Should Quebec start cutting doctors’ salaries?

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WATCH: Should Quebec start cutting doctors' salaries if they don't take on more patients? As Global's Raquel Fletcher reports, there is some improvement but the province is still far from its goal of 85 per cent of Quebecers having a family doctor.

Quebec is still far from its goal of giving 85 percent of Quebecers a family doctor – the problem is particularly bad in Montreal. Now four months away from what could be a tight election, the Liberal government is in a battle with Quebec doctors.

READ MORE: More than 200 Quebec doctors come out against proposed pay increases

Fewer than 70 percent of Montrealers have a family doctor, even though the government vowed to get that number up to 85 percent by the end of last year, but the province says it’s the doctors who broke their promise.

“The 85 percent is not my number. My number at the beginning was close to 100 percent, but they came to us and said, ‘We can do that,'” said Health Minister Gaetan Barrette.

READ MORE: Should Quebec end medical school quotas and hire more doctors?

On Wednesday, both the premier and the health minister insisted that 100 per cent is actually a realistic goal.

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“If you look at the number of doctors in Quebec compared to the rest of the country, we should have enough to provide the family doctors for everyone looking for one,” said Premier Philippe Couillard.

So what’s the problem?

Opposition parties have criticized the government for allowing doctors to work less and pick and choose their patients, leaving the most vulnerable, like seniors and people with existing health problems, on the waiting list.

READ MORE: Quebec doctor activists want better system, not more money

“There are no rules that allow me to impose that, but there is a way to put pressure and that’s something I’m doing,” Barrette said.

If that pressure isn’t enough, the premier said there will be consequences. Bill 20 allows the government to slash doctors’ salaries if they don’t accept the minimum number of patients – the question now is: when will they do it?

“As long as they show progress, I’m ready to be patient. no pun intended,” Couillard said.

But if not – “it will not be long, the fuse will be very short,” he added.

With an election around the corner, voters too – especially those still waiting for a doctor – might find they have also a short fuse.