Questions are being raised about whether Quebec will reduce health services in English.
The government has insisted on several occasions this is not its intention, but last month, it dissolved a committee that had spent years working to improve access to English services.
Some Quebec anglophones are calling this the first step to limiting English services in Quebec.
English-speaking Quebecers only have the right to health services in English that are defined in what’s called an “access program.” It’s a written guide that the province’s health institutions agree to and that is approved by the ministry.
Last month, committee members working to modernize and extend access to health services in English were given their walking papers. The government said the committee needs to be restructured in order to be more representative.
However, some people in the English community say it’s suspicious.
“It was a surprise that the minister was changing the rules of what we thought was a perfectly good committee, working very well,” said Sylvia Martin-Laforge with the Quebec Community Groups Network.
Liberal MNA David Birnbaum tried to table a petition to stop the restructuring — or at least delay it — but the government acted so quickly, the decision was already made before the petition could be presented at the National Assembly.
The committee’s report, not yet made public, is still waiting for approval from the health minister.
During public hearings for Bill 96, the government’s French language reform, the minister promised the community in English that his bill would not infringe on anglophone rights.
However, the government has also used the term “historic anglophones” which has lead many in the community to believe the government plans to deny immigrants the right to receive health services in English, even if they are more comfortable in that language.
“You would have close to 300 – 500,000 English-speaking Quebecers having to worry about whether their access to English services was about to be compromised. We have major questions,” Birnbaum said.
“Let me reassure you and your audience that that is not at all our intention,” said Christopher Skeete, the parliamentary assistant to the premier for relations with English-speaking Quebecers.
He said that Bill 96 will not reduce access to health services in English: “If you’re sick in the hospital, you should be able to express yourself in a language that your comfortable in — or tell the doctor where it hurts, obviously,” he said.
Skeete said the government does not have an ulterior motive, explaining the changes it’s making are to make sure that all regions — and Indigenous people — are represented on the committee.
“I look very forward actually to reading that report and putting it forward as a starting point. No one wants to bury anything,” he said.