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Premiers' demands for long-term health funding increase takes back seat to pandemic

FILE - COVID-19 testing. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

OTTAWA – A first ministers meeting Thursday that was supposed to be devoted to long-term, federal health care funding seems destined to be hijacked by a more urgent priority: surviving the COVID-19 pandemic.

Premiers asked for the meeting in September and wanted it focused exclusively on their unanimous demand that Ottawa add at least $28 billion a year to its annual health transfer payment to provinces and territories.

But while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s willing to discuss the issue, he has been clear that getting through the pandemic is more pressing, as far as he’s concerned.

Conservative Opposition Leader Erin O’Toole says he wants to see collaboration between the federal government and the provinces and territories on health care.

As host of the daylong meeting, he’s scheduled the first half to focus on the rollout of vaccines to inoculate Canadians against COVID-19, the first of which is slated to begin delivery next week.

The second half of the meeting, to be conducted via teleconference, will be devoted to health care funding and improving health care in general.

On Wednesday, premiers were scaling back expectations, saying it will take multiple meetings to come to any resolution on health transfers.