Bill 10: Parliamentary committee hears from local Anglophone groups

Photo: Ruby Pratka

Representatives of Voice of English-speaking Quebec and the Townshippers' Association listen as Jean-Sébastien Jolin Gignac, second from right, addresses MNAs.

Groups representing the Quebec Anglophone community outside Montreal were able to state their concerns about the proposed health-care legislation at hearings in the National Assembly on Thursday, October 23.

Voice of English-speaking Quebec (VEQ) and the Sherbrooke-based Townshippers' Association got a chance to express their reservations about Bill 10 to Health Minister Gaétan Barrette and the Health and Social Services Committee, including MNAs from all parties.

Initially, the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) expected to speak at the hearings for all Anglophones outside Montreal, but steady pressure from VEQ and the Townshippers' Association earned them a place to testify in their own right, albeit sharing one 10-minute block of time.

"We tried to make some calls, open up some doors, and I think they [the National Assembly] cleared some space for us," said VEQ president Taylor Ireland. "We appreciate that we were able to get our point across. We hope to maintain our community roots and links."

Bill 10, if passed, would streamline the provincial health-care bureaucracy, eliminating over 200 of the present regional health and social services agencies and consolidating them into 28 regional directorates. Montreal would be served by five directorates, two of which would be Anglophone. However, no such provisions have been made for Anglophone health-care providers in Quebec City, the Eastern Townships or elsewhere in the province.

Richard Walling, chair of Jeffery Hale Community Partners, worries that if his institution is placed under the management of a Francophone board appointed by the Minister of Health, English-language services will fall by the wayside.

"Without people [on the governing board] who get up every day thinking of our [English] services, we could be looking at a slow erosion of services."

Helen Walling, former president of VEQ, spoke before the MNAs along with Ireland, executive director Jean-Sébastien Jolin Gignac and a three-person delegation from the Townshippers' Association.

"Bill 10 would entail the disappearance of the current Jeffery Hale-Saint Brigid's board and its replacement by the new board of the Capitale-Nationale Integrated Health and Social Services Centre," said Gignac. "The survival of our services is closely linked to the survival of our community. Logically, this bill would abolish community-level governance and reduce the level of local knowledge and expertise available to us, and would leave us to become a drop in a huge ocean.

"English-language services in this region are in very good shape because we have a model that works and, as we say in English, ‘if it's not broke, don't fix it,'" he added. "Especially if it responds to the needs of the Francophone majority while providing efficient service to a minority community."

Ireland, originally from Saskatchewan, highlighted the importance of Jeffery Hale's English-language services, not only for the historic English-speaking community but for the growing community of English-speaking new arrivals. "In the past five years, our English-speaking population has grown by about 2,000 people; that's our first growth in 150 years," he said. "They always have the same three questions: how can I learn French, how can I find a job, and is there an Anglophone hospital?

"We're not questioning the good intentions behind the creation of the integrated centre, but we're not sure that it will have the capacity to serve the English-speaking community as efficiently," said Ireland. "The bill gives us no assurance."

Barrette reassured the delegations that the Government "recognized" the contributions of the regional Anglophone community, that the fundraising work of the Jeffery Hale Foundation could continue and that current linguistic access frameworks would remain in place. He also cited a provision in the bill stating that in appointing the new boards, "the minister ... must take into account ... the sociocultural, ethnocultural and linguistic makeup of the area."

The delegation was only partially reassured, however. "Mr. Barrette, you've assured us that the structures will always be there, the Jeff and Saint Brigid's, and we're very, very pleased with that, but we need to be in a position to make the important decisions," said Helen Walling. "We're a minority and we always have to fight."

"We're still kind of tepid toward [the proposed reform]," Ireland later said. "We're going to keep speaking to people until we find a solution that meets the Government's objective while maintaining our community roots."