February 6, 2018 5:13 pm
Updated: February 7, 2018 12:01 pm

Quebec health minister called ‘arrogant,’ blamed by opposition for nurses’ exhaustion

WATCH: After a week of outcry, Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette is meeting with the nurses’ union about the risk of burnout, exhaustion and extensive overtime. The outcry has forced Premier Philippe Couillard to defend his own leadership. Global's Raquel Fletcher reports.

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The head of Quebec’s nurses’ union, Nancy Bédard, said Tuesday she is satisfied with her closed door meeting with Quebec health minister Gaétan Barrette to discuss the risk of burnout, exhaustion and extensive overtime.

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The Fédération Interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ) has been sounding the alarm for over a week.

Now, opposition parties are tearing into Barrette, saying he’s not doing enough.

READ MORE: PQ skeptical about Quebec health minister’s promise for family doctors

Quebec nurses, trained for emergency situations, are now in an emergency of their own, opposition parties say.

“They have too much work, they need support. They need a new investment from the government,” said Parti Québécois (PQ) Health Critic Diane Lamarre.

A lack of hospital nurses means those already employed are being forced to work double shifts, sometimes multiple days in a row.

READ MORE: Quebec premier criticized for saying government has too much money

While the government says it wants to hire, it can’t fill the positions.

“The nurses don’t apply because they know it’s a ticket to burnout,” said Véronique Hivon, PQ deputy leader.

Last Wednesday, Barrette blamed nurses for the problem, saying they were creating the perception that working conditions are worse than they are.

“The climate that is maintained by unions today is quite a negative one. This is not a situation sufficiently positive to attract personnel. Together, we need to change this state of mind. It’s not true everyone is overworked,” he said.

READ MORE: Quebec budget 2017: Nurses’ union wants money for care, not doctor salaries

At the National Assembly Tuesday, opposition parties jumped on the minister’s comments.

“It’s of course nothing surprising, knowing Mr. Barrette since a long time, he’s very authoritarian,” said Quebec Solidaire MNA Amir Khadir.

“Barrette’s arrogant behaviour is not good,” said Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) Leader François Legault.

“It’s like we have a Barrette-Couillard government right now. We don’t know who is premier, really.”

In direct reply to Legault’s comment, Premier Philippe Couillard said, “Well, there’s only one — and it’s me, by the way.”

READ MORE: Quebec nurses take legal action for right to inject Botox

Couillard said he has full confidence in his health minister, whose own mother was a nurse, to find a solution with the union.

“I can tell you that he’s not insensitive,” Couillard said, adding that the government’s successes in healthcare — increased access to family doctors and nurses, a drop in the price of generic drugs and reduced wait times for emergency room surgeries — is a reflection of Barrette’s “strong personality.”

Bédard said she is encouraged by Barrette’s response to the issue; both sides have agreed to meet again in two weeks.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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