Mental health, marijuana and money among expected themes as health ministers meet in Winnipeg

When provincial and federal health leaders last met — eight months ago in Edmonton — the pressing issues included mental health and addictions, the opioid crisis, the shadowy outlines of a national pharmacare strategy and the ongoing push by provinces to get Ottawa to contribute more to everything.

Those issues are still pressing as the federal, provincial and territorial health ministers meet at the Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg on Thursday and Friday for their annual summit.

Provincial and territorial health ministers last met in Edmonton in October. (CBC)

But this meeting will be missing a significant player — Ontario’s new health minister won’t be announced until Friday, when Doug Ford is officially sworn in.

A spokesperson for Manitoba’s Kelvin Goertzen, who has spent his first two years as health minister shepherding dramatic changes to Winnipeg’s emergency departments and wholesale changes to the health system, says the minister is limited on what he can say in advance of the meetings because of an upcoming byelection in St. Boniface, which restricts government announcements.

But the Manitoba health minister can be expected to continue pushing for further engagement from Ottawa on mental health and addictions strategies and — like other provinces — to call for more federal money behind those efforts.

Manitoba has expressed nominal support for a national pharmacare plan and it’s likely Goertzen will be looking for more details from the Liberal government on what that would look like and what it would cost.

Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen will likely press Ottawa to be more aggressive on dealing with the impacts of pot on health. (Travis Golby/CBC)

The Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates a national pharmacare program for all Canadians would save about $4.2 billion a year.

The Progressive Conservative government in Manitoba has been among the most cautious when it comes to the legalization of marijuana. In that light, Goertzen is likely to continue his government’s efforts to push the feds to be more aggressive on dealing with the impacts of pot on health.

The Tories have been especially vocal about the long-term impact of cannabis on young people.

Advocacy groups

While federal and provincial health ministers meet behind closed doors at the Fort Garry Hotel to talk policy, a new advocacy group will launch in the same location.

The Manitoba Health Coalition, which will officially launch during the first day of the ministers meeting, will become the last provincial piece in a coast-to-coast network of affiliates in the Canadian Health Coalition, a universal health care advocacy organization.

The MHC has hired a provincial director and represents a number of health stakeholder groups in the province.

The health ministers meeting will also see a group lobby with a very specific demand.

Patients and families affected by spinal muscular atrophy are coming from across Canada to participate in a walk next to the Fort Garry Hotel.

The group will attempt to raise awareness about how rare diseases should fit within a national pharmacare program.

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