Couillard’s take on Harper’s methods - Letter to the Editor
Wednesday 23 March 2016
When people too openly criticize your work, the easy solution is to silence them. At least, that’s the lesson Philippe Couillard learned from the Harper government, and he’s putting it to good use in Quebec. With the abolition of the office of the Health and Welfare Commissioner, we are witnessing nothing less than the elimination of the last healthcare counter-power, the last critical rampart against a government that clearly does not want its work to be judged.
On page 186 of additional commentary on Quebec’s latest budget, there was a discreet mention of the termination of the Commissioner’s activities. In 2003, when the Liberal Party was in power, the Commissioner’s office was described as “fundamental” in an analysis of the Ministry’s decisions. In fact, these words came from Philippe Couillard himself; the Health and Welfare Commissioner was his idea.
As strange as this change of mind may seem, the repeal of the Act is only one in a series of other measures that all serve the same purpose: giving the government room to do what it wants. There have been many other measures taken since the Act was instated.
First of all, there was the closure of all institutional associations, such as the Association québécoise des établissements de santé et de services sociaux (AQESSS), because they were deemed to be too much of a hindrance. Next, there was a reform to the financing of community groups that proved to be too critical for the government’s taste, such as the Alliance des patients pour la santé and the Conseil pour la protection des malades. Next, new norms were instated, forcing healthcare firms and organisations to register with the Registre des lobbyistes. This made them accountable… to the government.
Additionally, the budget for organizations such as the Institut national d’excellence en santé et en service sociaux (INESSS) was cut. As a direct consequence, the government has gained a certain amount of control over a previously more-independent organization.
Bit by bit, the Philippe Couillard government has silenced anyone who could question the merit of its decisions and bulldozed all obstacles to accountability. In no time at all, this government will have finished off the last of the healthcare watchdogs. Who will they target next?
In 2004, the Quebec Medical Association recommended that the Health and Welfare Commissioner report to the Assemblée nationale, which would have made it more independent. Today, quite apart from the rejection of this recommendation, it is concerning to note that from 2003 to 2016 Philippe Couillard has had a complete political change of heart. He has gone from recognizing the need for a politically independent Commission and depoliticization of the healthcare network to the complete opposite. And in this political game, there can only be one winner, several concerned parties and eight million losers.
Dr. Yun Jen, MD, FRCPC