Quebec doctors protest their own raises, call for improved patient accessibility

A Quebec doctors' group is decrying the Quebec government's raises for doctors, saying the money should be spread more equally among health care workers.

Demonstrators say money should be spread more evenly among health care workers

Julian Gitelman and Lashanda Skerritt are medical school students at McGill University who attended the march to show support to those calling for a more equitable health care system. (Claire Loewen/CBC)

When Lashanda Skerritt decided to go to medical school, money was far from being the first thing on her mind — she wanted to serve the population.

She is among hundreds of health care workers, patients and community groups who marched in protest of raises for doctors in the province today.

"The fact that there are patients that can't have certain services that are really necessary for their care, yet we're giving our resources to the top end of the health care system doesn't really make sense," said Skerritt, who is in her second year of medical school at McGill University.

The march, which began at Place Émilie-Gamelin, was organized by Médecins québécois pour le régime public (MQRP), a group of about 500 doctors and medical students that supports universal health care in Quebec.

Opposition to new pay hike

The demonstration comes following an outcry against raises awarded by the provincial government for specialists and general practitioners.

In an open letter posted to its website, the MQRP said the money should be spread out through the health care system.

Hundreds gathered at Place Emilie-Gamelin to attend the march, which was organized by Médecins québécois pour le régime public (MQRP), a group of about 500 doctors and medical students that supports universal health care in Quebec. (Claire Loewen/CBC)

The group's position attracted attention — and some befuddlement — south of the border, where the Washington Post described it as "utterly Canadian."

As part of a deal reached in February, the province's 10,000 medical specialists will see their annual salary rise from $4.7 billion to $5.4 billion in 2023, an increase of 1.4 per cent each year.

Specialists in Quebec make, on average, $403,537 a year, compared to $367,154 in Ontario, according to data compiled by the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

Quebec's GPs signed an eight-year deal with the province last October that sees their pay increase by an average of 1.8 per cent per year.

Making health care accessible

Hilah Silver, a Montreal nurse, said the march is about making health care accessible.

She commended doctors who are taking steps to put principles of equality at the forefront of their practise. 

"We're all here to care for a public to care for a community, rather than for our own salaries," Silver said. 

Dr. Isabelle Leblanc, president of the MQRP, said that with news of the doctors' pay raise coming at the same time as nurses mobilizing in protest of their working conditions, they wanted to show their solidarity.

"The money is not well used," she said at the march. "It's not going towards the patients and the workers of the health care system."

Hilah Silver, left, who is a Montreal nurse, said she wants to see health care become more accessible and equitable. (Claire Loewen/CBC)

Amir Khadir and Diane Lamarre, who sit on the National Assembly for Québec solidaire and the Parti Québécois respectively, also attended the event.

Khadir, who is a practicing doctor, was one those who supported the open letter.

"I'm a specialist just coming back from the hospital and I can tell you, it's worrisome," Khadir said.

With files from Matt D'Amours