Quebec health minister admits government is maintaining health emergency powers to ‘negotiate with unions’

In Tuesday’s press conference, the Quebec health minister Christian Dubé admitted that although the situation was under control in the hospitals, the government would not repeal the public health emergency powers because they need those powers to negotiate with unions.

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Quebec’s law on Public Health grants the government the right to declare a public health emergency for exceptional circumstances. The emergency status grants the government numerous powers such as the ability to reallocate funds without a review from the National Assembly or the ability to issue contracts without tender offers. 

Considering the exceptional powers granted by the emergency status, those who wrote the law made it so that the emergency status had to be renewed every 10 days, hoping the short delay would reduce the potential for abuse. 

However, since March 2020, the emergency status has been renewed every ten days. Today, as there are 113 individuals in the ICU on a population of neraly 8.5 million, the Legault government is maintaining the emergency status in place. 

When health minister Christian Dubé was asked when the emergency status would be repealed, he answered that the government needed to keep it in place to negotiate with unions, a purpose that is far from its intended use. 

“I would like to hear your thoughts on the public health emergency status.. These are exceptional measures which grant exceptional powers, when do you think this measure will stop being necessary? Will it be based on vaccination rates?”, the journalist asked. 

“The public health emergency status has an impact on our staff and on the bonuses paid to our staff […] We are looking into how to move past the emergency status, but at this time, as long as we have not reached a collective agreement with the Treasury’s union, it would be premature to give up the flexibility granted by the emergency status, despite the collaboration from the unions”, Dubé answered.

Union leaders reacted negatively to Dubé’s statement. “For all public service workers who have had their working conditions imposed by decrees for more than a year, this statement is an aberration” said Caroline Senneville, vice-president of the CSN. 

Opposition leaders also pointed out that the public health emergency status is not meant to be used for political purposes. “It is irresponsible and dangerous to use the state of health emergency to put pressure on the unions in the context of negotiations. It has absolutely nothing to do with the pandemic!” said Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, co-spokesperson for Québec solidaire

On Wednesday morning, Dubé said in a radio interview that he “misspoke”. However, as hospitalizations and deaths have remained low and stable for weeks, both sides of the political spectrum are now pointing out that the public health emergency is indeed under control, and that the government should now abandon the extraordinary powers granted by the status. 

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