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Coronavirus: Arcand says military help in Quebec long-term care homes was long overdue

Quebec Liberal Opposition Leader Pierre Arcand waves to the applauding crowd as he is sworn in as member of the National Assembly Monday, Oct. 15, 2018, at the legislature in Quebec City.
Quebec Liberal Opposition Leader Pierre Arcand waves to the applauding crowd as he is sworn in as member of the National Assembly Monday, Oct. 15, 2018, at the legislature in Quebec City. Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

As the Quebec government struggles to bring the COVID-19 outbreak in its troubled network of long-term care homes (CHSLDs) under control, the Canadian military has been sent in to help.

Dozens of army medics have been deployed at CHSLDs across the province in recent days, and Premier François Legault has since requested that even more be sent in to make up for the thousands of health-care workers missing from the front lines amid the pandemic.

READ MORE: Quebec’s health-care network missing 9,500 workers amid coronavirus crisis, premier says

Pierre Arcand, leader of the Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ), told Global News Morning he thought it was about time.

“I think he should have done it much earlier,” the Mont-Royal-Outremont MNA told Global’s Laura Casella via Skype. “We were getting calls from CIUSSSes all around Montreal, saying, ‘We need help.’

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“We have many MNAs right now who are helping in these CHSLDs,” Arcand said. That includes former PLQ health minister Gaétan Barrette, who spoke with Global News right before his first shift at a CHSLD.

READ MORE: Coronavirus — Montreal unveils plan to cope with potential $500M shortfall

Arcand laments Legault’s initial belief he could quickly recruit as many as 2,000 private citizens to fill the staffing gaps in CHSLDs, such as specialist doctors. Only several hundred have been dispatched, something Arcand and others have blamed on the top-heavy bureaucracy of Quebec’s health ministry.

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“Clearly, what I call ‘the bureaucratic machine’ did not work very well,” he said. “So I’m glad we’re starting to see the Armed Forces are going to be there.”

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been clear that the Armed Forces cannot be a long-term solution to the crisis in the CHSLD network, Arcand says they are needed for the time being.

“The crisis is not settled yet; it’s going to take some time,” he said.

READ MORE: Coronavirus — Legault pushes ‘herd immunity’ ahead of gradual reopening of schools

However, Arcand declined to immediately dismiss Legault’s proposals to reopen Quebec’s economy and its school system in the coming weeks, adding that he hopes the government will be less “secretive” about its plans.

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“The situation in Montreal is much more difficult than it is in the rest of the province,” Arcand said, saying he’s supportive of suggestions that Quebec could reopen its economy faster or first in regions where the virus has had less impact.

“We’ll see what the plan is,” he said, adding that “the basic question is not when but how” the economy reopens and that he’s hopeful the Legault government will consult closely with opposition MNAs before making a decision.