Citizens’ concerns – Bill 10: Jeffery Hale–Saint Brigid’s board member speaks out

For Roger Lemire, the Liberal government's planned reforms to health care won't change his ability to receive service in his language. Lemire, like more than 90 per cent of Quebec City residents, is a native French speaker.

However, he is a longtime Jeffery Hale-Saint Brigid's board member and a self-described Anglophile. "Two of my children went to St. Lawrence College and they're bilingual, so it's not weird to speak English in my house," he says. His wife was a patient at Jeffery Hale Hospital for over seven years after suffering a devastating stroke.

"Community involvement has always been very important for me," he says. "At first I was on the Jeffery Hale users' committee, to make sure the patients had what they needed, and then I ended up on the board. After I lost my wife in 2008, I continued to serve. I know what hospital life is like.

"At the hospital, I met a lot of people who didn't have a lot of financial resources or education, and they were lost dealing with the health system." Lemire worries that that sense of loss will only deepen if Bill 10 passes.

Bill 10, championed by Health Minister Gaétan Barrette, aims to streamline the provincial health system by eliminating the current health and social-services agencies and abolishing the boards of directors of over 200 individual health institutions in the province. The boards would be consolidated into 28 regional health authorities under the direction of 19 umbrella organizations. Board members would be recommended by institutions and by panels of experts, but appointed by the Minister.

"The Minister is giving himself a lot of power if he can name all the board members," says Lemire. "He will be supported by the expert committees, but they can only recommend."

"This new law would cause enormous disorganization in the short term," says Lemire. "It will be a sea change."

Although separate Anglophone and Francophone regional directorates would be created in Montreal, no such separate boards are planned for Anglophones outside Montreal.

"You need to be able to receive care in your own language, and Francophone Quebecers should be able to understand that," he says. "Also, even though we're more of an Anglophone organization, we don't serve just English-speaking people. Only 50 per cent of our users at Saint Brigid's Home and 10 per cent of our clients at the clinic are Anglophones.

"We're going to have a loss of representational capacity, and I'm afraid that we'll be lost at sea, drowned in the interests of all the other health centres [in the region] ... if we have a chairperson who isn't Anglophone and answers directly to the ministry of health," Lemire says. "We can't defend our rights as efficiently if we are lumped in with 30 other establishments." He says some board members are thinking about privatizing certain services and selling them to the ministry, ducking out of the public network in order to keep the current hospital charter in place and remain Anglophone.

"In Montreal, the bill establishes five regional bodies and two of those are Anglophone," Lemire explains. There are no such specialized Anglophone boards outside Montreal. "The Montreal Anglophones will continue to work together, but we can't. In Quebec City they don't care as much [about providing services in English] because there are fewer people and fewer MNAs elected by Anglophones.

"What they [the ministry] want to do is cut and cut and cut, but there are other ways to do that."