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Federal Investments in Palliative Care

Published on December 18, 2020

After the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) released the cost estimate for Bill C‑7 (medical assistance in dying), he was asked to identify federal investments in palliative care made since Canada had legalized medical assistance in dying.[i]

Palliative Care Framework and Action Plan

On 30 May 2016, Sarnia—Lambton MP Marilyn Gladu introduced Private Member’s Bill C-277, An Act providing for the development of a framework on palliative care in Canada. The bill received Royal Assent on 12 December 2017. According to the preamble, “a request for physician-assisted death cannot be truly voluntary if the option of proper palliative care is not available to alleviate a person’s suffering.” This legislation requires the Minister of Health to develop a framework for palliative care and report to Parliament within a year after the Act comes into force. The Minister must table another report on the state of palliative care in Canada within five years of tabling the framework.

The government released its framework on palliative care in Canada in December 2018.[ii] Through information request IR0554 (November 2020), the PBO received details on the cost of developing the framework, which totalled $83,000 in 2018–19. In August 2019, the government published an action plan on palliative care, in keeping with its commitment in the framework.[iii] The action plan cost $6,000 to produce in 2019–20. The framework also states that “Health Canada will establish the Office of Palliative Care (OPC) to provide high level coordination of activities going forward. The OPC will be resourced internally through existing funds within Health Canada.” The OPC has generated costs of $33,000 from 2016–17 to date.[iv]

Through the information request to Health Canada, we also learned that the government spent $38,000 in 2016–17 on outside contracts, including a survey on potential national activities to improve palliative care and the identification of provincial/territorial priorities for palliative care.

The federal government’s most significant expenditures involve funding for various projects to support palliative care. In total, the government has spent more than $13 million since 2016–17 and expects this amount to increase by the end of 2020–21, as other projects are still in development and have not been officially announced. Table 1 offers a breakdown of expenditures to date, by fiscal year.

Federal investments in palliative care (2016–17 to date)
Table 1
Category 2016–17 2017–18 2018–19 2019–20 2020–21 Total ($)
Framework on palliative care     83,087     83,087
Action plan on palliative care       6,163   6,163
General contracts 38,150         38,150
Office of Palliative Care 2,000 3,000 11,046 9,565 7,395 33,006
Funded projects through grants and contributions 868,521 1,839,000 3,165,400 4,501,684 3,192,628 13,567,233
Total 908,671 1,842,000 3,259,533 4,517,412 3,200,023 13,727,639
Source: Health Canada

Bilateral Agreements

Budget 2017, tabled in the House of Commons on 22 March 2017, announced $6 billion in funding over 10 years for home care and $5 billion over 10 years to support mental health initiatives. The purpose of this funding is to ensure “improved access to home, community and palliative care services; more support for informal caregivers; and better access to mental health support.” Budget 2017 also provided for the following expenditures over a five-year period (chapter 3, page 193):

($ millions) 2017–18 2018–19 2019–20 2020–21 2021–22
Home care and mental health 300 850 1,100 1,250 1,500
Source: Budget 2017, Department of Finance Canada

In August 2017, the provinces and territories (aside from Quebec) agreed on a common statement of principles on shared health priorities.[v] Between 2017 and 2019, the federal government subsequently signed bilateral funding agreements with each province and territory.[vi] Each province and territory developed an action plan, usually appended to the bilateral agreement, that specified how the federal transfers would be used. However, only six provinces identified initiatives specific to palliative care (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador). According to the provinces’ bilateral agreements, the total funding for palliative care initiatives for these six provinces will be $170 million from 2017–18 to 2021–22. Table 2 shows palliative care spending as provided for in the bilateral agreements.

Palliative care initiatives according to bilateral agreements
Table 2
($ thousands) 2017–18 2018–19 2019–20 2020–21 2021–22 Total
British Columbia
Palliative and end-of-life care 4,930 11,810 12,800 12,800 17,710 60,050
Enhancing access to palliative and end‑of‑life services 3,200 8,100 8,100 8,100 8,100 35,600
Palliative care enhancements 700 2,420 3,820 5,000 5,000 16,940
Hospice and palliative care services     600 2,000 3,600 6,200
New Brunswick
Palliative care strategy   2,500 3,000 3,000 3,000 11,500
Newfoundland and Labrador
Home First integrated network
Additional clinicians for palliative/complex care 2,820 3,100 3,230 3,290 3,770 16,210
Enhanced access to palliative/complex/dementia care   3,940 4,530 3,970 7,100 19,540
Palliative care/end-of-life improvement
Public awareness campaign for advanced health care planning   100       100
Additional hospice bed capacity   1,100 1,100 1,100 1,100 4,400
TOTAL 11,650 33,070 37,180 39,260 49,380 170,540
Source: Funding agreements between Canada and the provinces on home and community care, and mental health and addictions services

For other provinces and territories, palliative care is generally part of broader initiatives, such as expanding access to home care in Ontario, which also includes palliative and end-of-life care at home. Unfortunately, the specific amounts allocated to palliative care are not available for these provinces and territories. Because health is a provincial jurisdiction, Health Canada does not have access to, or the authority to request, program-specific accounting. Similarly, section 79.4 of the Parliament of Canada Act entitles the PBO to access information only under the control of federal departments or Crown corporations. The companion document “Annex - Bilateral Agreements,” which can be downloaded from the PBO website, contains tables detailing the amounts allocated to all initiatives funded under the bilateral agreements by province/territory, as presented in the annexes to these agreements.

Looking at the totals of bilateral agreements by province/territory for each fiscal year, they are almost identical to the amounts announced in Budget 2017. PBO has therefore sought, through Information Request IR0554, the actual amounts disbursed by the federal government for each fiscal year. Table 3 provides this breakdown by province/territory, by fiscal year. It shows that the amounts are generally quite close to those announced in the bilateral agreements.[vii] The agreements specify that the overall envelope for each fiscal year is distributed among the provinces and territories based on the quarterly preliminary estimates of their respective populations on 1 July of the same fiscal year, published by Statistics Canada each September. This mainly explains the discrepancies between the amounts announced and those actually transferred.

Amounts actually transferred to the provinces/territories under the bilateral agreements
Table 3
($) 2017–18 2018–19 2019–20 2020–21 Total
British Columbia 39,284,212 114,491,768 148,405,936 169,309,294 471,491,210
Alberta 35,160,909 98,789,976 127,920,777 145,436,400 407,308,062
Saskatchewan 9,512,913 26,653,621 34,369,076 38,767,058 109,302,668
Manitoba 10,897,695 31,013,664 40,075,581 45,364,240 127,351,180
Ontario 115,605,084 328,513,742 426,270,716 484,604,714 1,354,994,256
Quebec 68,836,395 192,448,578 248,301,270 282,019,383 791,605,626
New Brunswick 6,256,720 17,675,614 22,732,814 25,702,904 72,368,052
Prince Edward Island 1,228,964 3,514,879 4,592,847 5,250,098 14,586,788
Nova Scotia 7,850,051 22,017,698 28,426,589 32,211,054 90,505,392
Newfoundland and Labrador 4,382,862 12,049,798 15,262,236 17,172,073 48,866,969
Nunavut 367,650 0 880,671 1,134,846 2,383,167
Northwest Territories 367,650 1,021,614 1,311,774 1,485,354 4,186,392
Yukon 309,967 928,377 1,195,538 1,383,098 3,816,980
Total 300,061,072 849,119,329 1,099,745,825 1,249,840,516 3,498,766,742
Budget 2017 300,000,000 850,000,000 1,100,000,000 1,250,000,000 3,500,000,000
Difference 61,072 -880,671 -254,175 -159,484 -1,233,258
Source: Health Canada

Table 3 also shows that Nunavut did not receive a transfer for 2018–19, likely due to the fact that the bilateral agreement with the federal government was not signed until March 2019. Note that 2020–21 is not yet complete and that Health Canada advised us that the November payment (the second of two annual payments) had not yet been made at the time of the information request because the annual financial statements required in sections 4.3.1(e) and 5.1.2(b) of the bilateral agreement had not yet been produced.[viii] The Northwest Territories are in the same situation. Since each payment is supposed to represent 50% of the annual total, it is possible that the actual amount paid to date for 2020–21 may only be $567,423 (half of $1,134,846) for Nunavut and $742,677 for the Northwest Territories.


The PBO identified a total federal investment of $184 million between 2016 and today, specifically for palliative care. Table 4 presents the total investment in initiatives specific to palliative care by fiscal year. As mentioned earlier, these figures underestimate the investment for two reasons. First, the salaries paid to Health Canada officials involved in developing the framework and action plan on palliative care, as well as those working for the new Office of Palliative Care, are not included in this total. Since existing resources were reallocated to these tasks, Health Canada did not include their cost in its response to our information request.

Total federal investment in palliative care
Table 4
($ thousands) 2017–18 2018–19 2019–20 2020–21 2021–22 Total
Federal investments in palliative care 909 1,842 3,260 4,517 3,200 13,728
Initiatives specific to palliative care in bilateral agreements 11,650 33,070 37,180 39,260 49,380 170,540
TOTAL 12,559 34,912 40,440 43,777 52,580 184,268
Sources: Health Canada and PBO calculations

Second, other provinces that have not identified initiatives specific to palliative care in bilateral agreements have nevertheless likely allocated funds to expand the availability of palliative home care. Assuming that these provinces will allocate the same share of funding received for home and community care to palliative care as the provinces that identified specific initiatives (on average 16.2%[ix]), there may have been an additional investment of $306 million. Table 5 provides estimates of the amounts allocated to palliative care under this assumption.

Estimated amounts allocated to palliative care initiatives assuming the same allocation of funds for home care as the average for other provinces
Table 5
($ thousands) 2017–18 2018–19 2019–20 2020–21 2021–22 Total
Ontario 12,472 37,543 40,673 40,673 56,315 187,676
Quebec 0 22,203 24,054 24,054 33,305 103,617
Prince Edward Island 133 401 435 435 604 2,008
Nova Scotia 846 2,515 2,719 2,719 3,764 12,563
Yukon 34 102 110 110 152 508
Total 13,485 62,764 67,991 67,991 94,140 306,372
Source: PBO calculations
Note: Nunavut and the Northwest Territories are not included in the table because all home care funds are allocated to initiatives that do not appear to directly include palliative care.

Although the Quebec government had promised additional palliative home care groups in 2017, it was not until December 2019 that an agreement was reached with the Fédération des médecins omnipraticiens du Québec (FMOQ).[x] As a result, the estimate presented for Quebec in Table 5 is most likely overstated for 2018–19 and 2019–20.

Lastly, all the bilateral agreements expire on 31 March 2022 (except for the Nunavut agreement, which expires on 31 March 2023) and will need to be renewed. The total of the amounts presented in the bilateral agreements corresponds to the total of $5 billion announced in the 2017 Budget for 2017–18 to 2021–22. Since the government promised in the 2017 Budget to invest $11 billion over 10 years, including $6 billion for home care and $5 billion for mental health and addictions initiatives, it can be assumed that renewing the agreements will provide an additional $3 billion for home care. Assuming that the provinces and territories still allocate 16.2% of this funding to initiatives specific to palliative care, we can expect an investment in palliative care of $485 million between 2022–23 and 2026–27.


[i] Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying), was introduced on 14 April 2016 and received Royal Assent on 17 June 2016.  

[iv] As stated in the palliative care framework, the OPC is to be resourced internally through existing funds within Health Canada. Therefore, all the amounts in this paragraph correspond to external costs (consultations, translation, design and printing, and so on). We do not know how many employees (full-time equivalents) worked on these initiatives, but the costs would clearly be higher if we factored in these employees’ salaries.

[v]https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/corporate/transparency/health-agreements/principles-shared-health-priorities.html. On 10 March 2017, the governments of Canada and Quebec agreed on an asymmetrical agreement that is separate from this statement of principles and based on an asymmetrical agreement from September 2004.

[vii] The amounts by province/territory for 2018–19 and 2019–20 could also be validated by accessing the Public Accounts of Canada, Volume III, Section 6: Transfer payments (https://www.tpsgc-pwgsc.gc.ca/recgen/cpc-pac/index-eng.html)

[viii] To receive annual funding, provinces must also work with the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), which has been mandated to develop pan-Canadian indicators to measure progress on improving access to these areas of health care. CIHI reports are available at https://www.cihi.ca/en/shared-health-priorities.

[ix] The average is weighted by the total amount received for home and community care.

[x] Radio-Canada (December 4, 2019). “Québec et les omnipraticiens s’entendent sur les soins palliatifs à domicile” https://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/1417448/quebec-et-les-omnipraticiens-sentendent-sur-les-soins-palliatifs-a-domicile.