MONTREAL — The Coalition Avenir Québec promised Saturday to build a pair of private medical centres that would provide services that would be free to Quebecers and reimbursed by medicare in an attempt to ease overflowing public emergency rooms.
CAQ Leader François Legault made the announcement on Day 7 of the Quebec election campaign in the eastern Montreal riding of Anjou-Louis-Riel, a region where the party is hoping to increase its presence on the Island of Montreal where it currently only holds two seats.
Legault said the first two clinics would be up and running by 2025 in Montreal's east-end and Quebec City, with plans to eventually build up to a dozen in the province.
“If we want to change the health network, well, we have to change the recipe, we have to innovate,” Legault said.
Legault described the proposed centres, built privately for $35 million, as falling somewhere between a family clinic and a large hospital. They would aim to ease the strain on Quebec's health network, he added.
The medical centres would include a family medicine clinic, other basic health services and an emergency room for minor or lower priority cases and day surgeries.
Legault said using the word "private" when it comes to health care is "delicate," but noted that 20 per cent of services in the province are already provided by the private sector.
More than 21,000 Quebec residents are awaiting a surgical procedure in the province. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Quebec sent some patients to be treated privately to reduce some of the wait times.
"The private sector can be complementary to what we do," said Christian Dubé, the province's most recent health minister, who is seeking re-election. "The more we will settle (minor cases), the more it leaves room for surgeons in major hospitals … to attack the waiting list."
The CAQ promise was denounced by political rivals, with Quebec solidaire's co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois saying if private involvement really worked in health care, there would already be plenty of examples.
“François Legault persists with solutions that do not work," said Nadeau-Dubois, whose party has proposed upgrading community clinics and turning the province's 811 health line into a proper triage service. "The reality is that he has a dogmatic love for the private sector and that he persists with proposals that weaken our system."
Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade said the private system should be used to deal with surgical backlogs only.
The Conservative Party of Quebec has also promised to make more room for private health care as part of its plan. But Legault said Saturday's promise had "nothing to do with what is happening in the other parties" and the CAQ believes the emergency room is too often the main point of entry for patients.
On Day 7 of the provincial election campaign, Quebec solidaire pledged 37,000 new subsidized daycare spaces if they are elected during a stop in Rimouski, Que., in the lower St-Lawrence region.
For its part, the Parti Québécois promised to bring private daycares under the public system, converting 119,000 spaces over five years at a cost of $543 million per year. PQ Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon said home daycares would not be part of the conversion plan.
"If we know that more than 50,000 children are on the waiting list, we can assume that tens of thousands of parents right now … are not participating in the labour market due to a lack of child care spaces," St-Pierre Plamondon said in Quebec City, adding he had personally dealt with the lack of child care spaces during the pandemic.
Speaking in Senneterre, Que., in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region, Anglade announced a $500 million plan to encourage seniors to return to work to deal with the province's labour shortage through a number of measures, including raising basic income tax exemptions to ensure they aren't penalized if continuing to work while earning a pension.
The Liberals say there are no fewer than 270,000 vacant jobs in Quebec.
Also Saturday, Conservative Leader Éric Duhaime visited a winery in the Mauricie region where he pledged to end the monopoly of the Quebec Liquor Corporation and loosen rules regarding competition and where alcohol can be sold.
"The sale of alcohol must certainly be supervised, but not in the form of a state monopoly," Duhaime said in a statement. "Currently, we are in an extremely complex and over-regulated system."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 3, 2022.
— with files from Caroline Plante, Patrice Bergeron, Stéphane Rolland and Frédéric Lacroix-Couture.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press