Quebec Health Minister calls weight-loss petition 'bullying'

Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette says he believes an online petition asking he "lead by example" by getting in better shape is bullying.

Over 9,500 signatures collected online encourage Gaétan Barrette to project a healthier image

Pierre-Étienne Vachon says he never meant his online petition as a personal attack on Gaétan Barrette. (Radio-Canada)

Quebec's Health Minister, Gaétan Barrette, says he believes an online petition asking him to project a healthier image by losing weight is bullying.

“If I were a regular citizen ... yes, that would be bullying. This is quite inelegant, [but] this is something that happens in politics. It happens all the time. I can live with that,” said Barrette.

The petition was launched on Tuesday — soon after Barrette's appointment — by Quebec City marketing specialist Pierre-Étienne Vachon.

Vachon has already collected just over 9,500 signatures. However, he said he never meant his campaign to cause offence.  

“I find it deplorable that one could interpret my initiative as a personal attack on Minister Barrette or even as a simplification of weight problems,” Vachon wrote late this morning, in an update to the petition.   

"Maybe I was a little clumsy in my wording. I apologize to everyone who was offended by my proposal or my attitude."

Vachon said his petition was meant to encourage the former president of the Quebec Federation of Medical Specialists to lead by example and create a province-wide campaign for others to participate in a weight-loss challenge.  

Petition to come down 

The petition led to a flurry of debate on social media and prompted a response from the Quebec Weight Coalition, an initiative of the Public Health Association of Quebec.

"Although healthy lifestyles merit the government's attention, targeting an individual because of his weight is not the right way to go about it," the coalition said in a news release.

"The epidemic of habits harmful to one's health has an impact on the majority Quebecers regardless of their body type: obese, chubby, normal weight, thin and skinny."

Vachon said having to explain repeatedly his reasons for launching the petition has been "very tiring," so he plans to take down the petition at 5 p.m. today.

"Your signatures and your many comments have helped put forward the importance and relevance to not only think, but act to adopt a healthy lifestyle," wrote Vachon. “I sincerely believe that [the petition] has already done its work."