Health reform fails to protect English, advocate warns

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In an evening of recognition and celebration, leading members of Quebec’s Anglophone communities gathered last month to honour three of their finest.

Some 150 activists, past and present, and those who support their work, dined at the St. James Club on Union St. to pay tribute to the leadership, selfless dedication, and achievements of James Hughes, Eric Maldoff, and Marjorie Sharp.

They are the recipients of the sixth annual Sheila and Victor Goldbloom Distinguished Community Service Award, presented by the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN), which organized the tribute event.

James Hughes, former executive director of the Old Brewery Mission, co-founded Youth Employment Services and is president of the Graham Boekh Foundation.

Marjorie Sharp was instrumental in setting up L’Abri en Ville for those with mental health issues, Auberge Madeleine for battered women, and Elder-Aide for seniors even as she practiced law and taught at Concordia.

When Eric Maldoff received his award for 38 years of activism, the evening took on a more urgent tone.

A high-profile lawyer, Maldoff was founding president of Alliance Quebec, first chairperson of the provincial advisory committee on health and social services in English, and 17 years on the board of the Montreal Children’s Hospital. A key player in the mergers that led to the McGill University Hospital Centre, he is board chairperson of the Old Brewery Mission and Mount Sinai Foundation.

Maldoff said he was concerned about the effects the Quebec government’s Bill 10 to reform health and social services will have on the Anglo community.

Under current legislation, 28 institutions are recognized as bilingual, but Bill 10 proposes that only one of them – the MUHC – would be protected if the percentage of Anglo users diminishes.

All the boards that govern these institutions are to be replaced by a single board, and its chairperson, executive director and assistant director will be appointed by the health and social services minister, not the communities they serve.

“The institutions are the skeleton that holds the body of our community together, where we get to meet, work together… build solidarity and a sense of belonging and control over our own lives.

“This is – straight out – the eviction of the community from its participation in a meaningful way in the system,” he said.

He warned that this consolidation would jeopardize the volunteer and fund-raising components of Anglo participation in community institutions.

“People give to people, they don’t give charity to governments,” he warned. “They care who chairs the Jewish General Hospital. They care who chairs Lethbridge (Constance Lethbridge Rehabilitation Centre)… They want to have confidence that what they are giving to is going to make a difference and not just going into some big hole.”

What is at stake if the bill goes through is the estimated $100 million a year that these foundations raise, which compares to the projected saving from the planned merger of $220 million over a few years “if they are achieved,” he cautioned.

The underlying issues are not well publicized because all the directors general whose jobs are being eliminated are reluctant to speak out since it could affect their chances of future employment, he said.

“If the government doesn’t understand that we care, then it’s just going to happen… The government will only see the light that we shine inits eyes, and only if we have a big stick in our hand at the same time.”

Earlier, Dr. Goldbloom, a former Quebec cabinet minister and board chairperson of the Agence de la santé et des services sociaux de Montréal, called for some way to avoid a “major decrease” in community involvement if boards of local institutions are scrapped.

The identity of those institutions with “an ethnic, cultural, or religious identity” should be protected because it is important to those who use them, especially seniors, Goldbloom said.

Quebec Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil, also responsible for diversity and inclusiveness, defended Bill 10 as necessary legislation to streamline the main structures in health and social services and remove layers of bureaucracy.

“This is unlike any other province, there are too many managers,” she said, but agreed the bill should be amended. Weil said she and Liberal MNAs David Birnbaum and Geoffrey Kelley would be lobbying for change to better protect bilingual services.

“We would be spokespeople for these amendments. We can do it. We’ve got enough brains in this community to make it happen,” Weil said.

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