Quebec blows hot and cold on relations with Trudeau government


QUEBEC — Despite his own health minister spending the day blasting Ottawa for refusing to cough up money for health, Premier Philippe Couillard insisted Wednesday he has a good relationship with the central government.

With the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau turning one Wednesday, Couillard joined in the chorus of yeas and nays on what it has been able to do in that time.

“It’s been a good first year,” Couillard told a clutch of reporters in the hall of the legislature. “The working relationship is good. Of course, we have disagreements. The most obvious example is the health transfer question but this is to be expected in any situation.”

Couillard downplayed the rift saying the two parties are at the “first dance,” stage of talks on the subject where “everyone places their players and defines their positions.”

Couillard, however, said Quebec will not accept any form of conditional health transfers from Ottawa because health delivery priorities are set by the provinces.

“This is something we gained in 2004, which is called asymmetry,” Couillard said. “That means we ourselves determine what orientations are best for health care.

“I think we will get to a happy conclusion but we’re not there yet. Contrary to what the opposition said, it’s not over. It’s not even the beginning of the end.”

Earlier, fresh from a tense meeting of Canada’s health ministers and the federal health minister Jane Philpott in Toronto this week that resulted in no solution to the funding dispute, Barrette had harsh words.

He described the meeting as “disappointing,” and said while Philpott clearly wants to do more — especially to fund mental health care services — she is being blocked up the line by federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Trudeau himself.

“They do not see any political gain in financing mental health,” Barrette said.

Parti Québécois Leader Jean-François Lisée said he backs Barrette in the fight because it’s clear Ottawa — which does not actually deliver any direct health care services — is not competent enough to run a system.

He said the old federal Liberal Party, which believes in centralizing power and deciding what the provinces should do, is coming back to life under Trudeau.

“It’s the return of what (Robert) Bourassa called, domineering federalism,” Lisée said, predicting Trudeau’s popularity will start dropping the more he is faced with making complicated decisions.”