Bill 10: Richard Walling stands up for community governance

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Photo: Ruby Pratka

Diane Kameen, Richard Walling and Amy Bilodeau in front of a poster with messages from Jeffery Hale Community Partners volunteers thanking them for their advocacy for the Anglophone community in light of Bill 10.

Richard Walling's life began at Jeffery Hale Hospital.

"I was born in the Jeff, and I like to think they never let me leave," Walling says with a smile. "Jeffery Hale - Saint Brigid's has been a part of my life for all my life," he says. "I volunteered to perform at Saint Brigid's Home as a young participant in the Shannon Irish Show, and my first job after university was at Voice of English-speaking Quebec, doing a needs analysis on health and social services."

Now, Walling is executive director of Jeffery Hale Community Partners, which develops programming and manages partnerships between the hospital and other historically Anglophone health and social services institutions.

"For the English community in Quebec City we've been able to build a whole range of services, such as prenatal care, mental health care and palliative care for our seniors. These things didn't exist for us 25 years ago [when the partnership was first established]," Walling says. "Now we're developing services for kids with special needs with the Central Quebec School Board and Quebec High School. That synergy to me is very important; that's what being in a community is."

He worries that the Liberal government's health-care reform as proposed in Bill 10 would threaten the future of those community partnerships. Bill 10 would put all existing health-care institutions in the National Capital region under the umbrella of a single Integrated Health and Social-Services Centre, which would have a single board of directors appointed by the Minister of Health and Social Services. Although the institution would retain its name and still be able to raise funds through its charitable foundation, its independent board of directors would cease to exist.

"This could have a devastating impact on the synergy we've been able to build with other English-language institutions in the region," Walling says. "Today, the people on our board come to work every morning thinking, ‘How can we better serve the English-speaking community?' If we were just one voice on a larger board that wouldn't necessarily be the case.

"As it is now, we would go from a board of directors of 18 people, most of whom come from our community, to a part of one institution where the directors are all appointed by the Minister, and we would cease to exist as a single legal entity. As 2% of the population ...we would be drowned."

Although Jeffery Hale Hospital would not lose its bilingual designation, Walling is concerned that some of the current board's priorities, such as hiring bilingual staff, providing a range of services in both languages, and liaising with the Anglophone community, would of necessity fall by the wayside. "Ability to work as a board and appoint a director general ... plays a role in setting the priorities of an organization," he says.

"We [English speakers in Quebec City] are a strong community, and we're lucky to have strong historic institutions like Jeffery Hale Hospital," he says. "We're lucky to have media like the QCT and Quebec AM on CBC Radio, we're lucky to have cultural institutions like the Morrin Centre, and we're lucky to have the Central Quebec School Board. They're all pillars. For a minority language community, if you take away any of those institutions it's a blow to the vitality of our community."

Walling has been encouraged by a keen response to his concerns, both from members of the English-speaking community and from the government. "We've been very happy over the past six weeks [since Bill 10 was first tabled] to see community members come out and say, ‘Hey, wait a second!' We've been writing and talking to anyone who would listen," Walling says.

"We have sensed a bit more openness on the part of [Minister of Health and Social Services Gaétan Barrette]," says Walling. "He reassured us that the government's intention was not to impact English-language service. There was an indication [at parliamentary hearings held last week in the National Assembly] that they were willing to look at the situation of Jeffery Hale - Saint Brigid's and see what they can do, although how that translates into legislation will be the final test."

Barrette has said he hopes that the bill will be passed in December, and that its provisions will be enacted effective April 1, 2015.