Government & Policy
Barrette will be out as health minister
September 5, 2018
QUEBEC CITY – In the midst of the current Quebec provincial election campaign, Premier Philippe Couillard introduced rookie Liberal Party candidate Gertrude Bourdon by saying she would be the next health minister.
According to a report in the Globe and Mail, his rival, François Legault, leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) party, followed by hinting strongly that Danielle McCann would take the helm of the massive health portfolio after a CAQ victory.
This means that whoever wins the Quebec election, the current minister will not return to his post. Taking Gaétan Barrette (pictured) – who has been Health Minister for the past four years – out of the equation is being widely hailed as bolstering the Liberal chances of re-election.
Mr. Barrette has been a polarizing figure. Still, he is loyal to Premier Couillard and, as such, has been promised the post of Treasury Board president.
A recent public opinion survey found that 81 percent of Quebeckers, including 60 percent of Liberal voters, did not want Mr. Barrette to return as health minister. But that poll was commissioned by the CAQ, so perhaps it should be taken with a grain of salt. Not to mention that being a health minister in any jurisdiction is a virtual guarantee of unpopularity.
The Health Minister’s nickname, “Bulldozer Barrette,” is well-earned. He is not exactly a master of tact, but he did get things done.
Mr. Barrette shrunk the provincial health bureaucracy – although he did fall short of a promised “structural and cultural revolution.” He also put the screws to doctors, particularly with rules that forced them to work after-hours and in the ER.
The reforms translated into 1.1 million more Quebeckers having a family physician than when he took office, and the province opened 49 “super-clinics” to take pressure off overcrowded emergency rooms.
But there are two things that hurt Mr. Barrette’s reputation more than anything: His brusque ways made him look unsympathetic to patients and families, as demonstrated by his dismissive response to media reports that residents of provincial nursing homes were being bathed only once a week; and, while he talked tough with doctors, medical specialists were awarded huge increases in fees.
This put a lot of noses out of joint among healthcare professionals, particularly nurses, who have borne the brunt of the government’s austerity measures. The deal is also notable because, before entering politics, Mr. Barrette headed the provincial association of medical specialists.