Weekly Top Stories: Budget Priorities and Canada’s Pharmacare

Published on
March 18, 2024
Written by
Delphic Research
Read time
8 min

As Canada stands at a critical juncture, grappling with economic challenges, healthcare priorities, and national concerns, the provinces of Quebec and Alberta have presented their budget strategies for the fiscal year 2024-25.

Quebec's finance minister, Eric Girard, revealed the budget for the fiscal year 2024-25, marking a significant moment in the province's financial management with an $11-billion deficit, standing out as the largest in its history. This deficit stems from a combination of factors, including a stagnant economy, repercussions from a historic forest fire season, and extensive public sector wage increases.

Despite expectations, the $158 billion budget lacks a clear roadmap for achieving fiscal balance, pushing the target for a balanced budget to the 2029-30 fiscal year, representing a two-year delay from previous forecasts.

Quebec's economic challenges are evident, with the province's real GDP growth stalling at 0.2% in 2023. Predictions for modest improvements foresee a growth rate of 0.6% in 2024 and 1.6% in 2025, albeit with cautious optimism.

Addressing the ongoing demand for robust health and social services, the Quebec government allocated nearly $3.7 billion over five years for enhancements in these sectors, including improving access to care and services, ensuring continuity and quality of care for seniors, and consolidating social services for youth and vulnerable individuals.

The key themes of Quebec's 2024-2025 budget focus on prioritizing health and education, enhancing support for seniors with disabilities and Quebec communities, promoting economic development across the province and its regions, and optimizing government initiatives.

Meanwhile, from Quebec's budget to Alberta's 2024 budget, the contrast in fiscal strategies and priorities becomes apparent. While Quebec grapples with an $11-billion deficit, Alberta's approach underscores a commitment to maintaining fiscal stability and fostering economic growth.

The Alberta government, under Finance Minister Nate Horner, has introduced legislation to authorize key elements of Budget 2024. The proposed amendments to Bill 10, known as the Financial Statutes Amendment Act, 2024, which supports Alberta’s plan to responsibly maintain fiscal stability and keep building economic prosperity, would allow the provincial government to move forward with some of the important technical components of Budget 2024.

If Bill 10 is passed, it will bring about amendments to several acts, including the Alberta Personal Income Tax Act, Film & Television Tax Credit Act, Land Titles Act, Sustainable Fiscal Planning and Reporting Act, Tobacco Tax Act, and Investing in a Diversified Alberta Economy Amendment Act.

Budget 2024 is structured to enhance healthcare and education, create safe and supportive communities, ensure prudent resource management, and stimulate job creation to bolster Alberta's competitive edge. It envisions a refocused healthcare system, intensified efforts to prevent and reduce crime, and a commitment to fiscal responsibility by achieving a balanced budget, controlling expenditures, reducing debt, and contributing to the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund.

A recent survey findings have brought attention to Canadians' perspectives on healthcare access as they age. According to the 2023 Ageing in Canada survey conducted by the National Institute on Ageing in collaboration with the Environics Institute for Survey Research, a significant portion of Canadians aged 50 and above exhibit confidence in accessing healthcare services and treatments as they age. Out of the surveyed group, 6 in 10 respondents expressed either very or somewhat confident sentiments regarding their ability to obtain expected healthcare services in the future. The survey, which delved into the perspectives of ageing in Canada, involved a base sample of 5,875 Canadians.

Even if there is a well of initiatives to address healthcare priorities and fiscal challenges, critics remain vocal about the future of Canada's pharmacare system. The uncertainty surrounding Canada's comprehensive pharmacare program persists after the federal government's recent proposal, which critics deem weak and limited. The plan, announced just days before a crucial deadline to maintain a political agreement, is limited to providing only diabetes and contraception medications., falling short of broader coverage advocated by critics and similar to models in other advanced economies.

Stephen Frank, President and CEO of the CLHIA, criticized the plan for potentially burdening Canadians with unnecessary costs and jeopardizing existing workplace benefit plans relied upon by millions. Frank underlined the need of providing benefits to individuals without insurance rather than interfering with the efficient mechanisms that presently serve Canadians.

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