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  • Writer's pictureTrevor Greenway

Bill 15 a ‘ slippery slope’ says Hills health watchdog

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

An anglophone rights group is slamming the Quebec government for “thumbing its nose” at thousands of residents who have expressed serious concerns over the CAQ’s health reform, Bill 15. 

Despite a petition calling for a halt to the bill, which garnered an impressive 6,400 signatures in less than a week, the ruling CAQ government invoked closure on the bill that the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) says will “upend Quebec’s health and social-services network.”

“The enormous effort to centralize the health and social-services network, part of the CAQ government’s command-and-control strategy, will do nothing to ease the crises in our hospitals where people have died in overcrowded emergency rooms while waiting to see a doctor,” wrote QCGN president Eva Ludvig in a statement. “This same government made a solemn promise during debate on Bill 96 last year to not touch the English-speaking community’s access to health and social services in their own language.”

After failing to reach an agreement with opposition parties to extend the session on Dec. 8, the CAQ government invoked closure on the bill – a power enabling the party to end debate and fast track the bill’s adoption before the end of the legislative session.

The healthcare reform will see Quebec operate under a new centralized administration model, where one central authority – Santé Québec – will make decisions for the province’s 17 administrative regions. 

Local health watchdogs from Vigi Santé say they are worried the healthcare reform bill will mean that English residents in the province could lose services in their first language. That fear sprung from an amendment tabled by Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé last week that would give Santé Quebec the power to strip English services in places with less than 50 per cent anglophones. He later backpedaled and tabled a new amendment that still gives the health authority the power to revoke the bilingual status of a health agency but will also require recommendations for such a move from a national health advisory committee and a regional committee.

Vigi Santé spokesperson Marcel Chartrand said that, while the new amendment is a “safeguard,” his health watchdog group isn’t convinced it will actually protect English rights. 

“If the right people are on those advisory boards, I think we would be okay,” said Chartrand. “But again, the regional authority will have the last word; it won’t be the committee, so that’s a major concern.”

Chartrand said the amendment is a “slippery slope,” and has questions as to who would serve on these advisory boards – whether it would be the regional prefect or mayors from municipalities. He argued that there should be more local representatives called to sit on these committees. 

“It has got to be more than that,” said Chartrand, referring to just professionals on the committees. “[The committees] must include community groups, not just professionals and not just politicians.”

Chartrand says his Vigi Santé group is campaigning for more services to be decentralized, especially mental health and social care initiatives. 

In May, Premier François Legault told reporters that his government “will not refuse to treat a patient in English if it’s needed.” This statement no longer sits well with the QCGN, who took aim at the premier in its Dec. 8 statement, saying, “It is now crystal clear that no one can trust this government on anything.”

“From education to healthcare, from university tuition to trying to reduce the presence of unions in the management of the public service, the CAQ government wants to control everything it touches with as little public input as possible,” wrote Ludvig. “That should worry all of us as Quebecers very much indeed.”


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