It's About Time

It's About Time
Christopher C. Goodfellow
January 22 1999

It's about time. Bill Johnson has finally picked a popular issue that not only all anglophones but all Quebeckers can rally around and support him on and it is precisely the kind of issue Alliance Quebec can and should be pursuing in the name of ALL Quebeckers' rights.

While this is about the delivery of health care services in english, it is much more than that. It is about dignity. Premier Bouchard has much to be ashamed of in not following up on his famous Centaur Theatre words as Mr. Johnson so rightly points out below in the AQ press release.

Dignity first and foremost for a portion of the Quebec population that is aging and that is largely unilingual. I daresay no one really knows the exact demographics but certainly in a community like Arundel where LaurentianWeb is published we have an aging population that through no fault of their own are not at ease in french. In many cases they seek medical attention in Hawkesbury Ontario, a good hour away, instead of St. Jovite or Ste. Agathe - an inconvenience and an added expense to those on fixed incomes.

For those of us that are bilingual and as comfortable in french as in english, it isn't really a problem but the government has got to realize that a substantial part of the population do feel defenseless and vulnerable and it is essential that elderly people get the attention and care in their own language in their own communities. Period.

Moreover, this foot dragging and apparently blatant, flagrant and purposeful disregard of the law by the PQ government is disrepectful to the entire population of Quebec. It speaks once again to the "dirigiste" and political interference in Quebeckers' lives. It reflects a "we know what's best for you" attitude rather than an approach to government that is fundamentally consumer driven.

The entire health care system continues to flounder because of petty politicians and bureaucrats attempting to micro-manage a system that should have long ago been dismantled into much more innovative and productive structures. Right now we have a situation in Montreal at Santa Cabrini Hospital that is a direct result of bureaucrats being unable to comprehend what people on the "factory floor" have to deal with.

Whether it is health care or education, it is time there was a real revolution in Quebec and these services were completely re-structured into smaller autonomous units free of central bureaucratic structures that just consume huge financial resources. It's time Quebec got with it and realized that province wide management from the many bunkers in Quebec City is not responsive to Quebeckers' needs and what we need is much more local autonomy to achieve local solutions that are far more innovative and productive and meet consumer needs.

As our population ages and demands on the health care system grow, I know I don't want to stand in line too long either for a language test or a blood test.

My humble advice to you, Mr. Bouchard, is to get on with managing and finding solutions to Quebeckers needs whether anglophone, allophone or francophone and put unqualified people like Madame Beaudoin in the back of the bus where they belong. She is neither a seasoned experienced manager nor an expert on the delivery of health care. She is merely an intellectual who thinks that The Office de La Langue Francaise has a place in vetting the health care plans of Quebeckers which is representative of a most unfortunate judgment and mis-placed reasoning. Exclusionary agendas and racist motivations, I am sure you would agree as Premier of all Quebeckers, have no place in the delivery of health care to any Quebecker.

Bill Johnson has the support of all Quebeckers on this one.

Text of the Alliance Quebec Press Release January 20 1999.


QUEBEC, JANUARY 20, 1999 - Ce matin, a notre grand regret, et je dirais presque a notre corps défendant, nous avons fait ce que nous aurions infiniment préféré ne pas avoir a faire. Me Guy Bertrand, au nom d'Alliance-Quebec, a deposé en Cour supérieure une requéte en MANDAMUS.

C'est-a-dire qu'il a demandé a la cour d'ordonner au gouvernement de faire ce que les lois du Québec l'obligent a faire, mais que jusqu'ici il a constamment refusé de faire, en dépit de demandes, de rappels, de requétes, de plaintes, de reproches, d'avertissements, et enfin de mise en demeure: approuver, comme la loi l'exige, les programmes qui assurent l'accès aux soins de santé en anglais, aux services sociaux en anglais.

The court is the last resort for citizens faced with a government that obdurately denies them their rights. That's why this morning, in the name of Alliance Quebec and on behalf of the one million English-speaking people of Quebec, our lawyer Guy Bertrand introduced a writ of MANDAMUS in Quebec Superior Court. He asked the court to order the government to do what Quebec law clearly demands: approve the programs to ensure English health and social services that were developed by the 16 regional boards across Quebec that are responsible for delivering health and social services.

The law is clear. La loi est on ne peut plus claire. We are not talking about the Charter of the French Language, we are talking about Bill 120 passed in 1991, "An Act respecting health services and social services".

At Section 348, the law states: "Each regional board, in collaboration with institutions, must develop a program of access to health services and social services in the English language for the English-speaking population of its area . . ." And that section concludes: "The program must be approved by the Government and revised at least every three years".

Je répète cette citation de la loi en francais: "Ce programme doit être approuvé par le gouvernement et être révisé au moins tous les trois ans". Je le répète, et vous avez bien entendu: "au moins tous les trois ans".

Mais pourquoi, alors, les plans d'accès ont-ils été approuvés pour la dernière fois en 1989, il y a 10 ans? Why is it that the plans have not been revised since they were last approved in 1989?

To cover its own dereliction of duty, the government tries to portray Alliance Quebec, especially since I became president last May, as some kind of extremist group with bad intentions. We are troublemakers.

But let me quote from a communiqué from Alliance Quebec dated March 14, 1996, almost three years ago. Michael Hamelin was then the president. It says this:

"At a meeting with the Minister of Health and Social Services Jean Rochon tomorrow, Alliance Quebec will demand that the government honor its legal obligation to provide English-language health and social services." That was three years ago, and since then there have been meetings, telephone calls, letters, press conferences, public pleadings, all to get the government to pass the English access plans, as the law required. What we got, instead, were promises regularly broken, delays, new requirements.

Let me quote from a letter sent by Louise Beaudoin to health minister Jean Rochon on December 16, 1996, in which she proposes that, for the first time, the access plans developed by the regional boards be subject to the scrutiny of the Office de la langue francaise:

"L'Office de la langue francaise m'informe que les régies régionales ne sont pas tenues de le consulter au cours de l'élaboration de leurs programmes d'accès aux services en langue anglaise. . . . je me demande si vous ne jugeriez pas opportun d'associer plus formellement l'Office de la langue francaise au processus d'élaboration des programmes en question. Je vous en fais la proposition."

M. Rochon, évidemment, est tombé d'accord, et son sous-ministre, Pierre-André Paré, s'est mis en campagne pour intimider les régies régionales. Il leur envoyait des lettres leur demandant de réviser les plans trop généreux pour l'anglais qu'elles avaient soumis au gouvernement, les avertissants que si elles faisaient des promesses qu'elles ne pouvaient pas tenir, elles seraient sujettes a des poursuites, et invoquant la Charte de la langue frantaise pour faire comprendre a quel point il était onéreux d'exiger qu'un employé doive traiter un usager en anglais.

This campaign to get the regional boards to restrict the use of English made a mockery of Lucien Bouchard's promise to the English-speaking community in his famous Centaur Theatre speech of March 1996: "When you go to the hospital in pain, you may need a blood test, but you certainly don't need a language test".

That promise, it turned out, was merely theatre. Cette promesse s'est avérée n'être que de théâtre. Ce sont les testes de la langue qui se sont instaurés dans la tête du gouvernement.

C'était il y a trois ans. Aucun plan d'accès - pas un - n'a été approuvé depuis. Et maintenant, au lieu de faire son devoir, le gouvernement nous fait des procèss d'intention. Vous avez vu la déclaration d'hier de Madame Louise Beaudoin. Elle nous accuse de vouloir saper l'autorité de la Charte de la langue francaise. Madame Beaudoin, a force de répéter vos faux-fuyants, vous allez finir par y croire. Nous n'exigeons que nos droits, les droits que la Loi sur les services de santé et les services sociaux nous reconnaît. Au lieu de jeter de la poudre aux yeux, reconnaissez le bien-fondé de nos revendications et agissez en conséquence. Pourquoi ainsi nous forcer a faire une contestation qui sera couteuse pour nous en argent, mais, ce qui est plus grave, qui sape notre confiance que nous sommes acceptés comme citoyens a part entière, que l'on reconnaît notre langue et notre identité comme faisant partie de l'histoire et de l'identité même du Québec.

We must, reluctantly, go to court to defend our rights, because if we do not, our rights are left to the good pleasure of the PQ government. Rights which are under attack and which are not defended cease to be rights. They become merely favours which the government is free to dole our or withhold at will.

And if we do not defend our rights in a matter so sensitive as health and illness, life and death, when the law is so clear and the violation so blatant, what rights as English-speaking Quebecers could we ever count on in future?

That is why we had no recourse but to petition the court for justice.


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