Quebec sovereignty would allow for better health care services and remove the federal government as an obstacle to funding programs, said Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois during an election campaign stop near Montreal.
Ms, Marois argued that while provinces exercise full jurisdiction over health care services, the federal government controls part of the funding and sets the terms on how funds are redistributed to the provinces through federal transfer payments. According to the PQ, changes to the funding formula unilaterally imposed by the Conservatives in Ottawa will cause Quebec considerable financial pain.
"Sovereignty would allow us to keep all the money we currently send to Ottawa. We would recover all the money," Ms. Marois said, unveiling measures to improve the health care system. "And we wouldn't be forced to participate in these vast national programs that we already have."
She referred to the tainted-blood scandal, blaming Health Canada for the public health fiasco in the 1980s and 1990s. Some 2,000 transfusion recipients and hemophiliacs contracted HIV and about 10,000 others were infected with the hepatitis virus from contaminated blood. As a result, Quebec set up its own regulatory agency called Hema-Quebec which Ms. Marois called a remarkable success. "We exercised our independence in this area and improved the well-being of patients in Quebec," she said.
Dr. Réjean Hébert, the PQ candidate who is likely to be appointed health minister should his party win the election, argued that the proposed changes to the federal transfer program for health care services was particularly unfair for Quebec. He blasted Ottawa for proposing a funding formula that will benefit Alberta, which has a younger population, at the expense of Quebec, whose aging population will mean higher health care costs.
"The new transfer payment formula is being imposed without negotiations with the provinces. It's just a way (for us) to send money to Ottawa only to get back crumbs to meet the needs of Quebeckers," Dr. Hébert said.
In the March, 2012 federal budget Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced his intention to convert the Canada Health Transfer to a per capita payment to the provinces based on their population.
It was estimated by the PQ that compared to the current funding formula, Quebec will see its share of transfer payments slashed by $9.5-billion over ten years when the new arrangement begins in 2018.
In the meantime, Ms. Marois said Quebec faces major challenges in attempting to meet the province's health care needs. She reiterated Saturday that if elected, her party promised that every Quebecker would have access to a family doctor within four years. The move would require the hiring of between 700 to 1,000 family doctors, she said.
The Coalition Avenir Québec promised to achieve the same objective within one year as promised by one of party's most prominent candidates, Dr. Gaétan Barrette, former head of Quebec specialist practitioners.
"Impossible," Ms. Marois stated bluntly. "Dr. Barrette is bluffing."
She recalled how Jean Charest's Liberals promised in 2003 to eliminate wait times in emergency wards but never fulfilled his commitment. She argued the CAQ was also making a promise it can't fulfill.
"I would rather call on Quebeckers to have a bit more patience and walk with my head held high saying that I fulfilled my promise," she said.
The improvements promised by the PQ on Saturday would cost $95-million with more than half the money dedicated to the training and hiring of specialized nurses, increasing the duties of pharmacists towards patients and improving care to the elderly. The rest of the money would be used to increase the number of family doctors and family medicine clinics.
Ms. Marois acknowledged that many of these programs have already been initiated by the current Liberal government, but promised to act quickly for a "major shift" in the way health care services are managed. Some of the changes would involve co-ordinating health care services offered to the elderly, especially home care programs, and seeking greater input from health care professionals in improving the delivery of services in their communities.