Quebec election: CAQ admits that family doctor for all Quebecers 'not possible'

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MONTREAL — The Coalition Avenir Québec is no longer promising all Quebecers access to a family doctor, recognizing Friday that a key promise the party made four years ago is simply not achievable.

CAQ Leader François Legault during the 2018 election campaign promised everyone a family doctor but failed to follow through after he was elected premier.

On Day 6 of the election campaign, outgoing Health Minister Christian Dubé said the party won't promise something that is "not possible." Instead, he said, what Quebecers really need is access to medical care from qualified health workers — such as nurses or pharmacists.

"I think what Quebecers want is access to a health professional," Dubé said just south of Quebec City alongside Legault. "In the best circumstances, that should be a doctor, but I think what Quebecers have realized, especially during the pandemic, is they can be served by health professionals who are not necessarily doctors."

The Liberals, meanwhile, have promised that if they are elected, the hundreds of thousands of Quebecers waiting for a family physician would get one.

Legault and Dubé promised Friday that the CAQ would gradually launch a digital health platform to serve as an entry point into the health system and direct people to the right health-care professional. The objective would be to offer someone with a medical need — that isn't an emergency — an appointment with a health-care worker within 36 hours.

Meanwhile, in Lachute, Que., northwest of Montreal, Conservative Party of Quebec Leader Éric Duhaime discussed his party's health plan, which includes a substantial contribution from the private sector.

Duhaime said private companies should be permitted to manage the operations of some hospitals and doctors should be encouraged to practise in the public and private health systems. Quebecers, he added, would be allowed under a Conservative government to buy supplemental insurance for treatment in private clinics. The party also promised to train 1,000 more physicians and to hire as many more nurse practitioners.

In Gatineau, Que., Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade promised access to subsidized daycare spaces for all Quebec children. Anglade told reporters at a local daycare that no fewer than 52,000 kids are waiting for a spot. She said her party would create 67,000 extra places at $1.1 billion per year, with financing coming from a recently signed daycare agreement with the federal government.

Québec solidaire promised to introduce an allowance for caregivers worth up to $15,000 per year and to double home-care services offered by the province. The two measures would cost $1.1 billion annually.

“I walk on the campaign trail and I hear comments like, 'I would rather die than end up in a (long-term care home),'” Québec solidaire co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois told reporters while visiting the Gaspé Peninsula. "I hear that almost every week on the ground. It's not normal; I don't accept that."

On Friday, the Parti Québécois promised to triple the amount of home-care services by investing an additional $3 billion a year into the health system. Campaigning in Gatineau, Que., leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon proposed abandoning the Legault government's model of new, smaller seniors homes — a key 2018 promise by the CAQ. St-Pierre Plamondon said he would only complete the homes under construction.

Legault, however, insisted that both long-term care and home care are needed. Currently, 43 of the promised 46 seniors homes are under construction.

“We have invested $2 billion in the last four years for home care and services, except that there are people who at some point no longer have their autonomy and need continuous service — to go in a (long-term care home) or a seniors home," Legault said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 2, 2022.

— With files from Stéphane Rolland, Frédéric Lacroix-Couture, Patrice Bergeron, and Pierre Saint-Arnaud.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press