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Joe Biden in Ottawa During a Heavy Provincial Budget Week

U.S. President Joe Biden made his long-awaited trip to Canada; several provinces tabled their provincial budgets; and Han Dong removed himself from the federal Liberal Caucus following Global News accusations that he met with Chinese consular officials and advised them to delay the return of the two Michaels amid Canada-China tensions.

On that, and more, here is your Syntax Weekly Health Round-Up

In the House 

  • The House of Commons returned from its break week to another domino falling in the foreign interference of Canadian elections drama, when now-former Liberal MP Han Dong announced that he would be sitting as an independent MP while seeking to clear his name amid fresh accusations that he advised Chinese consular officials to delay the return of the two Michaels to Canada for fear that a swift return would benefit the Conservative Party. Of note, the government’s response to Global News’ initial coverage of the story was tepid at best, and a serious course correction from the Prime Minister’s original defense of the embattled MP when allegations first surfaced that Chinese consular officials had taken steps to sway the Liberal nomination in Han Dong’s favour. The question now becomes whether the Liberals themselves will call for a public inquiry into the matter, given the new revelations.

  • U.S. President Joe Biden, during his maiden visit to Canada as a sitting U.S. President, delivered a speech to the House of Commons where he stressed cooperation between the two countries, particularly on irregular migration. Biden and Trudeau announced an agreement that will see Canada accept 15,000 more migrants from the Western hemisphere through legal pathways in return for closing a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement and shut down the unofficial border crossing at Roxham Road.

At Committee

  • The Standing Committee on Health began its week by continuing its study on children’s health, hearing from academics, researchers, and the Paediatric Surgical Chiefs of Canada. Sticking with the theme of children, the committee also agreed to move quickly on its consideration of Bill C-252, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (prohibition of food and beverage marketing directed at children), which will take place during the week of March 28. The Bill would call for regulations to ban of marketing unhealthy foods to children under the age of 13. The committee established March 24 as the deadline for submissions. 

  • The Standing Committee on Health also agreed to devote two committee meetings to its study of the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board between the dates of April 25, 2023, and May 11, 2023.

  • To finish the week, the Standing Committee on Health heard from Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos and Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett, who were joined by departmental officials to provide an update on departmental spending and departmental plans (2023-24) and table the supplementary estimates. In total, the government is seeking $10.5 billion for fiscal year 2023-24 on behalf of the health portfolio, which includes Health Canada ($4.1B), the Public Health Agency of Canada ($4.2B), the Canadian Food Inspection Agency ($4.3M), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research ($1.4B), and the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board (NA).

Around Cabinet  

  • Federal Ministers Jean-Yves Duclos and Carolyn Bennett met with the Coalition for Action for Health Workers, a group established by the federal government in November 2022 to inform immediate and longer-term solutions to address significant healthcare worker-related challenges. The Coalition has met several times to discuss recruitment, retention, the importance of data in planning, and team-based care. The Ministers noted the importance of the Coalition’s work to advance key federal initiatives on health labour mobility, including streamlined foreign credential recognition and multi-jurisdictional (domestic) credential recognition.

  • Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced measures in support of Canada’s first-ever National Strategy for Drugs for Rare Diseases, including an investment of $1.5 billion over three years to help provinces and territories improve access to new and emerging drugs, as well as support enhanced access to existing drugs, early diagnosis, and screening for rare diseases. Next, the two levels of government will meet to jointly determine a small set of new and emerging drugs that would be cost-shared and covered in a consistent way across the country for the benefit of patients. The federal government will also work directly with Indigenous groups. The four pillars underpinning the government’s approach are: national consistency in coverage for drugs for rare diseases; supporting patient outcomes and system sustainability; collection and use of evidence; and investing in innovation.

Around the Dominion

  • In PEI, the Liberal Party became the first party to unveil a fully costed platform during the provincial election campaign. With operational spending of 2:1 for healthcare versus other budget items, including $200 million out of $289 million in total new spending dedicated to health, the Liberal platform validated the party’s slogan “Healthcare First.” The Progressive Conservatives have begun releasing their platform in individual planks, while the Greens have promised to unveil their fully costed platform by week’s end. The NDP platform, released in the first week of the campaign, has no costing.

  • In Newfoundland, Finance Minister Siobhan Coady delivered Budget 2023: Your Health. Our Priority. The budget establishes the largest healthcare investment in the province’s history of $3.9 billion. The province also announced a $25,000 retention bonus for family physicians in return for a one-year return-in-service agreement, and that a new Salaried Family Physician Remoteness Bonus of between $11,000-$17,000 has been developed to address recruitment challenges for salaried family physicians at remote sites in the province.

  • In Nova Scotia, Finance Minister Allan MacMaster delivered Budget 2023: More Healthcare, Faster. The primary focus of the budget is fixing healthcare and giving people more options for a healthcare system. Spending on healthcare is estimated at $6.5 billion, an increase of more than $1.2 billion from two years ago, with clear focuses on recruitment, retention, and health workforce strategies, as well as reducing surgical and procedural backlogs.

  • In New Brunswick, Finance Minister Ernie Steeves delivered Budget 2023: Delivering for New Brunswickers. The budget allocates nearly $3.6 billion to the healthcare system, a 10.6 per cent increase over last year’s budget, and includes the recent increased healthcare funding from the federal government. Additional funding of $39.2 million will support improved access to primary healthcare in New Brunswick.

  • In Quebec, Finance Minister Eric Girard delivered Budget 2023, which invests $8.9 billion to restore the health system, with a particular focus on shifting to post-pandemic realities, improving care and increasing access to services for residents, and improving outcomes for seniors.

  • In Ontario, Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy delivered Budget 2023: Building a Strong Ontario. Its healthcare priorities remain reducing surgical and procedural backlogs by expanding access to certain surgeries and procedures, addressing doctor recruitment through local training of new doctors, and improving access to mental health and addictions services.

  • In Saskatchewan, Finance Minister Donna Harpauer delivered Budget 2023: Growth That Works for Everyone. The budget delivers a 6.7 per cent increase to the Ministry of Health to $6.9 billion, strengthening the healthcare system and taking significant steps to further attract, train and retain doctors, nurses, and other key healthcare professionals, and fund the largest volume of surgical procedures in the history of the province. 
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