- Category: news
- Created: Monday, 21 October 2013 12:31
- Published: Monday, 21 October 2013 12:31
- Written by Administrator 3
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Legal opinion said possibility was 'low'
BY PETER O'NEIL, VANCOUVER SUN
The federal government sought legal advice to ensure that potentially disgruntled aboriginal communities in B.C. won't have the ability to drop out of a new First Nations-run health care system launched earlier this month, according to internal documents. The First Nations Health Authority took over Health Canada's operations on the West Coast as part of a 10-year, $4.7-billion transfer of authority intended to improve health outcomes for 150,000 B.C. First Nations members.
An internal Health Canada report, released under the Access to Information Act, said one of the risks of the transfer is that some communities may wish to "opt out" of the new setup if the new health authority doesn't "effectively manage program delivery," noted the Health Canada Transition Plan that was prepared in early 2012.
A band might then try to "pressure the federal government to resume delivery of (First Nation) health programs."
The paper's section on potential risks, which also outlined strategies to deal with them, noted that B.C. First Nations leaders "understand that there is no opt-out provision."
But Health Canada, just to be sure, took the extra step of consulting justice department lawyers.
"Justice views the risk of a court ordering the federal government to resume direct (First Nations) health programs from a FN claim alleging a federal constitutional obligation for FN health as low," the report concludes.
The report also assesses the risk of "inappropriate use of funds," but concludes that the transfer agreement will include strong governance and accountability provisions.
"Annual funding can be withheld or reduced if these requirements are not met," the transition report noted. "Also, there is a strong accountability expectation on the FNHA from B.C. First Nations Chiefs and communities."
Formal negotiations between Ottawa, the B.C. government and First Nations leaders to transfer authority began in 2005, and in 2011 a final agreement was struck. The transfer was supposed to begin this past April, but was delayed until Oct. 1. The 2011 agreement stated that the deal is intended to be "long-term," but includes a provision that any party can opt out with 18 months' written notice.
If concerns aren't resolved, then Health Canada will be obliged to resume providing health programs and services to B.C. First Nations. "For greater certainty, if this agreement is terminated, British Columbia shall not therefore be responsible for programs and payments transferred by Canada to the FNHA."