Health Minister Gaétan Barrette defends elimination of independent health watchdog

Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette stands by the province's decision to eliminate its independent health watchdog following public criticism.

Quebec abolishes health and welfare commission in new provincial budget

Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette is standing by the province's decision. (CBC)

Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette stands by the province's decision to eliminate its independent health watchdog following public backlash.

The health and welfare commission — which was created by Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard when he was health minister in 2006 — published annual reports on the performance of the healthcare system. 

The commission was abolished under the province's new budget, and its work will now be divided by two health and social services organizations, according to Barrette.

"The commission has important functions," Barrette said. "But seeing as how they overlapped, it simply makes economic sense."

Robert Salois, the former commissioner who held the position since 2006, slammed the government earlier this week.

"Are we being punished because we were too good? Are we being punished because we tackled topics that were too 'touchy?'" Salois asked.

A possible conflict of interest

Work previously done by the commission will now be handled by the health ministry and health research institute (INESSS) and the Public health expertise and reference centre (INSPQ).

The commission was tasked with pointing out gaps in health and social services across Quebec, and also examined how Quebec's system compares to others in Canada. 

The INSPQ is overseen by Nicole Damestoy, who is the partner of Dr. Patrick Harris, a friend of Barrette.

Robert Salois held the position of commissioner since the office opened in 2006. (Radio-Canada)

Barrette immediately refuted journalists who asked if the INSPQ was in the best situation to criticize the healthcare system and added that he does not know Damestoy personally.

"So obviously in Quebec, a competent individual cannot hold a position if she had a conversation at one point with the minister of health," Barrette said.

"It's unrelated," Barrette said. "She's there, she's an individual that I don't know personally — she's there because of her qualifications."

Opposition, healthcare unions denounce abolishment

Quebec opposition was quick to criticize the decision, with Parti Québécois health critic Diane Lamarre saying it was dangerous.

The Quebec Medical Association, which represents 10,000 doctors across the province, is also opposed to the move.

"By eliminating the office, the Couillard government is sending a very clear message—that it won't tolerate criticism," said the association in a statement.

Members of the Fédération Interprofessionnelle de la Santé du Québec (FIQ), the union representing most of the province's nurses, said the move was the end of independence and objectivity.

With files from la Presse Canadienne