinces and Ottawa for almost a year. The health system is under enormous pressure, with a nursing shortage, doctor shortage, ambulance shortage and an overwhelmed hospital system.
The provinces want Ottawa to increase annual health transfers, without strings on how the money is spent. Ottawa wants the provinces to agree to benchmarks, reporting and outcomes for the cash. Any settlement is likely to fall in between – some unattached funding, some earmarked for certain sectors like seniors’ care and a loose agreement to national standards on health-care reporting.
“If people can actually see what’s happening across the country and see what the outcomes are, that’ll drive improvements,” Trudeau told the Toronto Star recently.
“First of all, it means collecting data the same way: making sure that there are comparable indicators across the country, making sure that there are things that actually matter to Canadians, like the percentage of citizens in your province that have access to a primary-care physician.”
Complicating factors has been Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s announcement his province will allow private clinics to perform more procedures to help reduce growing waitlists, which some experts have welcomed and others have warned could be a move to increasing privatization of public health care. Trudeau has called it “innovative.”
The private clinic controversy is unlikely to be quite as big an issue in B.C., where the province has long contracted private surgical centres to clear backlogs, without undermining the system.
While BC New Democrats have long been amongst the most vocal champions of Tommy Douglas’s universal public health-care system, their new premier is a pragmatist, driven by data-based decisions, committed to moving quickly to tackle the health care crisis and show visible improvements within the next 18 months. It’s not difficult to imagine him supporting Ontario’s move, as well as other reforms, to access the federal cash, break the negotiation logjam, and get improvements rolling in the system.
Where Eby will have a much tougher line with Trudeau is on prolific offenders.
B.C. wants Ottawa to change federal bail rules that make it easy for repeat criminals to get repeatedly released from custody while awaiting charges, where they commit the same crimes, street violence and vandalism again and again.
Trudeau’s proclivity for sidestepping difficult decisions won’t do him much good here, as making people feel safer on B.C. streets is one of Eby’s core goals before he faces re-election. The premier will give the prime minister the full-court press on this issue, every chance he gets – even during parade photo-ops. If B.C. can’t get progress, you could easily see Eby getting creative with provincial jurisdiction to try and tackle the problem himself.
There’s also other pressing issues, including B.C.’s request for more federal housing partnerships, an ask for federal transfers to be tied to immigration levels, and so on.
Those might require more time for the leaders to hash out – which is unlikely. Trudeau rarely seems to engage that long on matters of substance. He’s like a magician, preferring to arrive with a splashy entrance, nail a couple of tricks and then take off before the applause ends and people realize nothing actuall happened.
The two leaders might look similar – middle-aged, tall, skinny white guys, walking the parade route in Chinatown on Sunday – but they are actually quite different.
Eby is making changes at lightning pace, thinking outside the box, taking suggestions for reforms based on data, pushing the provincial civil service and frantically trying to get actual things done. Trudeau is coasting at a high level, playing politics, leaking stories against his enemies and crafting partisan wedge issues.
They couldn’t be more different leaders, with different styles. Sizzle meets steak in Vancouver on Sunday.
Rob Shaw has spent more than 14 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.