Prime Minister Stephen Harper says it's up to the provinces to find the "solutions" to a better health-system that will be affordable for future generations.
Harper made the comment in a wide-ranging interview with CTV News to be broadcast Monday evening.
In the interview, the prime minister spoke candidly to CTV anchor Lisa LaFlamme on issues such as the continuing economic turmoil in Europe, the political instability in the Arab World, his increased power as head of a majority government, and aboriginal affairs in Canada.
As well, Harper and his wife, Laureen provided a joint interview in which they shared personal anecdotes about their family’s life at 24 Sussex Drive and at the official country estate, at Harrington Lake, just north of Ottawa.
They also spoke about their own relationship and the difficulties sometimes entailed in going out as a couple on a private date because of the “public spectacle” it can cause.
Throughout the interview, Harper did not shy away delivering some blunt messages — including on medicare.
Last week, Harper’s government stunned provinces by announcing that it will provide a long-term funding plan for health care that is non-negotiable.
The federal government will continue to increase federal health care transfers by six per cent until 2016-17. After that, increases will only be tied to economic growth including inflation — roughly four per cent — and never fall below three per cent.
“This government will ensure that there continue to be increases in health care transfers,” Harper told CTV.
“We’ll do it over the long term at a level that’s sustainable, but a healthy growth.”
“But that isn’t the only solution. The provinces themselves are going to have to — I mean they’ve got obviously an even bigger financial issue on health care. Some of them are already starting to restrict the growth in spending, and they’re the ones who are going to have to really come up with the solutions on health care delivery.”
The premiers will hold a special meeting in Victoria in mid-January to discuss the health care system. There are no immediate plans for them to also meet with Harper on the issue, although federal health minister Leona Aglukkaq has told her provincial counterparts she is prepared to “re-engage” in 2012 — including working on a common plan to measure how well the health system is performing.
“We’re obviously willing, you know, to be a partner and do what we can do to help,” Harper said in the interview.
“But I think we all understand that . . . the rate of growth of the health care system can’t be sustained and that somehow that’s going to have to be tackled, so that we, we keep a system that Canadians value, Canadians depend on, but can manage it in a way that it’s affordable and will continue to be available for future generations.”
When LaFlamme said Canadians are scared about health care, the economy and pensions and look to the prime minister for hope, Harper had a surprising response.
“I think it’s, in a sense, good that Canadians feel that way because we have some major challenges in front of us.”
Harper said his government will be tackling “key programs” on a wide range of areas over the next year to ensure their sustainability.
At the same time, he promised “major reforms” in various areas to assist economic growth, attract capital investment, and create jobs.
Among other highlights of the interview:
• Majority government:
He said it was a “great relief” to win a majority government in the May election after governing for five years with a minority.
“My only other consideration is I want to make sure that we use it. You know, I’ve seen too many majority governments — bureaucracy talks them into going to sleep for three years and then they all of a sudden realize they’re close to an election. So we’ve tried to keep busy and we’re going to try and keep busy through the whole four years.“
• Economy: He predicted it will be a “very challenging” year ahead for the global economy. Canada also faces economic uncertainty but is in better condition than many other nations with deep debts, he said.
• Europe: The debt turmoil in that continent still has not been resolved and is dragging down the economies of nations throughout the word, he said.
“This is one of the richest places in the world,” he said, urging Europeans to fix the problem. “We’re running out of road here.”
• The United States: It remains a “concern” although it won’t be the source of an “immediate crisis”, he said.
“But obviously the combination of debt, deficit, political gridlock, these are very troubling developments.”
• Syria: He doesn’t foresee a military intervention in the near future because there is not — as there was with Libya — a United Nations resolution authorizing such action.
“So I think we will continue to see stepped-up pressure through diplomatic and through other trade sanctions. And I don’t think it’s any secret that our expectation is that this regime will eventually be toppled. It may not be this year, but that time is coming.”
• Egypt: He is concerned about continued instability in the key country of the region.
“We’ve always been concerned that in Egypt, yes, there are obviously forces who want democracy and progressive change, but there are clearly some forces that would want something that’s probably worse than what we had before.”
• Kyoto Protocol: He defended his government’s decision to exit the accord, saying no one was surprised and that future efforts to control global warming will only work if nations that are large emitters of greenhouse gas emissions are involved in the plan.
“It doesn’t matter what Canada does. It doesn’t matter what, frankly, Europe does. Unless we get all of the major emitters to be part of an accord that has mandatory targets, we’re not going to get anywhere.”
• Free trade: He said trade talks with Europe are going well and his cabinet will be making decisions on the issue in the “very near future.”
“We’re getting down to the short strokes and the next couple months is where we’re going to have to decide what the very difficult trade-offs are going to be.”
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Also on the CTV show, Harper and his wife spoke about their personal lives with their children, Ben and Rachel, in Ottawa.
They said they enjoy the country estate at Harrington Lake and spend their summers there with their children, adding that they try to keep their kids’ lives as normal as possible in Ottawa.
Asked if the couple go out on “date nights,” Laureen Harper said it’s hard to do that in a public place because of her husband’s instant recognition.
“We go out, it’s automatically kind of a public spectacle,” said the prime minister.
But he added that “we got to quite a few concerts, we love going to concerts.”
Laureen Harper said she agrees with her husband on most issues but doesn’t shy away from telling him if she thinks there is something he has missed.
“He loves his job and you know, it — and so that makes family life easier if your spouse is doing something — I mean if he came home very night unhappy because he hated his job, then I think that would be terrible. But he likes his job and the kids like their schools, they like their friends. So it just makes it like — it’s not stressful.”
She noted that the prime minister is originally from Toronto before moving to Calgary and that she is from rural southern Alberta. She said she makes her husband go camping once a year.
So, where is home? the couple was asked.
“Ottawa’s a great city,” said Laureen Harper.
“We have a nice family life here,” replied the prime minister. “I think it’s really home for the kids. But you know, I think for us, Alberta’s still home.”