The mayor of Gatineau, Que., says decades of underfunding for western Quebec's health-care system has had "significant human and economic consequences" during the pandemic.
At Tuesday's council meeting, Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin read a letter addressed to Quebec's National Assembly, saying his city wouldn't be classified as a red zone if it weren't for decades of neglect directed at the region's health network.
"If it were not for the weakness of the health network in the Outaouais — the number of beds available, the number of nurses available, the number of doctors available — we would be in the orange zone," reads the letter, written in French and posted to the mayor's Facebook page.
Both Gatineau and parts of the Outaouais were upgraded to the maximum level on Quebec's COVID-19 alert scale in early October.
The upgrade comes with increased restrictions, including a ban on private gatherings with visitors from different households.
According to Pedneaud-Jobin, the region's rate of active cases since the start of the pandemic hasn't only been the lowest among the province's red zones, but regularly lower than in orange zones.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the region had seen 3,161 cases of COVID-19, 2,689 of which are considered resolved. There are 405 active cases.
'Good student' during 1st wave
"If it weren't for this injustice, we could with caution visit a restaurant for a coffee and break the isolation that weighs on us," Pedneaud-Jobin wrote in the letter.
"Our elders would suffer less. We would lose fewer jobs, because the bulk of our job losses are in sectors that would be open in the orange zone."'
The mayor said western Quebec had been "a good student" during the first wave of the pandemic, but now some hospital operations have been put on hold to make space for COVID-19 patients.
If the region were classified as an orange zone, however, hundreds of patients would have received their scheduled treatments and operations, he said.
Minister blames underspending on previous governments
Western Quebec's health system has been dealing ongoing staffing problems, which have caused temporary shutdowns of the intensive care unit at the Gatineau Hospital and the birthing unit at the Pontiac Hospital.
Pedneaud-Jobin specified that his frustrations weren't directed specifically toward Premier François Legault's government, which recently announced the construction of a new "mega-hospital" for the region.
Papineau MNA Mathieu Lacombe, Quebec's minister responsible for the Outaouais, said Wednesday he blamed the lack of investment in the region's health care on previous governments.
"Right now in the Outaouais, if we're in the red zone, it's not because we're not good, it's not because we don't listen to the instructions, it's not because the cases multiply," Lacombe told Radio-Canada in French.
"This is because the capacity of the health network is not sufficient."