Former MP under fire for criticizing doctor's COVID warnings

·4 min read
Former MP Bernard Valcourt is facing a wave of public backlash after criticizing a local doctor for sounding alarms about the dire COVID-19 situation in the Edmundston region. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Former MP Bernard Valcourt is facing a wave of public backlash after criticizing a local doctor for sounding alarms about the dire COVID-19 situation in the Edmundston region. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Former federal cabinet minister Bernard Valcourt has deleted his social media accounts after a fierce backlash to his attack on an Edmundston-area doctor.

After Valcourt accused Dr. Gabriel St-Amant of "terrorizing" the local population about COVID-19, hundreds of people signed a petition to have Valcourt's name removed from a local walking bridge.

They say given the high case count in Zone 4, it's no time for a former elected official to attack health professionals trying to quell the outbreak.

Valcourt responded by deleting his Facebook account, he confirmed Thursday. His Twitter account has vanished as well.

The former MP would not agree to a taped interview with CBC News, saying he didn't want to "feed the beast."

But in a brief telephone conversation he said "society has reached the point where you don't have the right to say what you think."

In the public Facebook post Sunday, Valcourt accused Radio-Canada of using local doctor Gabriel St-Amant to continue a "campaign of terrorizing the public" about COVID-19.

St-Amant said last Saturday that soaring case counts and an overwhelmed intensive care unit at the local hospital might force physicians into choosing who lives and who dies.

Dr. Gabriel St-Amant publicly raised concerns about the strain on the healthcare system caused by the latest COVID-19 outbreak in the Edmundston region.
Dr. Gabriel St-Amant publicly raised concerns about the strain on the healthcare system caused by the latest COVID-19 outbreak in the Edmundston region.(Radio-Canada)

Valcourt called the doctor's warning "the most irresponsible and gratuitous statement I've heard during the campaign of terror being fed by governments."

He suggested that the doctor should go practise somewhere else, "where he doesn't take the population as rubes.

"There," he concluded sarcastically. "I guess I'm a Covidiot."

Criticism triggers calls to rename bridge

Since the post, almost 900 people have signed an online petition calling on the City of Edmundston to rename the bridge across the Madawaska River in the centre of the city.

"Bernard Valcourt has humiliated our region," commented one of the signatories, Suzie Durocher-Hendriks, an ICU nurse at the Edmundston Regional Hospital. "A bridge or any other place is named to honour those who deserve it. That's not the case here."

The Bernard Valcourt walking bridge was named after the former cabinet minister following his first stint in politics from 1984 to 1993.
The Bernard Valcourt walking bridge was named after the former cabinet minister following his first stint in politics from 1984 to 1993.(Radio-Canada/Jessica Savoie)

Political scientist Denis Duval of the University of Moncton's Edmundston campus said Valcourt has the right to speak, but as a former public official he should have reflected before posting and spoken "with a bit more diplomacy or a better choice of words....

"He was very categorical and scathing."

New Brunswick's Zone 4, which includes Edmundston, has seen two major outbreaks of COVID-19 this year, the second driven by the more dangerous B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the United Kingdom.

On Thursday 115 of the province's 146 active cases were in Zone 4.

The surge of patients in the Edmundston ICU has forced health officials to transfer some patients to hospitals elsewhere in the province. On Tuesday, 38-year-old Luc Bélanger died at the Edmundston hospital, becoming the youngest COVID-19 patient to die in the province.

City spokesperson Annie Dancause said once the petition is submitted to the city, it will go to a committee that reviews place names for a decision.

Not Valcourt's first controversial stand

The bridge was named for Valcourt after his first stint in national politics from 1984 to 1993, when he developed a reputation for securing federal funding for projects in his riding.

The blunt and feisty politician was later chosen leader of the provincial Progressive Conservatives and won six seats for the party in the 1995 election. He resigned as leader two years later.

In the 2011 federal campaign he made a political comeback and became a minister in the government of former prime minister Stephen Harper.

In June 2015, Valcourt created controversy as federal aboriginal affairs minister when he remained seated during a standing ovation when the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Valcourt argued there had been plenty of studies and inquiries and a new one wasn't needed, and during the election campaign later that year he refused to apologize for staying in his seat.

"I say what I mean, and I mean what I say," he said.

Valcourt lost his bid for re-election in 2015.

Duval said the current backlash over the former MP's attack on St-Amant shows the risk of naming a public place or landmark for someone who is still living.

"It can come back to haunt you," he said. "The person can do something that in society's view is unacceptable."