Bill 10: Barrette reassures English-speaking community groups

Minister of Health Gaétan Barrette promised to protect the availability of English-language health services in Quebec City at parliamentary hearings on Thursday, October 27, about a bill that has left many Anglophones skeptical.

Bill 10 aims to consolidate the province's health-care bureaucracy. It would abolish the independent boards of directors of some 200 public health-care service providers, consolidating them under 19 regional umbrella organizations, each with a board appointed by the Minister. Because of the number of English-speaking people in the area, English-language institutions in Montreal would remain under Anglophone leadership; however, Anglophone institutions outside Montreal would come under the jurisdiction of majority-Francophone regional boards.

"Bill 10 does not under any circumstances mention the eventual possibility of the disappearance of services for the English-speaking community," Barrette said. "I understand your worries about being certain that these services will always be available in English. If there are specific elements in the bill that could be improved, let us know, we're going to do it."

Barrette was addressing members of the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN), which represents English-language cultural and community organizations in Montreal, Quebec City, the Eastern Townships, Gaspé, Outaouais and Abitibi.

He also said he would commit to ensuring that current English-language institutions kept their bilingual status under the Charter of the French Language. Opposition MNAs Jean-François Lisée (PQ) and Éric Caire (CAQ) also acknowledged the importance of English-language institutions. "Everyone here is willing to ensure that Anglophones continue to receive service in their language," said Caire. However, representatives of Anglophone community groups seemed only partially reassured.

Sara Saber-Freedman of the MAB-Mackay Rehabilitation Centre spoke on behalf of the QCGN. Saber-Freedman is concerned about the consequences of abolishing the institutions' independent boards.

"These institutions are the heart and soul of our community; they are much more than service centres," Saber-Freedman said. "Minority communities need to maintain a certain level of control over their institutions if they are to survive as distinct entities. [With the passage of Bill 10] twenty-three English-language health institutions will disappear in all but name."

"In the case of Jeffery Hale Hospital, there are close links between the [Jeffery Hale] foundation and the board," said Richard Walling, executive director of Jeffery Hale Community Partners, who spoke as a representative of the QCGN group. "The foundation knows the people and knows the board and that's what motivates us to pursue projects. If this bill is passed as is, our activity will decrease because our involvement will decrease; I have the impression that [the reform will take] the community out of the establishments."

"It's true that the Anglophone community is extremely invested in these public institutions, particularly in health," said Barrette. "That's obvious from all the volunteering, investment and donations, and that clearly has to be encouraged. We have not touched those aspects. That's why we are not touching the foundations or their links with institutions."

"We see the effort being made [on behalf of Anglophone institutions], but there is no guarantee," Saber-Freedman said.

Barrette has said he hopes the bill will become law before the Christmas recess. Parliamentary committee hearings are expected to conclude by November 13. If the bill passes before Christmas, the new structures will come into effect on April 1, 2015.