Quebec open or closed – Premier François Legault has backed down on his plan to reopen non-essential retail businesses in the Montreal region this coming May 25th. However, the debate on the issue is still on. Outside this region, the reopening took place as planned this past Monday. The discussion has also involved the return to school, which the government has set for May 19th, despite strong opposition from many parents, teachers, and, especially, the English school boards. This return would only apply to elementary schools and daycare centres. Students in secondary schools, CEGEPS, and universities will only return to their classrooms at the end of August.
To many people, the Quebec government determination to return to some kind of normal life, while indeed conditions are all but, seems incomprehensible, and even senseless. Of all provinces, Quebec has the most COVID-19 cases, and it also has the largest number of deceased due to the pandemic. In fact, more than half of all the cases in Canada are in Quebec, despite having only a little over one-fifth of the country’s population.
Nobody has yet answered that conflicting question as to why Quebec is in such a bad position. Health care in Canada, under somewhat loose guidelines set by the Canada Health Act, has a relatively comparable medical care system across the country. Administered by each province, with very similar resources in relation to their populations, there wouldn’t be any reason why the system in Quebec has been so overwhelmed by the virus. Although a large part of the infected population is indeed concentrated in long-term care residences, which are not covered by the Canada Health Act, on the other hand, it is undeniable that to those and to other patients, the health system in Quebec has simply failed.
Certainly, cuts in health-care which has happened under governments of all political stripes in the last twenty or more years is a factor to take into consideration. Those cuts, inspired by the misguided notion of achieving balanced budgets at the expense of social programs, have been the main factor in taking Quebec into the dire situation in which it is now. However, other provinces indeed fell into the same practice too, and so did the federal government, which has considerably reduced its contribution to health care nationally.
One of the structural problems, more prevalent in the Quebec health system (and in other areas as well), is the presence of an omnipresent bureaucracy and the consequent mentality that it permeates throughout the system. Centralization in the decision-making process, at all levels, from government headquarters in Quebec City to the offices of minor bureaucrats in each of the public health agencies or institutions, is one of those characteristics that perhaps is more frequent in Quebec than in other jurisdictions. A sense of entitlement and lack of empathy could well be other characteristics of this bureaucracy. A piece by Amélie St-Yves published in Le Journal de Montréal this past April 30, quoted Dr. Marc Dauphin, a retired armed forces physician who noted that bosses in the long-term care centres were reluctant to help when the emergency stroke at their establishments: “It was up to our young soldiers to undertake the job that they were not able or willing to perform, or that they consider below their status, or simply were afraid to do.” In the interview, Dauphin didn’t spare words to criticize the bureaucrats: “You didn’t need trained hands; (helpful) hands is all that it takes.”
Will Montreal reopen when the government wants? Would people send their kids to schools if they reopen so soon? Are the Quebec actions guided by the discredited, and scientifically unproven notion of “herd immunity”? The problem is that when we have the answers to these questions, perhaps it will too late.